Verdant Tea

Modern Style, Ancient Technique

Modern Style, Ancient Technique

Modern Style, Ancient Technique

Brewing "Da Bei" Style in Just a Big Mug

September 21, 2022

Originally shared in our Tasting Journal Newsletter

This article is excerpted from our Daily Deal Newsletter.
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We talk a lot about gongfu tea. Indeed, all of the tasting notes on every tea are written using standard porcelain gaiwan brewing and standard porcelain cups. When I share my own tasting journals here, I am almost always using a gaiwan or an yixing teapot. Yet, in the grand scheme of things, gongfu style is pretty “newfangled.”

So what’s the oldest brew style?

Well, basically: drinking out of a mug.
I know, it seems like a modern convenience, but hear me out.

The old stories of tea’s ‘discovery’ come from leaves falling into either a pot of boiling water or a cup of hot water and emperor Shen Nong tasting the resulting brew. (OK, even older stories have him eating the tea leaves - we’ll get back to that.)

a simple bowl and tea ladle for simple Dian Cha

For most of tea’s history, it has been simmered or allowed to steep loose in a large vessel of hot water. In the earliest days, tea was used along with many other medicinal ingredients - from ginger and spices to garlic and onions. Then came ground and powdered tea (not too far away from matcha) a Song Dynasty innovation, and all the crazy whisking competitions. It was like new wave latte art for the 1300’s. This meant the development of special jian zhan whisking bowls and bamboo ladles to pour water into the bowl.

ceramics artist Lin Xi whisks freshly ground Wuyi White tea in a Jian Zhan bowl

From here, the matcha tools actually got co-opted back to old school brewing with white tea and green tea Dian Cha, adapted to looseleaf tea to bring out the most texture in every sip. This process involved loose leaves in a bowl and water topped off throughout a day. Bamboo ladles would be used to serve tea from the bowl. Critically- the steep time is ‘indefinite’ as it just keeps mixing up strong brewed tea with fresh water - like making sherry in a solera system.

So in modern times, we have a similar technique being used across all of China. Some Americans call it "Grandpa style," but really in China people just say da bei, or mug brewing. This isn’t mug brewing with a brew basket; this is brewing where you add your tea leaves, pour in water and top off throughout the day. It is so popular because people can do this while working if they don’t have time or space for midday gongfu. Yet, it is also popular because it can make incredibly good tea.

It might not be flattering to teas that are inherently bitter or astringent, but high quality tea only has its texture bolstered the longer it steeps. The water cools over time, so the extraction of aromatics slows down, and it becomes a slow game of gaining texture and depth. This method is actually so good for some teas, it has been adopted for serious tasting and evaluation in some places.

What traditionally brews up best in a mug?

Dragonwell - Li Xiaoping prefers brewing her teas up in a big mug because that way, the brew stays cooler and can show off the tea's sweet sweet minerality.

White teas - as I mentioned, mug brewing is adopted Dian Cha, which was repurposed specifically to show off aged white teas

Honestly, almost any of our partners teas are great in a mug with water topped off throughout the day. Right now, I am drinking Shui Xian Wuyi Oolong in a mug, and I can’t believe how juicy and powerful it becomes.

If you aren’t already brewing teas da bei style, I hope you’ll give it a try. If you are going to start anywhere, the brilliant minerality and powerful sweetness of Li Xiaoping’s Dragonwell is the place to start. Not to mention it being her preferred technique!

Explore Mugs:

Explore Mrs. Li's Shi Feng Dragonwell green tea: