If the gong-fu style of tea preparation, with its elaborate equipment, detailed methodology, and precise amounts and temperature control represents yin, then its yang can be thought of to be the “Grandpa style” method of steeping tea leaves.
The Grandpa style reduces tea infusion down to its absolute basics – tea leaves, hot water, and a receptacle to contain them.
As legendary tea blogger MarshalN (who is widely credited with coining the term “Grandpa style“) states, Grandpa style, or variations of it, are the preferred method of choice for a large percentage of tea drinkers in China.
It’s simplicity itself. In essence, Grandpa style involves nothing more complex than dropping a small amount of tea into your brewing vessel of choice and adding the hot water, and then periodically topping up the amount of liquid as and when required.
It’s a very economical way to prepare tea – a little tea goes a very long way indeed.
As many have found out, it’s a superb way to enjoy good teas when away from home – either when on the road or just at work – as long as you have your leaves you can always beg, steal, or borrow some sort of large cup, and unless you’re stranded in a post-apocalypse wilderness hot water shouldn’t present much of a problem.
It’s a method I often use when cooking. My mug sits next to my chopping board, within easy reach of the kettle for frequent top-ups. Just a teaspoon and a half of tea leaves will fuel a Grandpa style session that will last from the beginning of the initial prep until the moment I plate up.
I use a lidded Chinese mug for Grandpa style infusion. The lid helps to retain heat as well as aroma.
As far as the tea itself goes, you’re probably better off with good quality, whole leaf tea.
Not only will this minimise the risk of the tea becoming bitter over time, but it will mean less chance of swallowing small bits of broken leaf.
Oolongs seem to work particularly well Grandpa style, especially darker, more heavily roasted ones. Over the duration of a Grandpa style session they really get a chance to gradually open up and give their full amount of flavour. They also tend to sink to the bottom of the cup, too, greatly reducing the chance of a stray leaf ending up in your mouth.
As you can imagine, the technique is simplicity itself, but there are still a few things to take into consideration.
Don’t let the water level in your cup drop too much, as this tends to increase the probability of the tea becoming bitter. Aim for something like at least a half-full cup at all times.
When topping up the tea water, aim the water stream at the side of the cup, and pour from a fair height above the cup.
This will create a nice swirl, stirring the leaves and mixing the “old” brew with the fresh water, meaning that a little more flavour is coaxed out of the leaves, and the topped-up beverage should have a good, even flavour.
And that, mes amis, is all there is to it.
The man, the legend, Marshaln…. I was given a gift of a Chinese black tea (the name escapes me) that only performs well when drunk Grandpa style, when I try to drink it gong fu style, it’s seriously astringent, even using minimal leaves.
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I’m guessing that it’s something to do with the fact that even with very few leaves there’s only so much you can tweak the water/leaves ratio in a gaiwan, but with the larger volume in a grandpa style mug you have a bit more leeway to hit that sweet-spot…
Also I think it’s right to say that some teas and their respective cultivars and processing techniques have been developed over time for something like grandpa style as the default technique rather than gong-fu…
Very interesting. I’m yet to meet someone who gives me tea Grandpa style in Taiwan, so I don’t know if it’s more of a Mainland China thing. Then again, I suppose it could seem more hospitable to serve tea gong fu style. In terms of processing for Grandpa, I suppose the closest thing I can think of for that would be some green teas that are served in glasses sometimes, like longjing?
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Yes, gong-fu for guests to show respect, and grandpa style for yourself on-the-go… 🙂
Speaking of Taiwanese tea culture, I was reading about how the bowl tea tradition is thought to have started in Taiwan with farmers leaving supplies of leaves and water by the roadside as a friendly gesture towards weary travellers…
I know that Zhuping Hodge of Seven Cups does the tea in a pint glass thing with green teas in her videos. It looks amazing when they start pogoing…!
Could you write a guest post on my blog about the bowl tea tradition? I’ll have a look for the video with the pint glass 🙂
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I’ll mail you about the guest post… 🙂
If you don’t find my email address it’s firstname.lastname@example.org 🙂
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Your Grandpa Tea Mug is almost identical to my favourite mug that now is cracked and I am looking for a replacement without having to go to Beijing Airport. Do you know who stocks these ?
You could start off by having a look at any Chinese shops/supermarkets in your vacinity. I’ve even picked a couple up at charity shops.
Alternatively searching Amazon for “Chinese lidded mug” should produce a few options. Hope that helps… 🙂
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