Attention to quality tea making has long been a classic Chinese tradition. In China the words kungfu or gongfu refer to any study or practice that requires patience, energy, and time to complete. According the historians, the unique Chinese tea service called gongfu cha, translates to “tea (cha) with great effort.” As the name and practice imply: time, dedication and effort will produce an enjoyable tea experience.
“Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves… slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future.” —Zen Buddhist Master Thich Nhat Hanh
Gongfu Cha Method
The time-honored Chinese art of controlling all the variables of making tea with precision and care were designed to build upon the flavor with the maximum number of brews that the tea allows (usually 6-10). Gongfu cha is not a ceremony like the well-known Japanese Chanoyu, which is full of tradition and symbolism, but rather a procedure of practical steps where the purpose of everything involved is to make the tea taste as good as possible. It may sound complicated, but this tea-making method can be easily mastered; with a little practice and knowledge your appreciation will improve each time you brew.
5 basic variables of gongfu cha
1) Quality tea.
Oolong and pu’er are used most often because of the complex flavor profiles and multiple brews highlighting subtle changes in the tea’s flavor. The higher the grade (quality) tea, the more brews possible (6-10).
2) Quantity of tea.
Typically a higher ratio of leaf to water is used for gongfu cha than with most other tea brewing methods; use about 1-2.5 teaspoons for 4-6 oz. of water.
3) Water temperature.
Making tea is essentially the process of breaking down the cell structure of tea leaves with hot water to release
their flavor. Water that is too hot or not hot enough can compromise the desired flavor. Oolongs are best brewed at 180-200F degrees, while pu-ers can be brewed at 180-205F degrees.
4) Brewing Times.
This is really where the “effort” of making tea comes in. Start by warming the teapot and teacups with hot water. Complete a quick rinse of the leaves by pouring in hot water then quickly pouring it out. This will help the tea “open up” and better release its flavor when brewed. The first steeping can be anywhere from 5-20 seconds, add 1-20 seconds for each additional brew. Keep in mind, brew time is directly related to the specific tea to water ratio and can vary. Part of the joy is exploring the subtle flavor differences between each steeping.
5) Selecting Your Teapot.
A teapot made from Yixing (pronounced yee-shing) clay is generally recommended because of its natural ability to hold heat and flavor, and is especially designed for multiple steeping. Our Yixing gongfu teasets are a great place to start your practice.
Be mindful that these are basic steps to get you started as you explore the attentive way of gongfu cha. It is important to take each step and steeping with intention and thoughtfulness…gongfu cha is as much about escaping the daily pressures of life for a few moments as it is about enjoying every drop of tea.