Gongfu tea is a way of making tea, which incorporates certain methods for brewing, appreciating, serving and getting the most out of your tea.
There are two tea brewing methods; the western method, or the traditional Chinese Gongfu method. For the best results, we recommend the Gongfu approach.
Gongfu means effort in Chinese; please don't confuse it with the martial art of Kung Fu. Although both imply great skills, Gongfu tea means taking great effort and discipline to make the best tea.
There are four major differences between Gongfu and the western method:
- Brewing vessel
- Amount of tea leaves
- Steeping duration
- Number of steepings
More specifically, the Gongfu method may use twice as many tea leaves than the western method, a much shorter infusion duration (sometimes as short as 10 seconds), and many steeps. Some good Oolong and Puer tea can be steeped as many as 15 times! The western method usually utilizes a big teapot, one or two tablespoons of tea, a 2-5 minute steeping (depending on the tea type), and just 1-2 infusions.
The Gongfu method is commonly used for Oolong tea, black tea, and puer tea. There is no Gongfu method for brewing green tea, though we recommend to brew shorter times for green tea than the western method typically employs. Making a great cup of tea involves many factors, including the quality and type of tea pot, the grade of the tea, the purity of the water, and the brewer's skills and knowledge. The specific brewing techniques for each type of tea can vary significantly.
The following are tea wares and accessories are necessary for making Gongfu tea:
The Tea Pot
- Yixing Zi Sha teapot - Yixing is a city in JiangShu province, China. Zi Sha means purple clay in Chinese. Zi Sha is a special clay found only in Yixing ciy and it can enhance the flavor of the tea. It is the preferred brewing vessel for all Gongfu tea. In general, a small Zi Sha tea pot under 250ml is preferred in making Gongfu tea.
- Porcelain Gaiwan - another widely used brewing vessel is a Gaiwan. It has three parts, a bowl, a lid, and a saucer, which represent Heaven (the lid), Earth (the saucer), and a person in the middle (the bowl). A Gaiwan handles all teas well and is very versatile, but requires practice and skills to master.
Tea cups - Gongfu tea cups are very small compared to Western standards. This is to emphasize the enjoyment of every drop of tea and to treasure the quality rather than the quantity. This approach allows you to enjoy your tea while the temperature is just right.
Other accessories - a pitcher, a filter, a tea tray, a kettle, a strainer, tongs, a tea scoop, and a small scale.
It is worth noting that the quality of the water is extremely important in making a good cup of tea. It cannot be emphasized enough how important good water is in bringing the best flavor out of a good tea. The best type of water is fresh spring water which has the right PH level and minerals. The ratio of mineral content in the water and the level of oxygen in the water has a great mount of influence on your brewing results.
Gongfu Brewing, step-by-step:
- Warm and rinse the Yixing Zi Sha tea pot (or Gaiwan) with pre-heated spring water and do the same with the tea cups.
- Immediately place the tea leaves into the teapot and rinse the tea leaves. There are two purposes to this step: to rinse off the dust and to wake up the tea, especially for aged teas.
- Smell the aroma in the lid of the Zi Sha tea pot (or Gaiwan). Pass it around to share the delightful aroma with others.
- Add hot water for the first brewing, steep for 5-15 seconds (Brewing time varies depending the type of tea), then pour the tea into the tea cups. Be sure to first pour the tea into a pitcher( using a strainer to filter out any wet leaves) before pouring into the tea cups. The brewing time for each steeping can vary greatly depending on the specific tea that you are brewing.
- Smell the aroma, observe the liquor, then enjoy your cup of tea.
- Repeat for many infusions.
Using Gongfu brewing also requires a high quality tea. The Gongfu method will bring the best out of the tea, but it will not magically transform a poor quality tea.
At the end of the day, brewing Gongfu tea doesn't have to be as formal as in the classic traditional Gongfu ceremony. The Gongfu method can be enjoyed every day, and is a delightful sensory experience and truly brings the best out of your tea.
We will be teaching a hands-on Gongfu brewing class and explain the nuances of brewing technics - please sign up for our newsletter to be alerted as to the class schedule.