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I should have stayed in the shaving forums. . .

Congratulations enablers, you got me again!

Up until yesterday I haven't ever bothered to look into The Cafe. Yesterday, I was content to drink my powdered bags of Chai with milk and sugar. Now, I have the irresistible urge to try pretty much every whole leaf tea!

Jumping in with both feet, I went ahead and ordered an electric kettle, mini-scale, gaiwan, and an inexpensive cake of pu'er. Probably a low quality one, but I figure I don't have the pallette (or wallet) to appreciate a $70 cake right now. The important part is that I can get started experimenting quickly with a consistent "sample".

I do have a few questions that I haven't found answers to yet, or the 2009 answers are a bit dated.

Am I missing anything critical? Teacups, I guess, but I figured that for my first foray into non-CTC teas a mug that's never been tainted with coffee should suffice.

Since I'm currently partial to sweetened Chai, are there any particular teas that I should be in a hurry to try?

Similarly, are there any specific "batches" (from any category) of tea that you would recommend for a novice? You know, good deals that aren't quite at the bottom of the barrel, etc.

And what about online stores? All of the suggestions I've found from the wiki are nearly a decade old. Some of them are probably still good, but I'd like to hear everyone's current picks.

Lastly, a pu'er question: for rinsing shu, (ripe) do you guys do two 30s rinses and then start with very short steepings? The cake I ordered is shu, yet most of the steeping advice I've seen is for the green. (sheng?)

Once you start using leaf tea, you will have a hard time going back to tea bags. I brought Stash Christmas Chai to work and made a cup this morning.

Sent from my XT1254 using Tapatalk


Stjynnkii membörd dummpsjterd
Moderator Emeritus
Don't fret- we have plenty more sub forums to keep you broke.

This is my official procedure for rinsing shu pu'er:

Place 5g of shu in bathtub.
Fill tub with cold water.
Drain tub.
Brew tea.
Replace bathtub.
@ouch But my apartment doesn't have a tub! :a48:

I guess a couple dozen sink rinses will have to suffice. :biggrin1:

It's a good thing I'm a tea barbarian-I can always drown a bad cup in milk and sugar!
Thankfully, I can dodge that particular rabbit hole. I strongly dislike coffee. I'm sure that some of it tastes better than what I've had so far but I can't even imagine coffee that I would consider palatable. I can make a drink out of coffee, but I still don't care for it. And that drink has more milk, by volume, than coffee and probably more sugar than some sodas. :lol:

So I think it's best for everyone if I concentrate on the tea, for now. In a few years my tastes might change, after trying some of the "bolder" teas. But honestly, I doubt it. :laugh:
Thankfully, I can dodge that particular rabbit hole. I strongly dislike coffee. I'm sure that some of it tastes better than what I've had so far but I can't even imagine coffee that I would consider palatable. I can make a drink out of coffee, but I still don't care for it. And that drink has more milk, by volume, than coffee and probably more sugar than some sodas. :lol:

So I think it's best for everyone if I concentrate on the tea, for now. In a few years my tastes might change, after trying some of the "bolder" teas. But honestly, I doubt it. :laugh:
You can certainly empty your wallet with tea, as well. Enjoy your brew!


I'm calling the U.N.
Moderator Emeritus
The cake I ordered is shu
Am I missing anything critical?
Yes ... real tea.

(Sorry, but I find most shu to be ... well, I remember which one is which by thinking "shoe leather". Hopefully you enjoy it; please understand that sheng will be noticeably better, even at the same price range. As I understand it, shu is an attempt to recreate quickly the particular taste of a well-aged sheng ... a month instead of a decade sort of thing ... and the result is like comparing a fake tan from a New Jersey salon to the golden maidens of Rio.)

Enjoy ... but know that your tea journey WILL get better.
Yes ... real tea.
I appreciate the honesty! The main reason I purchased this shu was that I was in a hurry to get started and this one will arrive within the next day or two. As long as it isn't too horrible I should be able to get some practice with the new gaiwan without feeling like I'm wasting "the good stuff." I do have a feeling that if I really enjoy pu'er it will end up being mostly the sheng. . . Though I'll have to find some that's good fresh, because I don't think I can pay the "well aged" prices and I definitely don't have the patience to leave it sitting on a shelf for a decade or two! :laugh:

Do you have any particular "non-shoe" recommendations? I snagged a pu'er to start with because all the chatter about how unusual they are caught my interest, but I am interested in trying a much broader selection. Right now I'll try almost anything (I did order a shu!) provided the price is on the modest side and as long as it can be brewed in a gaiwan. Green, white, red/black, oolong, tisane, China, Japan, Taiwan, India, whatever! Though I expect my eventual preferences will be the sweeter, stronger ones. Definitely not fond of bitterness.

Ad Astra

The Instigator
Relax, shu rules. As long as your not drinking floor-sweeping (teabag) tea, all will be well.

I recommend strongly the really good book, The Story of Tea, by Kriess? I think.

Tea is happiness. Find your own path.

Oolong. Gunpowder. Dragon Well. Darjeeling. Lapsang Souchong .... Go easy on that last one ...


