Gong fu translates as right effort. We wish to emphasize just that. While there are specific steps generally taken during a traditional Chinese tea ceremony, they are by no means the only right way of brewing tea. It is indeed about your own right effort, your own way of honoring the tea.
What Is Gong Fu Cha?
Gong fu cha is the traditional Chinese tea ceremony. A large amount of tea leaves brew in small vessels for a short amount of time. The same tea leaves are then steeped over 10 times, depending on the tea.
When visiting a traditional Chinese tea house or buying Chinese teas, we will usually be offered teas prepared in this manner. However, Gong fu cha is extremely easy to master. Once you have the right teaware, it can easily be enjoyed in the comfort of our homes, at work, or even outdoors!
When brewing tea Gong fu style, we allow for it to show itself gradually, step by step. No cup of tea is the same. With each brew, we experience new tastes and aromas. Gong Fu Cha is a slow journey filled with discovery and tranquility.
Gong Fu Tea Ceremony Steps
Prepare the space for gong fu cha.
Make sure it is decluttered and fairly flat to keep the tea from spilling.
For everyone, this will be their own tea spot.
Perhaps it is a low standing coffee table in the living room, your kitchen counter, or even in your garden. Gong fu cha can be enjoyed anywhere.
Prepare everything you will need for gong fu cha:
- Your gong fu tea set — a teapot or gaiwan, a cha hai, and teacups.
- A cha ban (tea table), or a deep bowl and tea cloth for catching excess water.
- Cha dao, a set of tea utensils.
- The tea leaves.
- A kettle or thermos filled with hot water.
- A tea pet (optional, but very welcomed).
Use the tea scoop (cha shao) to place the tea leaves into a special vessel (cha he).
This is often a ceramic bowl, or sometimes a hollowed-out piece of bamboo. The cha he is used for keeping the tea leaves before brewing. Since it is open, participants can easily get acquainted with the tea.
Allow for the cha he to go around amongst the participants, everyone taking their time to inhale the aroma of the tea and get acquainted with the leaves. Take time to note its subtleties.
Pre-warm the brewing vessel using hot water.
Discard the water.
Fill the teapot/gaiwan with the tea leaves.
The amount needed will depend on the tea. If you are not yet experienced, it is convenient to keep a small kitchen scale on hand to get the right amount of tea leaves. With time, you will have a sense of how much is enough.
Rinse the tea leaves.
Fill the teapot until it is slightly overflowing. Tea spills are common and welcomed during the tea ceremony.
Discard the first rinse. Use this water to rinse the cha hai, teacups, and tea pet. Thus, gently waking them up with the soul of the tea.
Fill the teapot up with water.
Fill the teapot until it is overflowing, like before. Put the tea lid on and once again pour hot water on the outside of the teapot. This will ensure proper heat retention.
Pour the tea into the cha hai.
After a few seconds (time will vary depending on the tea), pour the brew into the cha hai, making sure the teapot is emptied to the last drop. Optionally use a strainer to catch small bits of tea leaves.
Emptying the teapot completely ensures that the tea leaves won’t continue steeping.
Also known as the “bowl of impartiality”, a cha hai ensures that every participant gets the same cup of tea.
Pour the tea into each individual cup.
Little by little, making sure everyone ends up with the same amount of tea.
Enjoy the tea.
Gong fu cha can often last up to 15 rounds, sometimes even more. Each cup will taste and smell different. Take time to observe these subtleties. Certain types of tea have the tendency to change vastly both in aroma and taste, throughout servings. Drinking tea gong fu style allows for the tea leaves to open up gradually, layer by layer.
Repeat the previous steps, each time increasing the steeping time by a little.
Repeat until you feel that the tea has served its all. Or until you are satisfied. There is nothing wrong with storing used tea leaves in the fridge for future rounds of gong fu cha, or even using them to make some cold-brewed tea. The perfect way to not waste tea leaves!
Smell your cup.
After you have finished drinking your tea, take the time to smell your teacup. The aroma will often be completely different from the aroma of the tea itself. Offer to exchange teacups with other participants. Usually, each cup will have its own individual scent. It is a way of peaking into the other person’s tea experience.
Take time to thank the guests for attending the tea ceremony, sharing these warm tea moments together.
How Many People Can Participate In Gong Fu Cha?
Most gong fu cha tea sets are made for 2-4 people, although some are made for 6.
Since gong fu teapots and gaiwan are relatively small, the amount of people participating is limited. Although it is always up to the tea master himself to determine how many people will join. It can easily be a solo ceremony or a ceremony for over 6 people.
What To Do With Spent Tea Leaves?
If you have sipped everything the leaves have to offer, but you don’t wish to throw them in the trash, there are a variety of zero-waist ideas. Check out our blog post for more information.
Easy Gong Fu Style Brewing: Video