What Exactly is a Cha Hai?
If you are subscribed to our youtube channel or if you have read certain articles of ours, then you’ve probably seen a piece of teaware made out of glass that looks like a mini-sized water pitcher. This is in fact called a cha hai.
The cha hai, beautifully translated as “sea of tea”, is a vessel that serves to control the strength of the brew.
After brewing the tea for a certain amount of time either in a yixing or in gaiwan, tea should be decanted into a cha hai, from which it gets poured into individual cups. This method ensures that the tea leaves do not continue to steep in between each pour. In Chinese cha hai is also called “goon dao bei” or “bowl of impartiality” because it lets each participant enjoy the same brew.
Not all cha hai are made from glass, but glass ones are popular for the purpose of seeing the color of the brew clearly, while the teapot, gaiwan, and teacups are most commonly made from zisha (yixing clay) or porcelain. Read more about the importance of teaware in our article Choosing the Right Teaware for Gongfucha.
Were Cha Hai Always Used?
Long long ago in the Tang Dynasty, during the times of the great Sage of Tea Lu Yu, cha hai weren’t used. Before it came around, teacups would be lined up in a circle (or other shapes depending on the number of cups), and tea would be poured from the gaiwan/teapot in a steady stream without stopping. This rarely resulted in the same taste unless the tea master was exceptionally skilled in this art of tea-pouring. Nowadays there are still some masters who refuse to use cha hai because they hold faith and pride in their pouring skills.
When, where, and by who, the first cha hai was used by is unknown even though now it is an irreplaceable part of gong fu brewing. It is especially important to use cha hai for denser teas. If you have ever brewed tea in a transparent vessel before you might have noticed how the brew surrounding the tea leaves on the bottom of the teaware is darker in comparison to the top layers of the brew. If we begin pouring this brew into cups, consequently the first cups will have a much lighter brew and the people enjoying the tea will all end up with different experiences. You can even try this for yourself by brewing tea gong fu style without a cha hai and compare the taste of the first cup poured with that of the last.
Ensuring that the participants of a tea ceremony have equal experiences is an integral part of tea culture that should not be overlooked.
Although now the cha hai is a crucial part of gong fu tea sets, if you happen to find yourself without one, there is no need to fear. You can always use another teapot for the same purpose, or any other vessel you have around. The most important part is to decant the tea brew into a separate vessel before pouring it into the individual cups. Follow this, and you will ensure your guests get an impartial experience! Happy tea brewing!
For more on how to brew tea gong fu style please see the short video below with step by step instructions: