Last week we have published a post on Chaozhou Gong Fu Cha. Many of the things mentioned in the article serve as a basis for today's post. So if you haven't read it already, we recommend checking it out!
What Is Gong Fu Tea?
The Chinese Tea Ceremony. Gong Fu Cha. In the west, we have all developed certain connotations behind these phrases. For most of us, the image we get when we hear Chinese tea ceremony is the same. A gaiwan or yixing teapot filled to the brim with tea leaves. Furthermore, some small teacups, a tea table with some tea utensils, and a tea pet.
Indeed, the vast majority of us will get the same image in our minds when we hear gong fu cha. The Chinese tea ceremony is almost comparable to Chinese food in the US. Is American Chinese food the same food you will find in China? No. It is the same with the Chinese tea ceremony. Not everyone in China practices what we nowadays refer to by this term. Furthermore, modern day gong fu cha is not purely Chinese.
The History Of GongFu Cha
To clarify, the first forms of gong fu cha unmistakably originated in China. Specifically, we can trace the origin of gong fu tea back to Chaozhou city in Guangdong province of Southeast China.
Nowadays, however, after years of travel and development, what we commonly refer to as gongfu cha is a melting pot of tea practices from China, Japan, and Taiwan.
While tea holds its origins in China, it was brought to Japan by Japanese Buddhist monks in the 7th century. After observing tea culture in Chinese monasteries, they concluded that this drink of brewed tea leaves has undeniable health properties. The monks brought tea seeds back to Japan and grew them on temple grounds. For centuries to come, this drink was used primarily for health benefits. Particularly amongst the elite and less so for casual drinking. It wasn’t until the 16th century that tea in Japan started developing into an art form. Further yet, not until the 18th century that tea became available to the broad public.
Read more: History of Senchado - The Way of Sencha
The Japanese tea ceremony.
The Taiwanese Tea Ceremony
The story is slightly different in Taiwan. Tea wasn’t brought to Taiwan till the late 18th century. Quite recently. Chinese travelers primarily brought tea seeds for propagation after they saw that Taiwan had ideal soil and weather condition for growing tea. Especially oolong. The main goal was to plant tea gardens and educate Taiwanese locals in the art of tea production. Then, export the finished product to China. Naturally, tea culture started developing on its own accord. Now, Taiwan has some of the best quality oolongs. As well as its own form of tea ceremony, which Japanese culture during the occupation heavily influenced. In Taiwan, people started referring to the act of drinking tea by the name “cha yi” — tea arts.
In China, people considered gong fu cha a regional practice rather than a national one. Those who have had the chance to travel to Chaozhou or to the Wuyi mountains sometimes were lucky enough to experience this way of drinking tea. They would write about it, highlighting that this is a practice unseen in other parts of China, even in the neighboring regions.
However, it is essential to note that the gong fu way of enjoying tea was never a standard, even for Chaozhou locals. It was a practice that primarily connoisseurs of the tea arts appreciated. When examining Chinese tea texts from the early 1900s, gong fu cha was only briefly mentioned. This was alongside China’s many other regional tea practices. Assuming that gong fu cha has always been a part of the Chinese national identity would be a little out of place.
The Rise Of Gong Fu Cha
Cha yi, or tea arts, which is most commonly associated with modern-day gong fu cha practices, is first mentioned around the 1970s in Taiwan. At this time, Taiwanese locals established what is known as “chayiguan.” This literally translates as tea art houses. These would be tea huts and tea houses where people would come to enjoy the tranquil nature of tea. All in a quiet atmosphere. The tea masters would select high-quality teas alongside beautiful tea utensils. Furthermore, with beautiful artwork on the walls.
This was a significant shift from the tea houses people knew in Taiwan and China before the 1970s. Those were noisy establishments used primarily for smoking, gambling, and other illicit activities. It would take the first cha yi pioneers some time to get the public to dissociate the two styles of tea houses from one another. Alas, it was not always an easy journey. Cha yi pioneers worked hard to bring a new reputation to tea drinking. At the same time, gaining much influence and inspiration from the long-established Japanese tradition of Chado.
Modern-day gongfu tea utensils are often inspired by Japan's teaware.
Although tea originated in China, there was never one concise form of tea ceremony that people treasured and practiced throughout the years to come. This is a significant differentiating factor from Japan. In Japan, with the start of Sen no Rikyu’s legacy, people preserved the Japanese tea ceremony for centuries to come. To this day, there are schools in Japan that carry and verse their students in Sen no Rikyu’s original teachings.
Why Was It Specifically Chaozhou Gong Fu Cha That Became The Basis Of Cha Yi?
During the 1970-80s, Taiwanese tea enthusiasts were actively searching for a Chinese basis of tea drinking that can rival up to Japanese tea ceremony aesthetics. In fact, in other parts of China, people mostly drank tea “western-style” (as we say nowadays), using big teapots and big cups. Not many people focussed on the art of brewing the tea itself.
Chaozhou gongfu cha was one of the only tea ceremonies that could compare in its intricate nature to the tea rituals of Japan. However, while Chaozhou style tea brewing would precisely describe the brewing method of tea, in tea texts there would be little mention of the positioning of the teaware and the overall atmosphere of the procedures and surroundings. This is one thing that greatly differentiated it from the very precise and somewhat rigid teachings of Japanese tea ceremonies.
Read more: Gong Fu Cha Vs. Chanoyu
Modern-day gong fu brewing.
The Modern-Day Tea Ceremony
Tea masters eventually used Chaozhou gong fu tea as the basis for what we know as modern-day gong fu cha. While many Taiwanese people migrated from Guangdong, plus were under Japanese rule not so long ago, the atmosphere was fertile for the development of a new tea art that incorporated techniques and aesthetics from both tea cultures.
Eventually, it was through Taiwan’s investments in tea shops throughout mainland China that gong fu cha was able to slowly establish itself as a more national identity and sweep the world by storm. Nowadays, you may find people practicing gong fu cha throughout many parts of China. Far beyond the borders of Guangdong province.
Ultimately, this is great for two reasons. Not only did it strengthen the roots of slowly dying traditional Chinese practices, but it was also an essential way of introducing more loose leaf teas to the Western market. Through the cultural appeal of what we now may refer to as the Chinese tea ceremony.
Undoubtedly, Chinese tea traditions have existed for many centuries. Paving the way to modern-day gong fu cha was indeed an extensive journey infusing tea brewing methods of different cultures. Thanks to these developments, we can enjoy and admire the intricate teaware and delicious tea in front of us today!