Gong fu brewing, the Chinese Tea Ceremony

Gong fu brewing is the traditional Chinese method of making tea. Not so widespread as the Japanese tea ceremony, the Chinese tea ceremony is more focused on how to brew tea in the right way and not so much on the ritual as the Japanese one.

It is considered the best way to appreciate a good cup of tea and identify each of its flavours. Although it might take years to master all the principles of the Chinese tea ceremony, by incorporating just some of its basic rules will open a new window for you on how to brew tea. Gong fu means skill, so Gong fu brewing means brewing tea with skills.

This method consists of brewing tea leaves according to traditional guidelines such as a bigger amount of tea, using a shorter time and it is always associated with tea tasting. Thus, this brewing method produces a stronger and less bitter infusion that will reveal all its subtle aromas as fruit or floral notes.

Gong fu brewing requires just a Gaiwan (a lidded bowl with a capacity of 100-150ml) and a drinking cup. Of course there are several other utensils that you may add to your ceremony such as a wooden tray (with water compartment), a wooden tea scoop (to measure the amount of tea you will be using), a pet tea, a tea pitcher or cha hai and small teacups.

The traditional Chinese cup is very small (from 30 to 70ml) – which allows you to take several cups out of one brewing – and usually made of unglazed clay, the so called purple clay (Zisha) that comes from the Yixing area in China. The small size is related to the fact that the goal of the Chinese Tea Ceremony is tasting the tea (even though you can repeat it several times) and not quenching the thirst.

You can also use a traditional teapot also made of the purple clay that, besides being unglazed, is optimal for high temperatures and is famous for its porous quality that allows tea oils to build up inside it over time. It is important to use the same teapot for the same kind of tea for not mixing aromas.

The Gong fu method has basically 5 steps:

  1. Warm up the teapot: First, warm your Teapot or Gaiwan with boiling water and discard it.
  2. Rinse the tea leaves: fill the teapot/ Gaiwan with tea leaves (check exact quantities check below on “How much tea to use?”) and rinse them with water from 4 to 8 seconds; immediately discard the water
  3. Brew the tea: check below on “Water Temperature” the correct temperature of the water for the type of tea you are using (usually from 80 to 90ºC) and brew the tea between 10 and 15 seconds (First brew)
  4. Serve the tea: Pour the tea into a tea pitcher (so that it gets mixed in the process of pouring) and then serve it into small cups
  5. Additional brews: repeat the steps above for 3-6 times by adding up more water to the leaves (2nd brew from 8-13 seconds; 3rd brew from 6 to 10 seconds; 4th brew from 4 to 10 seconds and 5th brew from 6 to 12 seconds)

What teas to use?

A good tea should yield many brews and each of them will reveal a different note or aspect of it. In theory, you can use this method to brew any kind of superior quality tea, specially the ones with unbroken tea leaves. A superior tea tastes betters and should last up to 5-6 brews with consistent flavour depending on how strong you like your tea.

The basic rule to buy a superior tea is that you pay what you get. You should by the most expensive tea (according to your possibilities of course) from the most knowledgeable person you know. Trying as many different teas as possible is the best way to educate yourself and learn to differentiate a good from a bad tea.

How much tea to use?

Below you will find a general rule according to the type of leave of the tea you have chosen:

  • Rolled leaves (small Balls): 1-1.5 Chinese tea scoops or tablespoon/ 100ml
  • Loose Leaves: 2-2.5 tea scoops or tablespoon / 100ml

What is the right temperature of the water?

Below you will find some general guidelines according to the chosen type of tea:

  • Green and White Teas: 75-80ºC
  • Oolong and Red Teas: 90-95ºC
  • Black, Pu-erh, Tie Guan Yin, Lapsang Souchong and Aged Teas: 95ºC

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