The Chinese Art of Tea - Gong Fu Brewing 101
Posted by So Han on Jun 21st 2022
Y’all have probably heard me talk at length about Gong Fu Cha style tea brewing.
Maybe you’re a seasoned pro, or maybe you’re wondering: what is Gong Fu Cha??
Here is a quick guide to answer some of the basic questions.
1. What is Gong Fu Cha?
Gong Fu Cha is a traditional Chinese method of preparing tea.
功夫 = “Gong Fu” is a very Chinese concept that can roughly be translated as “skill acquired through mindful practice”
茶 = Cha = Tea (straightforward enough)
So you could say that Gong Fu Cha translates to “tea prepared with skill acquired through mindful practice”.
In short, the goal is to create the best cup of tea possible by adjusting each component:
- Quantity and quality of tea used
- Quantity and quality of water used
- Temperature of water
- Length of time the tea is steeped
- Type of teaware - different mineral compositions will affect taste
- How the water is poured on the tea, and how the tea is poured from the pot
2. What are the benefits of Gong Fu Cha?
- Gong Fu brewing showcases a much larger spectrum of flavors than Western style brewing.
- The real essence of Gong Fu brewing is to be present with the tea through smell, taste, touch, sight, and hearing. It can be viewed as a meditation and artform.
- Gong Fu brewing is fun and interactive. Tea sessions can be short or last for hours. They are best shared amongst groups of friends and family.
3. What do I need for Gong Fu brewing?
The basic items to start are:
- Teapot or gaiwan (a lidded cup) - this is the vessel used to brew tea (they’re usually quite small with ~70-250 ml capacity)
- Gong Dao Bei - meaning “justice cup”, brewed tea is poured into a small pitcher before serving to consolidate the steeped tea and ensure an even concentration. (You can always just use a glass cup for this)
- Cups - small cups, holding three sips, help to taste and smell the tea
For a more advanced setup, you may like to additionally use:
- A cha pan (draining tea tray) - allows for easy pouring and no mess
- A strainer - stops whole tea leaves from entering your cup
- Tea pets - a fun clay figurine you can “feed” with excess water and tea
- Smelling cups - long, cylindrical cups used to smell and accentuate tea fragrance
- Tea knife/pick - used to break up Pu'er cakes
- Tea towel - to easily wipe up any water
- Tea utensils - used to handle and serve hot cups
4. What about the amount of tea, steeping times, and water temps?
The art and skill of gong fu brewing is to intuitively learn to adjust these variables based on each individual type of tea you brew. But this chart serves as a good starting point:
|1st infusion (seconds)||Additional infusion (seconds)||Avg. # of infusions|
|Oolong (strip)||95°C (203°F)||6||20||5||8|
|Oolong (ball rolled)||95°C (203°F)||8||20||5||8|
|Pu'er (raw)||95°C (203°F)||5||10||5||15|
|Pu'er (ripe)||99°C (210°F)||5||10||5||20|
5. I’m ready for a gong fu tea session, how do I start?
- Get your tea, hot water, teapot or gaiwan, gong dao bei, and tea cups to start.
- Boil your water. I like to bring my water to a full boil before using it, even when making teas at lower-than-boiling temperature. The Chinese call boiled water “Kai Shui” 开水, meaning “open water”.
- Wake up the tea wares. Pour hot water into your teapot (or gaiwan) to rinse it out. Never use soap in your teapot. Do the same with the gong dao bei, cups, and any other vessels. This will “wake up” the wares by heating them up.
- Put loose leaf tea into your teapot. Refer to the chart above for amounts of tea.
- Rinse the tea (optional). Pour the correct water temperature into the teapot - refer to the chart above. Allow to steep for a few seconds and pour the infusion out. This helps to get the tea saturated with water, allowing it to steep evenly. This also helps to “open up” some tightly rolled teas.
- Pour hot water onto tea leaves for the first brew. Refer to the chart above for brewing time.
- Pour first steeping into the Gong Dao Bei. The Gong Dao Bei, of Justice Cup, ensures everyone gets tea brewed for the same amount of time.
- Serve tea into cups. Use the Gong Dao Bei to serve tea to yourself and your guests.
- Repeat steps 5-7. Depending on the tea you can get up to 20 infusions. Most teas will peak around the 3-6th steeping, after which you will want to lengthen the steeping time.
If you’d like to learn more, we offer a variety of classes:
Click here for more info on Gong Fu Cha classes
If you’re ready to start brewing gong fu style, check out our tea sets below: