March 18, 2019

Gong Fu Tea

Simplify your approach to the gong fu tea ceremony. Go with my streamlined flow and you'll be serving gong fu cha in under 10 steps.

The Meaning of Gong Fu

If gong fu sounds like kung fu that's because the terms are one and the same. Kung fu is the Wade Giles spelling and gong fu is the Pinyin spelling of a Chinese martial art. Gong fu/kung fu means to exhibit mastery through hard work. What does gong fu mean in the context of tea? Delmas and Minet say it is “infusing tea systematically and diligently.”

The First Gong Fu Tea Ceremony

The gong fu tea ceremony emerged in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912). Gascoyne et al. note the earliest reference to the ceremony dates to early 17th century China. A paper by the O-Cha Tea Festival claims that the gong fu cha ceremony was developed specifically to prepare oolong tea. These two ideas about gong fu tea ceremony make sense in light of the fact that loose leaf was a Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) innovation. Much of my experiences with gong fu cha has been with oolong. Oolong (and of course, puerh) is ideally prepared in multiple short infusions, the essence of the gong fu tea ceremony.

Teaware for a Gong Fu Tea Ceremony

The basic tools of a gong fu tea ceremony are:
  • Yixing teapot (or gaiwan)
  • A tray that drains water away from the serving area
  • A dish to display your dry tea leaves
  • A sharing vessel
  • Drinking cups
  • A strainer if you are steeping puerh

Steps of the Gong Fu Tea Ceremony

When I first witnessed a formal gong fu tea ceremony I found it quite complex. Honestly, I still find a proper gong fu tea ceremony intimidating. However, it is a beautiful process to watch and in which to participate. I've boiled down the ceremony to this gentle sequence.
  1. Gather your teaware and place them on a tray.
  2. Warm and cleanse your teapot with hot water. Pour out this water but don’t waste it. Cool it to room temperature to water your plants.
  3. Pour hot water into your sharing vessel. Pour this water into the drinking cups. Pour out excess water from the sharing vessel but don’t waste it.
  4. Add your tea leaves to the now empty teapot (consider a 1:15/20 leaf to water ratio). With the lid in place, shake the teapot. Smell the leaves. (Take moments to inhale deeply.)
  5. Pour water hot water (temperature appropriate for tea you are serving) unto the leaves in your teapot then put on the lid. Pour water over the lid and pot. While the leaves are steeping, discard the water in the drinking cups.
  6. Pour the liquor into the sharing vessel then pour the tea into the drinking cups.
  7. Repeat steps 5-6 until your tea leaves have been spent. 

If you’d like to use a gaiwan to prepare your tea, read my post about How to Brew Puerh Tea. If you select a Taiwanese oolong, you may want to add an aroma cup to your gong fu tea ceremony to further appreciate the scents of the liquor.

I'd love to hear about your experiences with gong fu tea -- share them in the comments.

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