Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Learning to Understand Hong Cha
Last month, Prof Ahn invited me to sit in on a tea class which happened to be on hong cha, "red tea".
I mentioned last summer that hong cha is my least favorite style of Chinese tea. On top of that, I also mentioned the frustrating time I had trying to brew it. For this, I was eager to taste Prof Ahn's brew and watch his technic.
Using Yixing "Gong Fu" Hong Cha, he scooped a fair amount of leaves into a glass pot. Barely giving the water enough time to cool from a boil, he filled the pot and let it steep for a relatively long time, nearly a minute. So far, he'd done everything I'd thought I'd done wrong and then some... Tasting it just confirmed my feeling, as it was strong and murky, though not bitter. Nothing of the sweet fragrance of the leaves was apparent. (Despite my lack of enthusiasm, hong cha leaves are actually one of my favorite smelling.) After the third cup, I began thinking that I just don't "get" hong cha. Then something marvelous happened; I burped!
It wasn't just any old burp. It was a magical burp filled with all the lovely "huigan" that had been building in my throat with each sip. All the lovely sweet floral fragrance of the leaves came out like a small explosion. I thought, "This is what hong cha is about!" (just to be clear, it was a silent burp, no heads were turned! ;) ).
"Huigan" is a difficult word to translate, but essentially it's a Chinese term for a sweet aftertaste and what most Chinese tea drinkers truly judge a fine tea by. It reminded me of the general difference in how Westerners and Far-Eastern approach tea. Westerners tend to prefer the initial, direct taste of the tea, whereas in China it's the subtle, lingering effect of tea that is desirable. I appreciate the elegance and sophistication of the Chinese approach, though I don't always remember to apply it.