Ad Astra

The Instigator
Little bit of LS goes a long way ... Like drinking a campfire.

A pinch of it in black tea is about right.

Yeah, the LS sounded rather interesting, but I'll be sure to brew it lightly the first time around. Heavy smokiness might not do it for me, though the idea of mixing it with a red/black sounds interesting.

Here's where I'm at: the rest of my starter kit should arrive today or tomorrow, so I'm playing around with a Tea Spring cart of samples. I'm holding off on formally making the purchase until I get a chance to play around with the gaiwan, which just gives me more time to get picky about the samples. Right now I'm at 10 samples, including the LS, Dragon Well, Keemun, and Jasmine. The miser in me is complaining at $50 in samples, considering how much the initial startup costs are (college student here). The slightly more rational part of my brain (the "self-enabler," capable of truly impressive leaps and rationalizations) is quick to point out that ~250g should make ~50 sessions, which really isn't bad for samples. Unless the quality is poor. . . But it sounds like Tea Spring has a decent reputation. I'm sure I could find another store with slightly cheaper samples, but the 25g per (I figure it's better than 15 for a newbie) and variety might be hard to match. And any cheaper would really be playing the quality roulette (I assume).

One thing that I found TS to be lacking (aside from a real pu'er selection) was a gunpowder. The name keeps popping up and, on a whim, I browsed Amazon's selection. Overall, Amazon's loose-leaf selection looks fairly underwhelming but the greens seem slightly better off. I found a cheap "Temple of Heaven" gunpowder that I couldn't pass on: 250g for $6 with Prime shipping! I have a feeling that this price puts it in the "below average" band but the reviews were surprisingly positive. I know, I shouldn't trust them, but I am (currently) a fellow tea-barbarian. Pretty much the only negative I could find was that it might have a little too much "powder"/"sediment" in it, and that a picky person would do well to rinse it before brewing. It's a bit of a gamble, but if decently palatable it would make a great "daily driver": it also comes in a 1 kilo box for ~$12! :eek2:

Worst case scenario I'm out $6 and still need to try a "real" gunpowder. Silly question: are the "pearl" and "gunpowder" teas basically terms for various greens that have undergone the same packing process or are they very similar within the same leaf-quality band?

Also, is there a good resource for brewing different teas in a gaiwan? I doubt that it's going to be very intuitive for me, and I'd hate to go though an entire sample without having a single decent cup to represent the tea. Worse yet, I might not even realize the poor flavor was my fault! :a48:

The stuff I've been finding hasn't been very consistent. For greens, for example, the only thing everybody agrees on is that you have to be super careful to avoid roasting them. I've heard 2g, 5g, 1/2 full, etc. Rinse, don't rinse. . . And practically nothing on the actual steeping times! I know, each tea will be different and each person's tastes will also impact brewing. But it'd be really nice to have a baseline to start at and modify from there. Aside from the delicate greens, oolong seems especially troublesome because some behave like greens, some like red/blacks, and some are firmly in the middle.:huh:

Ad Astra

The Instigator
Gunpowder and Pearl is the same, I think I recall.

A quick rinse of boiling water on your Shu leaves will do it ... Wakes the tea up, so to speak.

Though black teas steep anywhere from 2-5 minutes, you can get great Shu in seconds; go by color in the cup.

Consider hitting you local Asian grocery store; I've gotten excellent tong ting oolong, dragon well and other green teas at mine.

Don't let the sheng pu-heads tell you any different, Shu is the best!

Well. It's all an acquired taste.

@Ad Astra Thanks for the tips! I might have to look around for a store nearby. Oooh, they could have mochi ice cream! I've been craving that for some time. . .

Amazon delivered the shu and gaiwan. . . To the front office, not my apartment. They seem to be pretty random about that. Normally, I don't care. It's a trade-off: safer but less convenient. However, the office seems to be holding the package hostage! :cursing:

They have a horrible policy where they have to send you an email notifying you that the package is available before you can actually pick it up. I've actually tried "early" pickup and been sent away before. . . Only to be back an hour later because the email finally came through. Amazon's notice of successful delivery was 2:30 and the office closed at 6 or 7 (it changes throughout the year). I refreshed my email quite often this afternoon, to no avail. :sod:

If I can't pick it up tomorrow, things might get messy. :a51:
I was! And that's the only part that went well. :001_rolle

I was quite eager to give it a whirl, so I did exactly that! The gaiwan and shu shipped together, so it was also my first time messing with the hardware. Whoever suggested (I read it somewhere else) that a gaiwan newbie practice "dry" runs (with tap water and no leaves) is a lifesaver! If I hadn't tried that a few times I would almost certainly have given myself a decent burn or two. The big "secret" that I learned was that pouring the gaiwan should be done swiftly and without hesitation--but not overly rushed, either. Slow and hesitant results in poor pouring and toasty fingers!

