Gong fu cha method

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Gong fu cha simply put, means “to brew tea with skill.”  I would add that mindfulness is also a component in our favorite way to brew tea as one needs to focus on the task at hand, which, in this case, is making and sipping ones tea.

We especially like this method when we get new teas into our shop as we get to smell and taste the tea as it opens up, giving its flavors and various qualities unto the water over the many short infusion times.  

The method described below is most often used for oolong and pu’er teas, but we also adapt its use to whites, greens, yellows and blacks, as well.  You may choose to do the same.  

Items needed:

  • Yixing tea pot or gaiwan (may be porcelain or yixing) - A gaiwan is the most versatile tool to use.  Yixing is terrific, don’t get us wrong (we have quite a collection and they all get used), but because of the porosity of the clay, it is recommended that you use only one type of tea per pot so as to not confuse the flavors.
  • Sipping cups
  • Sharing pitcher (optional)
  • Fine strainer (optional, but recommended)
  • Fresh, clean water (please do not use unfiltered tap, softened, distilled or reverse osmosis prepared water)
  • Kettle for heating the water
  • Tea tray in order to catch excess water used in rinsing, preparation and serving of tea
  • Tongs (optional)
  • Tea (not optional)

    1) The amount of tea used will depend on the size of your brewing vessel.  Some choose to weigh the tea using a small gram scale.  The weight most commonly used for a 100 ml gaiwan or yixing pot is 7 grams.  Some use more of an intuitive approach with the amount and fill the pot or gaiwan 1/8 to 1/2 full of the the dry leaf.  It is a matter of personal preference, to be sure, and as you practice you may find your approach changing over time or with different teas.  We use a scale when we are first getting to know a new tea just to keep things uniform for tasting sessions.

It is recommended that you really observe your dry leaf and enjoy how it looks and smells before the brewing process.  Remember that not all teas are aromatic until they are warmed and rinsed.  Many is the time we have not smelled much in the dry leaf only to be bowled over by the wonderful aroma once warmed or rinsed (see step #2).

    2) You may choose to first warm your pot or gaiwan with hot water, pour it out and add the dry leaf into the warmed vessel.  This is a nice little trick to begin the olfactory part of the session, as the warmed pot will cause the tea leaf to release some of its aroma.  Breathe in gently through the nose, out through the mouth.  Enjoy this.  Realize that this plant was grown for our enjoyment and give thanks to those who took care of the plant and the many others who made it possible for you to have this tea in your life.

    3) You are now ready to “rinse” your tea.  With the water at the temperature at which you will brew the tea (195 degrees for oolong, full boil for pu’er), pour it over the tea leaves and let it sit for 10-15 seconds.  Breathe.  The rinsing is useful for several reasons.  It warms the brewing vessel, rinses any dust or impurities from the leaf and “primes” the leaf to ready it for the brewing.  It also gives you another opportunity to smell of the warm, steaming leaf.  It is recommended that you do two rinses for ripe style pu’er tea, rather than one.  If using la cha tou (old tea nugget), please use three 10-15 second rinses.

Warm your sharing pitcher by pouring the rinse water into it and then into the serving cups to warm them as well.  If you have tongs, this is the time to use them so you don’t burn your hands with hot water.  Using tongs to handle the serving cups adds a nice flair and also keeps everything sanitary.  It is a show of respect to your guests.

    4) Pass the gaiwan to your guests so that they may smell the primed leaf.  The aroma will change as the leaf cools.  Enjoy this.  Savor it.

    5) Now you are ready for your first infusion.  Pour more hot water over the leaf and cover the pot or gaiwan.  If brewing in a gaiwan, you may choose to “stir” the leaf a bit with the lid.  Your first infusion may be anywhere from 10-20 seconds.  Some people count seconds, others count their breaths, others will use a timer.  Pour the infusion into the sharing pitcher.  If you are not using a sharing pitcher, decant brewing vessel directly into serving cups.  If you are using a fine strainer (we recommend this), strain the tea as you pour into the pitcher (or tea cups if no pitcher).  Serve your guests first, and then yourself.  Savor the aroma of the tea in your cup, sip it slowly.  Enjoy.  Breathe.  Smile.  

    6) Repeat step #5 as many times as you wish, increasing the steeping times over the many infusions.  Try another 15 second infusion then a 20 second, 25 second, 30 second, 40 second, 45 second, a minute and so on... it will depend on the tea as far as how many infusions you will get before you feel the leaf is “exhausted”.  We have done as many as 20 infusions and as few as 4 or 5.  Play with it.  The experience is all what you make of it.

    7) Once you feel the leaf to have no more flavor to give, remove the leaf from the pot or gaiwan and look at it.  Appreciate how it has opened up and how its appearance has changed from when you first put it into your brewing vessel.  

    8) Here you have the option of taking your “spent” leaf and boiling it in water for 3 or 4 minutes to extract the last bit of flavor from your leaf.  It is certainly interesting to do if you have the time.  You may be surprised by the amount of flavor left in the leaf!

    9) Repeat steps 1-7 daily with new leaf!  Brewing tea the gong fu way is a wonderful gift to give yourself and your friends.  By sitting and just “being” with your tea, you open up to the more meditative side of tea and deepen your appreciation and understanding of all things tea.  Practice by yourself, practice with guests.  Practice will always bring us closer to the perfect!