This is a very big topic, and everyone who partakes in brewing tea Gong Fu Cha style will have their own personal way of doing it, but here’s a brief guide to the basic steps and what you need to get started.
What is Gong Fu Cha?
Gong Fu Cha (meaning: making tea with skill) is a traditional Chinese way of making tea. Instead of making just one large brew, you use small utensils and steep your tea multiple times, savouring how the aromas and flavours in the tea change with each brew.
What do you need for Gong Fu Cha?
- a “tea table” (a tray for preparing the tea from which excess water can be drained)
- a small teapot or gaiwan.
- a tray or white utensil on which the tea leaves can be examined
- a small jug (known as a fairness or sharing jug) for decanting the tea
- a bowl for discarding water
- small cups for serving
- a tea towel for mopping up drips
- a bamboo scoop or tweezers for selecting the tea
- a scale / timer
- a “tea pet”
- a sniffing set (tall cups for aroma and wide brimmed cups for tasting)
- a strainer to stop whole tea leaves going into the sharing jug
- (not strictly part of the gong fu cha ceremony but worth having) a glass or jug for cold brew of used leaves
How much tea should I use?
A tea master would use about 6 g of tea for about 100 ml of water. This seems a lot, but a large amount of leaves brewed quickly and often allow the tea to reveal its full flavour without any bitterness. For the sake of comparison, for western style brewing we use 12 – 15 ml of tea for one liter of water.
What are the steps in Gong Fu Cha?
Preparing tea gong fu cha style is all about taking time to appreciate and enjoy the tea. This is how we prepare our favourite oolongs for guests at The English Tearoom:
- Show your guests the tea you are going to prepare for them. Look at the dry leaves and silently give thanks to the farmer who produced this tea.
- Heat the water and “wash” the teapot and cups.
- Weigh out the tea and using a bamboo scoop or tweezers place the tea in the teapot or gaiwan.
- When the water has reached the correct temperature (90-95° for oolong) rinse / wake the tea with a short infusion of about half a minute. To do this fill your teapot or gaiwan to the brim so that it overflows slightly. Discard this “first infusion”.
- Now make a first proper infusion of about 10 seconds. During this time your guests might want to give thanks to the person making the tea.
- Pour the tea into the decanting jug and from here either into the cups or into aroma cups. If you are using aroma cups, place the small cup for drinking on top of the aroma cup, wait a moment or two, then flip it over. Invite your guests to smell the aroma of the empty aroma cup. If you are not using aroma cups invite your guests to smell the aroma on the lid of the teapot.
- Pour the tea into the cups and observe the colour of the liquor. Smell the liquor.
- Taste the tea. The tea should be drunk in three sips. During the first sip hold the tea in your mouth, breath in through your nose, slowly let part of the liquid slide down your throat, enjoy the flavour and then swallow the rest. Repeat for the second and third sips, concentrate on the tea entering your body and influencing your mind. Concentrate on the taste of the tea.
- Continue enjoying multiple infusions of the tea, enjoying how the taste and aroma change with each brew. Some teas might wane after four or five brews, others might be good for up to ten or more infusions!
- To finish the Gong Fu Cha ceremony turn your cup upside down and leave it on the tea table. This is a sign to your host not to pour you any more tea.
What types of teas are suitable for Gong Fu Cha?
Brewing any type of large leaf orthodox tea will work Gong Fu Cha style. Oolongs and artisan teas such as Katie Yen’s Honey Scent Black Tea in particular benefit from multiple steepings with a high leaf to water ratio.
Using your gaiwan
Using a gaiwan to brew gong fu cha tea is not only fun, it’s practical, easy to wash and store, and often comes as part of a travel kit. But when you are ready to serve the tea, be careful, the gaiwan will be hot and it may take some practice to pick it up without burning your fingers. We recommend holding the gaiwan so that the lid is slightly ajar, allowing the water to flow into a your sharing jug or tea bowl as you retain the leaves in the gaiwan.