Someone asked me a question about last week’s tea newsletter (“what do you mean by ‘steeping’?) that made me realize that not everything I said necessarily made sense to everyone. For this week, I’m going through how to steep tea gong fu style. “Gong fu” means “with skill.”
The idea in a nutshell: Use a lot more tea. Steep for very short times. Reuse the leaves many times.
1. Use a lot more tea (and a much smaller pot).
The general rule of thumb for gong fu cha is to use 1 gram of dry tea per 15 to 20 milliliters of hot water. I use around 13 ounces in my 200mL pot.
2. Rinse the tea to get rid of impurities.
Add the right amount of tea to your pot, then fill with hot water. (The exact temperature the water should be is…a matter of debate, but for pu-erh, I will typically use water at 208 degrees, or very close to boiling.)
I count 5 seconds and then pour the water down the sink.
3. Steep one.
We’re finally (and by finally, I mean “after five seconds”) going to brew tea! Take the leaves that were just rinsed, and add more hot water. This first steep will brew this ten seconds. I count them while cradling the tea pot in my hands, and then pour the tea out of the pot into a pitcher.
Ten seconds may seem very short, but it is usually perfect for a first brewing. We are using enough tea that every part of the hot water is adjacent to tea leaves. If you look inside the pot while it’s brewing, you should see a tea soup where the leaves are evenly and regularly distributed.
4. Additional steeps
We’re going to reuse these leaves again and again for each steep. I usually add around five seconds per steep the first time I brew a tea, and then make notes about what I like so I know if I want to increase or decrease brewing times the next time I brew it.
Steeps one through four
The first steep is a light amber; the next three are almost identical in color, although not exactly in taste.
This is a simplification, but when you brew tea for three minutes, you brew off all the compounds that brew in times from five seconds to three minutes all at once.
Doing it this way means that there are some compounds that don’t start entering the mix until later brews, while others come off immediately and have already been drunk. Each brew tastes slightly different.
Steeps five through eight
By the time you reach steep eight, the tea has been brewed a total of 10 + 15 + 20 + 25 + 30 + 35 + 40 + 45 = 3 minutes and forty seconds, which is about how long you’d brew it English style. The difference is that we’ve decanted the brewing water multiple times in between those brews. As you can see, it gradually becomes lighter and lighter.
Steeps nine and ten
When I started doing this, I was going to just keep brewing until the tea really had no more flavor, but to put things in context here, my husband (who was drinking with me) tapped out at steep four and I’m incapable of throwing out tea, so this basically means that I’d had 1.6 liters of tea in one sitting.
This was a competent tea: earthy and robust, a good tea to have when you want to pay a little attention to the tea, but also talk with friends and/or husbands, and cheaper than Starbuck’s coffee per session. Next time I brew this I will probably make the steeps just a little longer—adding 6 or 7 seconds each time instead of five.
As you can see, it will outlast me.
Elizabethan mischief by Elysabeth Grace
New books normally release on Tuesdays, and very often they release on the second-to-last Tuesday in the month. This week was one of the weeks where three amazing historicals landed and I wanted to read them all instantly.
I read through the blurbs. I looked through the covers. Surely one of them would demand that I read it first?
But look. How could I choose? How could I choose?
I ended up closing my eyes and stabbed my Kindle screen at random, and that is why I found myself reading Elizabethan Mischief by Elysabeth Grace deep into the night.
Full disclosure: I met Elysabeth Grace years ago at a romance conference in San Diego. We met briefly at a book signing, and longer, during a session for authors on volunteering and service to the community. We hit it off instantly.
In her other life, Elysabeth Grace is a professor emeritus from the UC system, one of the earliest Black academics who took on the work of Shakespeare. The first day we met, we talked about power and structure. I knew when I picked up this book that it would have her wisdom, her heart, and the decades of research into an era that she, as one of the very first Black Shakespeare scholars, would know better than anyone else. I was not wrong.
This is a book about two twin sisters born to the son of an earl and his Black, Arabic lover. Through the vagaries of fraternal genetics, one was born with dark skin, and the other with pale skin. The earl, who had no other grandchildren, forced his son’s wife to pretend the white child was hers, and left the Black child with her mother. Kate and Meg grow up not even knowing of each other’s existence.
The book starts when Kate discovers the truth of her parentage and is forced to serve as a maidservant for her sister, who serves the Queen. The two sisters—and they claim each other as sisters immediately—discover that their grandfather is engaged in a treasonous plot involving the Moorish ambassador who is due to arrive soon.
I don’t want to say that this book feels like Shakespeare—it reads much more easily, it’s not written in iambic pentameter—but it captures the feel of the Elizabethan era that comes through Shakespeare’s works. It’s bawdy in full Shakespearean fashion. Intrigue and betrayal and mistaken identity and comedy mix with a large cast of characters, all interesting, some queer, many Black. This book has love in many forms: spiritual, familial, unrequited romantic love that lingers decades long, instalove, slow growing love, and sometimes both at the same time. It was a delight.
Over the last three years, I’ve learned that my time here is limited. No, I don’t have any serious health issues—but I’ve had enough little things show up that are not serious (but could have been) that I’m very much aware of the passage of time.
So I sat down and made a list of things that I’ve always wanted to do. About half those things are “I have to write .”
But some of them are things that I wanted to do even before I decided to be an author—including one that I figured was physically impossible ten years ago. I don’t want to say too much about it in public for fear that I’ll jinx myself or (more saliently) have to deal with well-meaning people giving me advice that will apply to most people but won‘t be relevant to the very particular situation I have.
I’m just going to say this: there is something on my bucket list that for a long time, I didn’t think I could do, but at least for now, I want to believe it’s possible.
I want to have done it by this time next year.
Wish me luck in Doing a Thing.
Trade me (currently on sale)
Trade Me is a book that I wrote that called back to my experience as a graduate student. Like me, Tina went to UC Berkeley (I as there for grad school, she for undergrad). She was a CS/biology major; I dated someone in the CS department, and TAed a biochemistry class. The place she lived was close to my apartment, and while mine was nowhere near as dire as hers, the fuse tripping anytime you tried to draw too much electricity at a time–a hair dryer and a computer, for instance—came directly from those years.
This book occupies a special place in my heart, and I hope you’ll enjoy it.
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