There are many enthusiastic tea drinkers who are already familiar with the term gong fu, believing that it denotes a form of tea preparation. This is somewhat true, and we’ve written a guide that explains how you too can prepare tea gong fu.
But gong fu is so much more than just tea preparation.
Translated literally, gong fu means with effort, and it is used to describe a way of life, a way of carefully and mindfully exercising skill to the best of one’s ability. To do anything gong fu is to be disciplined and thoughtful, to pay attention and put intention into every detail.
It should come as little surprise, then, to learn that martial arts are sometimes generically referred to as kung fu. This is not supposed to be an expression of ignorance. On the contrary, it is simply another translation of the same Chinese characters for gong fu (功夫), and so it is a way of recognizing the tremendous effort and control that martial artists exercise in their practice.
Things can be a little confusing when it comes to tea though.
You may have actually even seen tea referred to as gong fu tea without realizing it, such as Sichuan Imperial Gong Fu black tea or Keemun Imperial Gong Fu black tea. These are not just marketing terms but tell us something special about the tea.
How might tea crafted gong fu be different?
In the age of mass production, technological progress, and standardization, gong fu takes us back to a time when teas were incredibly difficult to produce, taking as many as seventeen steps and countless hours of labor to craft. A single error at any step, whether it is drying, rolling, bruising, oxidizing, etc., can have an adverse, costly impact on the finished result.
When making tea using traditional techniques, it is absolutely imperative for everyone involved from the farmers to the artisans to work in concert and apply the utmost of care to accomplish their goals. There is far less risk involved when using machines to roll, conveyor belts to dry, and factories to store. Gong fu tea, by contrast, requires much more labor and is far more intense.
But does it make a difference?
When you’re looking for the same flavor from year-to-year, the technological innovations can help, but we don’t believe sameness is what making and drinking tea is about. Every year offers us something different. The flavor of our teas is at the mercy of the weather, the soil, and the artisans themselves, and what they put into their teas comes out in a flavor that simply can’t be duplicated by machine processing.