For any tea enthusiast out there, an essential part of the tea discovery journey is visiting an authentic tea house. In a Chinese style tea hut, we can experience tea the way it has been traditionally enjoyed for centuries. Whether you’re a seasoned drinker, or someone just getting into the vast world of tea, it is important to know about some of the etiquette of tea drinking when you are visiting a tea house.
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 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.
Literally translated, “gong fu” means “right effort.” It is a concept that if we take our time, do something whole-heartedly, and give it our all, we will be met with the best results. Thus gong fu cha symbolizes the proper way of preparing a delicious cup of tea by giving yourself to the experience without holding back.
Visiting A Tea House
Nowadays, Chinese cities like Shanghai, Chengdu, and Guangzhou still have a variety of tea houses for people to visit and relax with some tea.
Tea house culture came to the rise in Song Dynasty China. During this time, people would visit a tea house as a form of entertainment and relaxation. The same way one might visit a cafe nowadays. In modern-day society, with the rise of commodity tea and coffee, and a fast-paced lifestyle, tea houses aren’t as popular anymore. Nowadays, tea huts are predominantly visited by people who are into tea culture and are not afraid of spending the time to brew a quality cup of tea.
When entering a teahouse for the first time, whether it is in China or in the West, the first thing we will be offered is to choose the tea you would like to drink. Some of us might already walk in knowing exactly what we want from our tea. Is it a warming, robust dark oolong? Or a refreshing, light green tea? Even if you don’t know, you will have the opportunity to at least smell the teas before deciding which one you like. It does help, however, to already have a concept in mind of what tastes you want. Teas can be as varied as food itself. Some flavor profiles, for example, are:
light and floral, sweet and decadent, woody and honeyed, grassy and salty, and the list goes on...
After you have chosen which tea you would like to drink, it is essential to remember that often the taste will significantly differ from the aroma. Discovering the difference between the fragrance and the taste of the tea is an exciting journey on its own.
Next, the tea master will prepare the teaware for you. Teaware will always match the tea you are drinking.
Floral and milky Taiwanese oolongs are often served in traditional porcelain gaiwan with floral patterns.
Some teas have woody qualities, so you might find wood elements in front of you at your brewing table. It may be small accessories, like wooden coasters, or tea pick holders. Seeing these natural components will add to the overall tea drinking experience.
Tea houses seek to not only serve tea but to set the right atmosphere for their enjoyment.
Tea huts in China, Taiwan, and Japan, have natural furniture skillfully crafted out of wood. The space is lit dimly to promote relaxation and ease our eyes. Seasonal flowers and other elements of nature are scattered around us as decoration. Quiet and peaceful music plays in the background. Sometimes tea leaves toast over charcoal — a light scent of what is to come.
When entering a tea house, it is recommended to refrain from speaking in a loud voice, having noisy electronics, and especially smoking. As much as the tea masters prepare the atmosphere for us, we are responsible for maintaining that atmosphere for the sake of others.
Is Food Served In Tea Houses?
Usually, full meals aren’t served in a tea house. However, it is not uncommon to find light snacks on the menu. Some common snacks can be nuts and Asian style sweets like mooncakes, rice cakes, and thin cookies. These sweets are usually quite light and not as sweet as western desserts.
How Is Tea Brewed In A Tea House?
If you are in a Chinese style tea house, tea will be brewed gong fu style, in concentrated amounts. This means that the tea can be brewed around ten times in total. If you are taking your time, the tea ceremony can last a couple of hours, so it is best to make sure you have adequate time and drink the tea up to the last brew. Otherwise, you might be missing out on parts of the tea experience. Remember: the tea transforms with every brew!
If you don’t know the steps of a gongfu tea ceremony, don’t worry! Usually, the tea master will offer to brew the first round for you, after which you can start brewing by yourself. Often, there will be a continually heating tea kettle at your table, so that you can enjoy the tea ceremony on your own. The tea master will come around to make sure everything is ok and refill the kettle. In some tea houses, the master may brew your tea from start to finish. However, if you are enjoying a tea ceremony in the company of friends, it is common to choose one person to brew the tea from start to finish, serving everyone else.
The Rules Of Tea House Etiquette:
- Sip the tea slowly, sip by sip, savoring the taste
- Don’t smoke
- Don’t make too much noise
- Serve others first
- Try to be mindful and present in the moment. Honor the tea, it went through a long journey.
Gong Fu Brewing. Step by Step