Gongfu Cha Tea Brewing

I wrote an article a long time ago on how to do Gongfu Cha Tea Brewing but I have decided to write another updated version.

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This setup includes a clay teapot, glass serving jug with metal sieve and two teacups. Not shown is the bowl for discarding waste water. You can use anything that will work.

Basic principles:

  • small brewing vessels (teapot) – 75ml (2.5oz) is about the right size for one person, 150ml (5oz) for two etc.
  • correspondingly small teacups
  • high leaf to water ratio
  • short brewing times
  • repeated infusions using the same tea leaves

If the teapot is too big, each person will drink more than one cup per infusion, too small and they will drink less than a cup per infusion. Gongfu cha works best if you have one or two cups per infusion.

In effect, it is drinking many small cups of tea, and tasting how the infusions develop over time. Drinking in this method, you will also drink a larger quantity of the tea liquor or tea soup as it is sometimes called, than if you were to drink the tea in a mug. It shows you how the leaves release their flavours gradually rather than all at once.

The minimum equipment that you will need:

  • high quality loose leaf tea
  • hot water
  • small tea brewing vessel: teapot, gaiwan – Chinese lidded cup with a saucer, something that is small, heatproof and that preferably has a lid.
  • small teacups: Chinese teacups, espresso cups
  • a bowl to dispose waste water into
  • a serving jug, called a chahai in Chinese
  • optional: sieve if the teapot does not have a filter. This is placed onto the chahai.

Gongfu cha can be done in many different ways, and made quite elaborate, decorative, and precise, by adding more equipment, decorations and steps. I am presenting here what I consider to be basic brewing technique, using minimal teaware.


Step 1: Preheat all the teaware. Pour hot water into the teapot, then from the teapot to the chahai, then into the cups, and finally dispose of it into the bowl.


Step 2: Put the tea into the preheated teapot. The quantity of tea that you use will depend on the category of tea and how strong you like your tea. I used about 1/6 of the capacity of the teapot, you can use more or less if you wish. A smaller teapot will allow you to drink stronger tea using less leaf. As this point, you can give it a shake and smell the aroma. I used our Roasted Honey Black Tea, and the aroma was dark chocolate and baking spices.

Step 3 (Optional): Rinse the tea. I did not rinse this tea because it is organic but if you wish to rinse your tea: pour hot water into the teapot and immediately discard into the bowl. You can use this to preheat the chahai and cups again if you wish, before discarding.

Step 4: Brew the tea: put fresh water into the teapot, and brew the tea. The temperature of the water and the time to wait for will again depend on the category of tea. In this case, a relatively long brewing time is recommended, around a minute or so for the first brew.


Step 5: Pour out and enjoy your first cup. Pour the tea out into the chahai, and then into the cups, and enjoy your tea. A sieve will catch any small fragments of tea leaves. The taste of this tea is toasty at first with the flavour of the roast, which then is replaced by a complex and fruity tastes as the infusions progress.

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Step 6: Repeat steps 4 and 5 as many times as you wish, adding 30 seconds to a minute to the brewing time. If you find the tea too strong, you can reduce brewing time for the next infusion, and likewise if you find it too weak, you can increase brewing time, or even add more leaf.





Gong Fu Tea in Pictures

Here is one approach to the “Chinese Tea Ceremony”, otherwise known as gong fu tea, in pictures.

This is Chessers Tea’s Nantou Loose Green Tea.
On the left is a gaiwan, or lidded cup, and two teacups. Everything is small because you rebrew the same tea many times, and each time, it tastes a little different. You don’t have to use a gaiwan to drink tea gong fu style. Anything small preferably with a lid can work.
The quantity of tea leaves is up to you. It’s nice to experiment and see what works best. As time goes by, you will find that you like your tea stronger.
Each time you brew, pour slowly in a fine steady stream. For green tea, use water that is hot but not boiling (70-80C).
Tilt the gaiwan lid slightly to block the leaves, and hold it on the edges and lid as shown. When pouring in two cups, fill the first halfway, then fill the second completely, and then top up the other half of the first. This should give them both roughly the same concentration.
Repeat several times, and enjoy how the leaves expand, and the flavours intensify and change. As this is green tea, leaving the lid off is fine.
Green tea leaves fully expanded.



“Tea Patience” and Brewing Parameters

When brewing teas, and particularly when brewing teas in multiple steepings, we come up against how many times the same leaves can be brewed otherwise known as tea patience.

For most of the article, I am going to talk about brewing parameters and patience in tea in terms of gong fu style brewing: a small teapot or gaiwan, a large quantity of leaf (maybe about a quarter or a third of the brewing vessel full), and short repeated steepings of 5-30 seconds or so each, probably including a rinse at the beginning.


Tea patience is affected by the nature of the tea itself, as well as how you brew it.

A light oolong may yield many cups if it is brewed for say 5 seconds or so per steeping. (Brewed in a mug with each steeping time taking 2 or 3 minutes of slow drinking may not be the same.) The taste should still be full and fragrant.

Chessers’ black teas benefit from long steepings. I think my farmer must have brewed it for over a minute at a time, in a small glass jug, using enough leaf to fill the whole jug, and used boiling water. These long steepings however, although showing the tea to its best, do not produce such a high quantity of cups. I think we had 4 or 5 cups or so.

This is to say a few things:

  • the quantity of tea liqueur that can be yielded from a tea is not necessarily indicative of its quality, it can be the nature of the tea itself.
  • the amount of leaf, water temperature and brewing time will all affect the taste of tea.
  • teas will taste better when the above variables are in a good proportion, however at the same time, enjoyment is more important than trying too hard to brew too exactly. Having said that, brewing very exactly can be fun, some people even find it sort of ritualistic.

One of the aims of gong fu style tea, or gong fu cha is to make all the leaves open at the same rate. Pouring in the water at the edges of the pot so that the leaves stir around will help to achieve this.

Brewing gong fu style however, is very different to brewing in a mug, produces a different flavour profile, and is useful for seeing a tea’s flavours evolve. It takes practice to become better at this way of tea brewing, but it’s fun. Brewing in a mug will give you all of the flavour of the tea at once, or more immediately, and takes less skill, although it does present its own challenges. For instance, in gong fu style, you often see people pouring over more hot water on the teapot, to maintain a high temperature and develop patina on the pot. However, I have found that brewing in a mug does not require much attention to keeping the mug hot, as the high sides of the mug will retain heat exceptionally well, sometimes too well.

How To Brew Loose Leaf Tea in a Cup

This is our video for how to brew loose leaf tea using just hot water and a cup.

I find that after waiting for the leaves to settle and unfurl in the cup, they will not float towards you.

This way of drinking tea is much more convenient than the traditional “gong fu” style, which will be the subject of the next video.


How to Brew Tea in a Western Teapot

This is the first video for Chessers Tea’s new Youtube channel (feel free to join us there as well): how to simply brew loose leaf tea in a teapot.

I hope to make more videos in the future, with other ways of brewing tea.

Water temperature, quantity of leaf and length of time for each steep depends on the kind of tea.
Basically, the greener the tea, the cooler the water. Use 60-70 degrees celcius for green teas, 70-80 for oolongs, and 80-90 or so for black teas.
For length of time, generally, increasing the steeping time a few seconds in each steeping will work well.
However, feel free to experiment and see what tastes best.