What Are Gong Fu Aroma Cups?

Posted by Angelina Kurganska on

The aroma cups are an essential part of gong fu cha stemming from Taiwan and Fujian province, China. Although it is not known precisely when they were first created, they became prevalent in 1980s Taiwan. When we drink tea, contrary to common belief, most of the experience comes from the smell and not the taste itself. Try drinking your favorite tea when you are sick with a stuffy nose and you will surely notice the difference! Aroma cups are used precisely for smelling the brewed tea with all its delicious delicateness! 

What Are Aroma Cups?

Aroma cups go by several names, and here are some of them:

  • Wei xiang bei
  • Fragrance cups
  • Dragon and Phoenix
  • Harmonious husband in wife

In many ways, the cups are not only about the scent of tea, but they also represent the natural flow of energy or chi.

They have a distinctive shape that captures even the tea’s most subtle fragrances, opening them up to you like a bouquet of aromas. They are almost exclusively used with Taiwanese and Fujian oolongs, which have amazing aromas. When doing a proper tea tasting or picking out a tea at a tea shop, aroma cups are often used to exhibit the tea’s best qualities.

Aroma cups are most commonly sold in pairs. The long and narrow cup is, in fact, the only aroma cup in the set — this one is used for smelling the tea. The second short and wide one is the tasting cup — this one is for sipping the tea. Sometimes you can purchase the aroma cup by itself and use it with any suitable gong fu cup you already own. Tea is never drunk from the aroma cup. It is only used for experiencing the delicate scent of the tea. 


 oolong tea taste

How To Use Aroma Cups (9 Easy Steps)


  1. Heat your tea ceremony utensils, including the aroma cups, by pouring hot water over them.

  2. Make some gong fu style tea.
    *While light oolongs pair exceptionally well with aroma cups, you can enhance the aromatic experience of any tea with these cups!

  3. Pour the tea from the cha hai into the aroma cup (the long and narrow one).
    *In China, it is said that the cups should be filled 70%. If you fill them to the brim, it means that you are deceitful and it is not a good look. I have also heard a saying that if you fill the cups to the brim, it means you wish for your guest to leave, and are not willing to offer them more tea afterward. Hence giving them a lot of tea to enjoy in one go. 

  4. Cover the aroma cup with the tasting cup (short and narrow one), so the tasting cup is now upside down.

  5. Hold the aroma cup with your thumb and the tasting cup with your index finger.

  6. Holding them tightly, flip the cups in one swift motion. This step is sometimes called “white crane spreading its wings”.
    *This step can be a little tricky but all the more fun to practice it with some friends!

  7. Now that the aroma cup is on top and upside down, we gently lift it, so the tea flows into the tasting cup.

  8. The gentle fragrance of the tea will now remain in the aroma cup. Enjoy all the different scents you never knew tea has!
    *Some tea enthusiasts recommend cupping the cup with both hands when smelling, believing that the additional warmth prolongs the aromatic qualities.
    *We recommend keeping a tasting journal to see how your nose’s ability to pick up smells transforms! When you start using aroma cups, gradually, you will begin to recognize more subtle scents. 

  9. Finally, take a sip of the delicious tea brew!
    *When taking a sip from the tasting cup, try to suck in some air when taking your sip. This method of sipping tea transforms the experience, aiding the taste and aroma! 


The aroma cups are usually made in such a way that they perfectly fit into one another, allowing low chances for spills. Flipping them is not hard to master, and it’s easier than it looks!

However, if you are nervous about practicing using aroma cups for the first time, you can use cooler tea or water first, until you get the hang of it. Otherwise, you can pour the tea from the aroma cup into the tasting cup. Simpler but less fun!

Why We Use The Aroma Cup For Gong Fu

When eating food or drinking beverages, the taste is directly linked to the scent of the food. In fact, we “taste” with our noses first, and only then does our tongue pick up on other qualities of the food. When it comes to the complexity of flavors, however, that all comes from the nose!

To truly feel out this concept, we recommend trying the tea without the aroma cups first, and then with the cups. Watch the experience transform and evolve!

Gong fu cha is all about slowing down, giving thanks, and appreciating the moment and every subtle experience that comes our way. Taking the time to appreciate the aroma of the tea before even taking a sip of it embodies just those qualities. 

yixing aroma cups

At Path Of Cha, we carry four different styles of aroma cups:

  1. Porcelain aroma cup Porcelain is ideal for tea tasting, getting acquainted with new teas, and truly capturing the aromatic subtleties of a particular tea. Perfect to use with any tea type!

  2. Red Clay Yixing Zisha Aroma Cup Red clay, also known as Zhu Ni, is best used for light oolongs, and sheng pu-erh.

  3. Purple Clay Yixing Zisha Aroma Cup Purple clay, also known as Zhi Ni, is best for drinking dark oolong teas, shou pu-erh, and black teas. It is good at rounding and mellowing the intense flavors these teas can have.

  4. Glazed Yixing Zisha Aroma Cup Glazed ones are similar to porcelain and are recommended for getting a pure and undisturbed experience with the tea. 

Be sure never to clean Yixing teaware with detergent as this clay type is heavily absorbent of scents. Your future brews will end up tasting like dish detergent!