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.)
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.
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!
- Golden Gingko Glass Brew Mug
This lovely personal brew mug from Min Xin Tang features crystal-clear tempered glass to show off the color of your tea and the leaves as they swirl and unfold. The generous brew basket is nearly the size of the mug itself, giving the leaves all the room they need to infuse. The wood handle and matching wooden lid provide a perfect contrast to the golden gingko leaf motif and glass. The lid is lined with stainless steel to act as a saucer for your brew basket between infusions.Regular Price $34.00 Special Price $27.20
- Feng Zi Studio Ru Brew MugThis incredible brew mug is inspired by the classic Shi Piao teapot form, a meditation on triangular geometry and perfect ratios. Hand made in the studio of master Guo Zhihao, hand-glazed and fired by master Lin Defeng, this brew mug includes a generous saucer, a strainer basket and a lid to keep your tea hot as long as possible. The smooth creamy ru glazing work crackles over time, forming a beautiful crazing effect. This brew mug combines the aesthetic presence and ritual of serious gongfu teaware with the convenience of big mug brewing, making it perfect when you want to enjoy a special tea in a big cozy steeping, or sip your favorites while working. includes custom gift box$129.00
- Golden Leaf Glass Brew Mug
This lovely personal brew mug from Min Xin Tang features crystal-clear tempered glass to show off the color of your tea and the leaves as they swirl and unfold. The generous brew basket is nearly the size of the mug itself, giving the leaves all the room they need to infuse. The wood handle and matching wooden lid provide a perfect contrast to the golden leaf motif and glass. The lid is lined with stainless steel to act as a saucer for your brew basket between infusions.