My gaiwan was listed as being a 120 mL volume cup so, silly me, I measured out ~120 mL of tap and filled the cup to get a better idea of how full it should be. Kinda weird that the lid ends up in the tea, but hey, it's not floating or anything weird. Must be fine. Let's go for it! Nope, not fine! Too far up seems to heat the rim of the cup too much and results in my poor fingers getting burned. This means I'll have to use even less than 120 mL--definitely some small brews. Oh, and the sides are definitely too thin for me to use the other grip (holding the saucer and bracing the cup with your thumb). I'm not how much a thicker gaiwan would help, but leaving the water level slightly lower in a larger cup wouldn't be quite as inconvenient. I suspect/hope that this gaiwan will fare better with greens, since they use noticeably cooler water and the lid is left off for steeping. I think I might end up getting a mini-pot for the "toastier" brews. Maybe start with glass or porcelain, and eventually a yixing pot dedicated to pu'er. Or should sheng and shu have separate pots?

As for the shu, it was just as problematic. A light, fishy scent (wo dui?) on the cake (bing? Still working on the lingo) but it seemed to disappear during the brewing. My first ever cake, so I don't have anything to compare it to, but it seems very dry. I think I need to go watch videos on breaking up pu, because my pick was just shattering everything. eventually I ended up with ~6g in several chunks (leaving behind nearly that much in flakes) and I tossed them in the cup.

Que the boiling water rinsing. I went with two 35 second-ish rinses and then a flash steeping, which ended up being tossed due to the excessive bits floating in it. So I kept trying. . . and trying. . . I started drinking an average of half of the cup each time, still more or less flash steeping and still ending up with bits of leaf in the mug. My electric kettle started the session with ~1.5 liters pre-boiling and it was pretty much empty by the time I called it quits. At this point the leaves needed at least 20 seconds steeping, and it was still noticeably paler than the first few flashes. Clear enough to see the leaf bits at the bottom of the mug. . .

As far as taste. . . Well, I'm no good at describing these things, nor am I good at picking up subtle scents/tastes. The closest thing I could compare it to is probably a generic cup-o-teabag that's had plenty of steeping and no additives. :prrr: However, there was far less bitterness than one would have gotten from the teabag. Also, the caffeine did perk me up a bit, so its not a total wash.

I know that user error played a part in this "disaster." But I'm also pretty sure that the shu wasn't pulling it's weight: aside from it's tendency to flake, I also noticed stems/twigs in there with the leaves, which I'm pretty sure isn't a good thing. I was initially so annoyed that I almost tossed the whole thing in the trash! But reason prevailed, and I've simply set it aside for the moment. Time will certainly improve my technique, and I can't imagine this shu getting any worse from having a little breather.

Surprisingly, I have another package to pick up--here's hoping it's the gunpowder!
It was the gunpowder--and now Amazon's 0/2. I think I've learned my lesson. No more eastern teas from them! Might still try a western blend or tisane from them at some point--an underwhelming black tea could take a dash of milk and from what I've heard it's hard to screw up Rooibos. But for now I'm annoyed enough to look elsewhere. :nono:

Without a thermometer it's a little difficult to tell whether or not the water's too hot for the green, and I can't go by taste/smell since this is my first time brewing anything like it. So, when in doubt, make a lot of tea! I made a few different servings, and I can guarantee that at least one wasn't too hot--that time the water wasn't much hotter than the tap gets. The only time it tasted any good was when I put a drop of honey in it--and that tasted better room temp than it did warm. :lol: Oh, and the gaiwan was much easier to use with less-than-boiling water and without the lid trapping the heat around the lip.

One of the big reasons I'm trying these loose leaf teas is in an attempt to kick "sugar added" drinks, so a fat drop of honey in ~100 mL of tea is a bit of a conflict of interests. While I can't completely rule out brewing error I can definitely tell that this gunpowder also has quite a bit of torn leaves and stems/twigs in it, which doesn't say much for the brand.

Having had both teas today, I think I can start to form some hypotheses about my preferences. I'm still going to try a variety at some point, but I think that most of the greens won't be to my taste--I'll cautiously hunt for exceptions but I'm not too hopeful. I think my tea-future lies with blacks, pu'er, and possibly oolongs. If I had to pick one of today's 2 teas to drink (plain) on a regular basis, well, I think I'd get used to the shu before the gunpowder. Though I have a feeling my pu'er experiences can get better than that sucker! :lol:

Tomorrow, if I have the time, I think I will try to hit the Asian market. Might just window shop, might snag something if it looks decent. But probably just black or oolong; not really feeling a green at the moment and I've heard that normal markets have pretty bad pu'er, if any. And I think I've already got enough low-grade shu for now.:blush:

Ad Astra

The Instigator
OL; tea's a journey ... culture in a cup. Personally, I don't have a gaiwan; a stainless steel strainer basket works well for me.

I flash rinse the puerh once, maybe twice, then throw it in the basket and steep in plain white cups.

At least you know you're drinking real tea now, not mystery-content/floor sweeping tea bags. :chinese:

Healthy life-change: on the weekend I get away from sugar-laden coffee and chemical-laden soft drinks. Good tea's hard for me to make time for weekdays, unless I make a pot of ice tea the night before.