Tea Vocab: The Root (via Jing Tea Shop)

My latest home tea adventure was a box of eleven astoundingly delicious samples from the Jing Tea Shop, in China.  (Apparently the Canton Tea Co. is their reseller in the UK, so you may have tasted some of their teas without knowing it.)

I'm sure I'll be raving about the individual teas from time to time, as posts go by.  However!  What I want to talk about (and hopefully get some feedback on) today, is that at the bottom of every white, yellow, or, in this example, green tea's page, they post this tip:

When you brew Chinese green tea in a gaiwan, always leave a little bit of tea in the gaiwan between each infusion. This is call [sic.] “the root” and will allow you to get the best of the green tea.
I'm no expert, but I've been around a few tea blocks, and have never heard mention of "the root" before.  I plugged Google's fourteen different Chinese translations of the English word "root" into Babelcarp, searched for "root" on the Tea Geek Wiki, and on Wikipedia, read several broadly and specifically related articles, and searched the Internet en général, all to no avail.

The tea world's track record on issues of disseminating accurate information, making firm delineations between history and legend, and refraining from just straight up fabricating something because it makes a good story, has been pretty well documented to be far from spotless.  But this relatively inconsequential — though quite useful — fact strikes me as more the kind of thing that is just such a part of the scenery of common practice that people who know it wouldn't often think to mention it.

I kind of hope so; I love finding out about that kind of thing, either in the mundane realm, or in terms of the deepest assumptions informing people's lives and world-views.  It's sometimes shocking, and always fascinating.  If it weren't for my partner, for example, I might never have really appreciated how, for an introvert like her, interacting with a group of people is usually draining and exhausting; to an extrovert like myself, it's energizing and exciting — sometimes to the point where I get so hopped-up on people I can't sleep.  If it weren't for my friend who's family belongs to a conservative religious sect, I wouldn't have known that they have almost the exact same paranoid fantasies about liberals as we liberals have about conservatives — just reverse the names and there you go!

Anyway, coming back to tea.  I actually noticed the efficacy of this "root" trick long before I realized tea doesn't have to come in a bag.  When I would drink a cup of tea down to the last drop, or press out the bag, the second steeping of the bag would produce very weak tea indeed.  (I can almost hear you tea people cringing!)  But, if I allowed the bag to remain wet, even in a very small amount of liquid, the second cup would be much more satisfactory.

I guess this must rely on the same physical principle that causes a totally dry sponge to be almost incapable of absorbing water at low pressure.  A damp sponge, on the other hand — probably due to some sort of capillary-based wicking effect — can absorb even the tiniest of dribbles.  Makes sense if that holds true for tea leaves, as well.

So, have you heard of the root?  Or, heard of the same concept, but under a different name?  If so, I'd love it if you'd share the proverbial wealth of knowledge in the comments!


MarshalN has some great stuff over here, towards which he pointed me via Twitter (@Teafanatic):
* Grandpa Style Brewing Summary
* More background on Grandpa Style
* Grandpa Style, point by point (see especially point 1)

Thanks, Marshal!

I have read several articles that talk about leaving part of an infusion in the brewing vessel, and I think that at least one reference called this the "root," but I can't recall the source. I can see how it would make a big difference in subsequent infusions, though, since the tea continues to infuse and change as long as there's some liquid. (When brewing sencha the opposite is desirable - the goal is to get as much of the moisture out of the infused leaf as possible between infusions.)

Thanks for the info, Cinnabar! Yeah, it's interesting how the different styles of production and preparation have evolved (co-evolved?). I'd love to figure out more of the chemistry behind the magic...

Also, for anyone who wants a simple, nicely produced, and quite relaxing primer on preparing some common styles of Japanese teas, this podcast is just the ticket.

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Recent Comments

  • David: Thanks for the info, Cinnabar! Yeah, it's interesting how the read more
  • Cinnabar: I have read several articles that talk about leaving part read more
  • David: MarshalN has some great stuff over here, towards which he read more