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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

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Gongfucha: How The Chinese Tea Ceremony became ceremonial

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A teapot, serving jug, aroma cup and drinking cup for gongfu cha.

The Chinese Tea Ceremony, or gongfu cha is often thought of as being an ancient ceremony, performed throughout China and then passed on to the West relatively recently. The truth is that it originated in the Chinese south-eastern province, Chaozhou, and it was relatively unknown outside this area even in the 1950s.

Gongfu cha was the most elaborate method of tea brewing in China, using more utensils and smaller utensils than tea brewing in other parts of China.

What made gongfu cha better known was its popularisation in Taiwanese tea houses during the 1970s and 1980s. In particular, Wistaria Tea House and the Lu Yu Tea Culture Institute both made important contributions to the popularisation of gongfu cha, as well as with standardising it and making it more elaborate. Zhou Yu, the founder of Wistaria Tea House is credited with having done research into historic tea brewing and contributed to gongfu cha combining Japanese, Korean and British traditions with the Chaozhounese brewing technique.

Taiwanese tea houses formed the Chinese Tea Art Friendship Association of Tea Houses in the late 1970s. In 1982, the Republic of China Tea Art Association was formed by the government in Taiwan, with the aim of promoting Chinese tea culture in Taiwan and abroad, and to educate about Chinese Tea Arts. There was a sense of responsibility in Taiwan to safeguard Chinese culture in the face of the Cultural Revolution.

As the tea bushes that began commercial tea cultivation in Taiwan came from Fujian province in south-eastern China, gongfu cha was also adopted as it came from the same sort of area, Chaozhou bordering Fujian.

All of these factors combined as well as the tea market beginning to sell domestically enabled gongfu cha to be widely practised in Taiwan, and certain additions were made: an aroma cup, to pour the tea into and smell the aromas from before drinking the tea from a second cup and a serving jug, to pour the tea from the teapot into, and from which the tea is poured into the cups. This jug ensures that the tea is of equal strength throughout the cups.

As well as a desire to preserve Chinese culture, tea houses wished to have a ceremony equal to that of Japan’s chanoyu matcha tea ceremony. Chanoyu has aesthetic elegance, Buddhist and philosophical ideas behind it and there is a strict set of rules that differ from one school to another in how each movement is performed and what role each person has to play in the ceremony. It is used to brew matcha, a powdered green tea. However it was another tea ceremony in Japan, called senchado that more directly influenced gongfu cha. Senchado is used to brew sencha, a loose leaf green tea. The teaware in senchado is Ming Chinese in origin, while Japanese aesthetics and philosophy underpin it. One impact of senchado on gongfu cha was the chaxi, an elegant and composed arrangement of teaware and decorations. As steps were added, some were for philosophical or aesthetic purposes, some for practical purposes, producing a ceremony more similar to senchado in its aims. An example of the former would be drinking the tea in three sips to represent heaven, man and earth. An example of the latter would be smelling the tea leaves and handing them around for observation. Although it is not necessary to do this, it does give some information on the tea to the person brewing and anyone drinking with them.

Tea brewing methods and ideas have been passed amongst Mainland China, Taiwan and Japan, adding to their history and making each ceremony or way of brewing more interesting along the way.

 

Sources: A Foreign Infusion: The Forgotten Legacy of Japanese Chadō on Modern Chinese Tea Arts by Lawrence Zhang (Marshaln), Gastronomica, Spring, 2016.
A Quintessential Invention: Genesis of a Cultural Orthodoxy in East Asian Tea Appreciation by Loretta Kim and Lawrence Zhang (Marshaln), China Heritage Quarterly, No. 29, March, 2012.

一期一会 “Once in a lifetime meeting”

The above phrase is in Japanese and can be translated in a variety of different ways. Literally the meaning is “one lifetime, one meeting”. It is pronounced ichi-go ichi-e. Japanese has a range of four character idiomatic phrases called yojijukugo  四字熟語, of which this is a famous one. It is closely connected to the Japanese tea ceremony, and it expresses the idea that every meeting amongst people is unique, and cannot really be repeated and therefore should be cherished.

This idea is what I want my company to be all about, appreciating each occasion that we receive to spend time meeting people for tea, which we will prepare as best as we can.

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Ichi-go ichi-e written on the wall in the guest room of a friend’s house, expressing the same feeling that every meeting is a once-in-a-lifetime event and should be treasured.

Even though the same people can see each other again, the same meeting cannot really be repeated. The Japanese tea ceremony is therefore based on the idea of preparing for and enacting your role with great sincerity and care, in order to honour this unique meeting with your guests or host. Ichi-go ichi-e is connected to the Japanese appreciation of the sadness and beauty of impermanence.

However we consider it philosophically, gongfu cha is a longer process than drinking tea western style, so it encourages people to talk to each other, and enjoy the tea that they drink. It is also very often a novel activity, and a conversation starter. For people for whom gongfu cha is a novel activity, high quality tea is often a novel drink as well, so we can use it to form friendships, enjoy something nice and healthy together, and share an interest all at once.

 

Tasting tea from bowls

The Northern Teaist wrote a great post fairly recently on brewing tea in bowls.

This is another kind of bowl brewing technique that works well to drink and evaluate teas against each other, and can be adapted for several people drinking together.

As it is easy and effective, I recommend this technique for people who may want a simpler “tea ceremony” that requires no special equipment. I highly recommend this method.

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This is all you need – a spoon, a drinking cup and a bowl for each tea that you are drinking. If you have more people, increase the number of drinking cups to ideally one cup per person per tea (so two people drinking three teas would have six cups in total).

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Here I have measured out 5g of the Honey Black Tea, and roughly 5.5g of the High Mountain Oolong.

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I filled up the bowls to roughly the same level with hot water.

If serving more people, you can use larger bowls and more tea. The amount of tea is just a guide, please adjust to personal preference, and you can also add more water if it gets bitter.

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Use the spoons to pour the tea into the cups, and you can smell both sides of the spoon to appreciate the aroma. This worked exceptionally well with both of these teas.

All that is left is to enjoy the tea, refill the bowls with more water, and drink as much as you want with the same tea leaves. I found this method very easy and also very effective. The flavours of both the teas come out in all their complexity and richness, in aroma and taste.

For a more advanced technique, have a look at my post on gong fu cha.

Gong Fu Tea in Pictures

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

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This is Chessers Tea’s Nantou Loose Green Tea.
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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.
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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.
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Each time you brew, pour slowly in a fine steady stream. For green tea, use water that is hot but not boiling (70-80C).
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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.
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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.
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Green tea leaves fully expanded.