There is no better way to enjoy tea than a gong fu tea ceremony. For some tea drinkers gong fu brewing may sound like something extremely complicated and reserved only for tea professionals. Although a proper gong fu tea brewing may take years to master, you can still incorporate the basic principles and start experiencing all those delicate flavor notes all tea connoisseurs are talking about.
What is gong fu tea brewing?
Gong fu tea brewing or gong fu cha is a Chinese way of brewing tea or a traditional Chinese tea ceremony, less known than the Japanese one, but widely practiced in China ans worldwide. The art of brewing tea is over 1000 years old, although the exact origin of gong fu tea ceremony are still debatable. Gong fu means a skill or an effort, so gong fu cha or gongfu tea can simply be translated into preparing tea with skill. And indeed, the skill of preparing a great tea in this way takes time to practice.
What are the benefits of gong fu tea brewing?
There are many benefits of gongfu style brewing. First, you will experience dozens of new flavors even in the teas you thought you already know very well. Gong fu brewing requires more tea leaves and less water that always result in a more intense flavor.
Next, you will use every single drop of flavor your tea has to offer. And third, it offers a wonderful opportunity to focus on tea and enjoy a peaceful time surrounded by intense scents, flavors and serenity.
Which teas are the best for gong fu brewing?
Theoretically, you can use any real tea for gong fu brewing. However, it’s usually reserved for Chinese and Taiwanese loose leaf teas and teas from some other East Asian countries. Since gong fu brewing is a lot about flavor, the best flavor will always come from the highest quality unbroken tea leaves. You may still try with the broken ones too. The best tea types are black, oolong, pu’erh, but you can use it for white and green tea too. Ball shaped rolled oolong teas such as Ti Kwan Yin or Chinese black Grand Keemun or Yunnan tea are the best ones to start with. This method is unsuitable for flavored tea, some tea blends, herbal teas or – tea bags.
Simple Gong Fu Brewing at Home
For gong fu brewing at home, you don’t need many utensils. Here are the essentials:
You will need a kettle to boil water. It pays to invest in a good kettle if brewing tea becomes your favorite pastime. Keep the kettle clean and always use fresh spring water.
The most important brewing vessel is gaiwan or a lidded tea bowl. It looks similar to a big tea cup with a lid. A good size for a gaiwan for solo gong fu brewing is about 100-150ml, but smaller and bigger ones are available too.
Alternatively, a smaller teapot is a great option too. The most popular small teapots used in gong fu brewing are called Yixing zisha teapots. Those small teapots are made from a special purple clay (zisha) from Yixing. They are always unglazed and usually quite pricey. Zisha should usually be used only for one type of tea only. You should never clean it with anything except water. Over the time it will accumulate an inside coating. This cotaint will attribute to the flavor of the tea too. Other small ceramic teapots are a good choice too.
If you are willing to invest into teaware and tea utensils, the next important item is a tea pitcher or a cha hai. It’s used for pouring the tea from the gaiwan or a teapot. Why is it important? If you are pouring tea directly from your brewing vessel into small cups, tea strength and flavor will be different in every cup. If you pour it into cha hai first and then into cups, all cups will contain liquor of the same strength and flavor.
Chinese tea cups are extremely small. It’s unlikely you will often find a 100 ml cup in a gongfu tea ceremony. Cups usually range from 30ml to about 70ml, but there are smaller and bigger ones too. Choose the size that’s most suitable for your teapot, tea type and how strong you want to brew the tea. Many passionate tea drinkers will say that the size, shape and material of the cup can change the flavor of the tea too.
Chinese tea tray is another indispensable item as it will come in handy for brewing other teas too. Chinese tea tray cannot be replaced with regular trays. It contains a special compartment for collecting water and can be cleaned very easily.
When you look at the proper setting for a gong fu brewing, you may see a lot of items. You don’t need all of them in the beginning. However, if you plan to always brew your tea this way, it pays to invest in additional utensils. Another valuable item is a strainer. Strainer may come in handy when you are still learning how to use gaiwan. It’s good at preventing any broken leaves from entering your cup. Tea spoon is another very useful utensil. You can use a regular teaspoon, but it may spoil a whole experience. Besides, having a special spoon for tea will reduce the risk of any dirt or moisture coming into your tea. There are other utensils that you could use, such as aroma cup and tongs. They will not be as important if you are just starting out.
Gong fu tea brewing step by step
- Prepare all tools and teaware in front of you. Make sure they are clean and dry.
- Boil water in a kettle.
- Measure the right amount of tea leaves. Small digital scale may be very useful, but if you don’t have one, you can guess the amount too. For rolled oolongs try to cover the bottom of the teapot with tea leaves. If you are using long twisted leaves, add even more. With some teas your tea pot should be more than half full of dry leaves.
- Rinse and pre-heat your teaware and cups by pouring hot water into the teapot, then from the teapot into the pitcher and then into the cups. Finally, dispose of the water.
- Place the tea leaves into a teapot. Don’t forget to smell them as they will have a much more intense scent.
- Pour the water over the leaves. You may wash the tea leaves first. Add water and steep the leaves very short, then discard the infusion. This is a very usual step with pu’erh and oolong tea. This step is called awakening the leaves. It help the leaves to „awaken“ and cleans any potential dust or „dirt“
- Now you are ready to make your first infusion. Never use boiling water for any type of For black tea, allow it to cool for a few seconds. Once the water temperature is right for the tea you are using it into the teapot. Do it slowly and in circular movements. Cover it and let it steep.. Don’t forget to take a look at how the leaves are expanding. Steeping time in gong fu brewing are much shorter– from 10 seconds to only sometimes a minute for the first steep. Increase the time with every subsequent steep.
- Pour the tea into a pitcher and divide between cups. If you are using just one cup, make sure the pitcher is empty before re-steeping. You should drink your cup of tea immediately without letting it to cool down. Most cups will be enough for 1-3 slurps– yes, you should slurp and feel the tea in your mouth.
- Re-steep the leaves. Increase the steeping time and repeat until the flavor is completely gone.
- Once you are done, take a look at the leaves again. They may tell you a lot about the tea you were just brewing.
- Clean the teaware and utensils. Never use washing up liquid or washing machine for porous teaware.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only. It’s not intended to replace medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Every person is different and may react to different herbs and teas differently. Never use teas or herbs to treat serious medical conditions on your own. Always seek professional medical advice before choosing home remedies.