Gong fu cha and cha no yu. What is the difference?
Gong fu cha refers to the Chinese tea ceremony, and it translates as “skillfully making tea”. Chanoyu, on the other hand, is the Japanese tea ceremony which literally translates as “hot water for tea”.
What is Gong Fu Cha?
Gong Fu is the Chinese tea ceremony. While at first it may look complicated, it is not truly a formalized ceremony with a set of strict rules.
Literally translated "gong fu cha" means "right effort put into tea". It is a tea ritual that has existed for thousands of years, measuring the exact quantities needed to get the best taste from your loose leaf tea in the proper way. The way to practice gong fu cha will at the end of it all greatly depend from the tea master.
The best way to describe gong fu cha would be to take a small cup of espresso and compare it to a big cup of americano. Many coffee lovers would agree that a cup of espresso has the perfect concentrated taste of the coffee beans, where we can taste and smell all the subtle notes of the roast.
Similarly, in gong fu style tea, tea is steeped in small and concentrated quantities. Hot water is added to the same exact tea leaves multiple times. With each infusion, we can clearly observe the change of flavor. Tea drinkers can appreciate the many layers that the tea has to offer to those who seek. Gong fu cha also maximizes the quantity of brewed tea from each serving of leaves.
Gong fu cha is primarily used for any Chinese tea. Japanese teas usually don't withhold as many consecutive brews as Chinese teas, due to their delicate nature and processing methods.
Tea Ceremony Tools
When drinking tea gong fu style, the most essential utensils to have is a gaiwan or yixing teapot, and a cup. But it doesn't stop there. In fact, for gong fu cha over a dozen tea utensils are used. Namely:
- Cha He – a vessel used to introduce the tea. Participants of a gong fu tea ceremony first look at the tea leaves in the cha he, then inhale their scent, in this way getting acquainted with the tea.
- Gaiwan or Yixing teapot – for brewing the tea leaves.
- Cha Hai – a vessel that controls the strength of the brew. After brewing the tea in a yixing or gaiwan, it is decanted into a cha hai, from which it is poured into individual cups. This way not only do the tea leaves stop from brewing, but everyone also gets the same taste of the tea.
- Cha Ban – a tea tray that is used to capture all the water and tea spilled during the ceremony (from washing the utensils, rinsing the tea leaves, etc.) If you are doing gong fu cha outdoors a chaban may not be necessary.
- Cha Shao – the scoop used for transferring tea leaves from their container into the cha he.
- Cha Shi – spoon for transferring tea from the cha he into a gaiwan or yixing.
- Cha Jia – tweezers used for picking up a hot cup of tea or to picking a tea leaf out of the tea vessel.
- Cha Zhen – a pin used for clearing the small filtering holes in a yixing, that can get blocked by the tea leaves.
- Cha Lou – a funnel used for directing the flow of tea into the yixing and to prevent it from overflowing.
- Cha Tong – a cup-like container used to store the utensils listed above.
- Tea pet — an optional ceramic figure of an animal, deity, object, or person. Lately, tea pets have been gaining more popularity in gong fu circles as they are seen to give the ceremony a soul. Read more.
For chanoyu, the Japanese tea ceremony for matcha preparation we would need the following utensils:
- Chawan — a bowl for making and drinking the matcha. Compared to the traditional gong fu teacups, a chawan is large and wide. This way, we have enough space to whisk the matcha properly.
- Chashaku — a long and narrow bamboo scoop used to transfer matcha powder into the chawan.
- Chasen — a bamboo whisk used for whisking the matcha.
- Kusenaoshi — a ceramic holder used to hold the chasen after use.
While these are the absolute must, at a traditional Japanese tea ceremony, we would often see dozens more utensils and props used to set the atmosphere. Read more.
Listed above are the tea tools needed for making matcha when making other Japanese teas like sencha, genmaicha, hojicha etc. we would use completely different utensils. Namely:
- Kyusu teapot.
- Yuzamashi — water cooler, similar to a cha hai. A yuzamashi is used primarily for cooling water before brewing the tea.
- Tea cups, with a popular option being yunomi.
One of the most notable differences between chanoyu and gong fu cha is the size of the cups. Gong fu teacups are tiny, offering a concentrated dose of only about 50 ml of tea. These small doses we can drink anywhere from 10-20+ times, depending on the ceremony and the type of tea. In chanoyu, we drink from large, sturdy cups, but also in doses of 50 ml. When it comes to matcha, we usually drink 1-2 servings.
When drinking other types of Japanese tea, it will usually be about 80-90 ml. The same tea can be re-brewed up to 3 times.
- In general gong fu cha is seen as a more free-spirited tea ceremony, while chanoyu has a stricter set of rules. During gong fu cha, tea gets poured freely, cups overflow, people converse loudly. During chanoyu, everything has its right place and proportion.
- During gong fu cha everyone has their own teacup. During chanoyu, especially in the old days, ceremony guests often passed around one bowl of matcha from which they would take a sip.
How To Brew Tea Gong Fu Style