A Big Old Pot Of Sheng

sheng western style - clay pot

Trigger warning: possible intermediary level fanboyism and incoherent rambling ahead.

I’d been an avid watcher of William of Farmer Leaf fame’s excellent videos long before I took the plunge and ponied up for some of his wonderful teas.

A recent video of his made me start to wonder whether or not a fixation with gong-fu brewing bordering on the dogmatic was getting in the way of my enjoyment of certain teas.

In this pandemic affected world I now find that more often than not I’m either stuck in a place where tasks that were once routine now take a lot longer to perform than they used to, or that quite simply I find myself with much more on my plate than I once did.

That has meant in turn that sometimes I don’t have the required amount of time available to allocate to a dedicated gong-fu session. Furthermore, even if I do scrape together the required number of hours and minutes there’s often the nagging doubt in the back of my mind that I should be spending this time doing something else.

Compared to, say, a year ago, I certainly feel as though I’m more open to brewing up Western style with one glaring omission – sheng. I’d kind of resisted the urge to brew sheng Western style. I’ve just had the notion that sheng should by default mean gong-fu.

I’ve had a set of slightly larger pots in the 300-400 ml range for Western style brewing each class of tea for some time now (see here and here, for example), and I’ve used them for sessions based on a rough 1 gram / 65 ml ratio, and the assumption that I’ll get a minimum of 2 infusions out of the leaves, more if they are up for it.

After umming and ahing about it for a few days, I finally gave in and decided to see if I could wrap my head around sheng Western style. In which pot though?

Then I remembered a nice clay pot I bought quite some time ago, another charity shop score. In those far off days before I got my first gaiwan and bought my first beeng that pot had seen a lot of action, but then it gradually fell out of favour as more sophisticated playthings landed in my toybox. That pot, I reasoned, just might make a nice Western style sheng pot. My guess was that it was somewhere in the region of 500 ml. A fill up and pour out into a measuring jug confirmed this.

The problem was that I didn’t have a gong dao bei of a suitable size. What I did have however was what looked to be a similarly sized pot that I received a couple of years ago as a birthday gift, one that I’d sort of given up finding a roll for.

sheng western style - ceramic pot

Another quick fill and decant test proved that the pots were of a similar enough size for my experiment.

So, I got busy with my pu-pick, and freed off 6 grams of House of Tea’s 2019 Lincang Old Tree sheng before filling up my trusty Ikea “Vattentät” kettle. Once the water had boiled I filled up the ceramic pot to warm it up.

I then warmed up the clay pot at the same time as washing the leaves, and then started them off with an initial 4 minute infusion, before straining the soup into the ceramic pot.

The result was very nice indeed. Taste-wise, it was somewhat as expected – all the subtleties, nuances, and general good stuff of a gong-fu session compressed into one volume. It was rather like taking your favourite meal complete with side dishes and starter and running it through a blender, just a lot more tasty and satisfying than that sounds!

Interestingly enough, even this Western style procedure prompted Radio Sheng to come on the air, specifically the last minute of The Beatles “A Day In The Life”. Explanations on a postcard to the usual address…

I brought the pot back to the boil and gave the leaves another bath, this time for 6 minutes.

Again, a very nice outcome. The experiment had turned out better than I expected, to be honest. I still feel as though the technique needs some work, a bit of fine tuning, but, yes, I’m calling that a result.

Some of the shengs in my stash are going to remain gong-fu only jobs, such as Xiaguan’s 2012 FT Taiwan #6, but only when I truly feel that I can find adequate peace, quiet, and time to do them justice. That applies to other teas, too, anything that doesn’t fit into the Daily Drinker category, really.

Gong-fu style will still of course be my go-to datum and test-bed method for the majority of the teas I encounter for the first time.

I suppose that the conclusion here if I must reach one is that brewing up sheng Western style does indeed work for me, and that going forward I should consider a shorter, very casual but ultimately more enjoyable and de-stressing session better than none at all, or worse still one that leaves you feeling no better off and down 6 grams of leaf.

Should have tried this months ago…

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