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Embodying The Tea Ceremony: What Is Hui Gan?

Posted by Angelina Kurganska on

In a couple of our recent posts, we have mentioned these obscure words — Hui Gan. But what does Hui Gan (回甘). actually mean? Indeed, it’s as elusive as many of our favorite terms in this mysterious world of tea! For instance, Hui Gan, Cha Qi, Wabi-Sabi… they are all tricky to describe but really hold what we find is the essence of the tea ceremony. 


tea ceremony


What Is Hui Gan? 

Let’s get straight to it — we can describe Hui Gan simply as the finish. Like, the finish of a tea. Or the finish of fine wine. Yet, there is more to it. 


From Chinese, Hui Gan (回甘) translates as “returning sweetness.” It is this magical sweet aftertaste that coats your throat like thick molasses all throughout the palate. Do all teas have it? Surely not! Albeit, when you find a tea that has strong Hui Gan — don’t let go of it!


Chinese tea drinkers and tea enthusiasts worldwide highly treasure Hui Gan.

Moreover, amongst tea connoisseurs, there is a somewhat general consensus of what Hui Gan is: 


  • A pleasant sweetness followed by an initial bitterness (like in Sheng Pu-erh)
  • It’s not cautiously sweet like sugar but rather comfortingly sweet like honey or molasses
  • Hui Gan is a sensation combined with flavor
  • It reflects the best qualities of the tea’s initial flavor profile, coming back like a wave 
Sheng Pu-erh

You will most likely not find a mass-produced tea with Hui Gan. Especially not tea coming from a teabag. Indeed, Hui Gan exists in mature teas — teas that are tenderly tended to by the farmers. Furthermore, ones that are carefully processed. Your best bet is to find a quality loose leaf tea

For a very poetic description of Hui Gan and a most engaging story, we recommend reading Going Going Gan, an essay by Angie Lee. 


How To Taste Tea During A Tea Ceremony

In our previous post, we’ve broken down the steps to actually tasting the finish of a tea. It’s a somewhat acquired skill, so don’t fret if you can’t pick up on it from your first tea ritual!

It’s much like decoding the many scents and aromas of a particular tea. First, you might find yourself drinking a complex tea like a Raw Pu-erh… Oh, how many notes it acquires after years of aging and maturing! Well, during your first ceremony, you might say, “this tea is so pleasantly woody!”. However, with each subsequent tea ceremony, you’ll find yourself picking up on all kinds of flavor and aroma profiles. For example, tobacco, honey, molasses, dried figs, ripe apricots, pine, heavy cream, cinnamon… How boundary-less is the imagination of a well-trained palate! 


hui gan


So, really, the best suggestion we got for you is to pick up a notebook, brew yourself some tea, ideally gong fu style in this situation, and taste away! It’s important to write down everything you experience and sense along the way. Kind of like a dream journal… The more you write down, the more you will remember each time! 

Remember, if you want to focus on the finish, this will be everything you feel and taste after you have already swallowed the tea. Does your throat feel itchy? Maybe a little parched? How about pleasantly coated in something like a honey and butter concoction? These are all various accents of the Hui Gan!