What is Gong Fu Cha?
To put it in a simple way, Gong Fu Cha is a traditional style of tea brewing that’s exclusive to Chinese tea culture. Just like its name, to brew in Gong Fu Cha style, it requires 'Gong Fu', in other words, skills; and just like Gong Fu, the ancient martial art, it requires a state of mind. Gai Wan is used more often than a clay pot and it’s originally from Chao Zhou in Canton Provence. Gong Fu Cha style can be used for any type of pure tea brewing, however, it’s notoriously known for brewing Oolong tea.
What difference does it make?
It actually makes a lot of differences that will make you feel like you are discovering a whole new world of tea and a whole new spectrum of flavors! First of all, when teas are brewed in such style, steeping time is generally within 3 to 10 seconds for each brew. This allows the tea leaves not to get weary as fast and it also gives tea leaves time to revive after each brewing. It also allows the leaves to slowly open up and offer different fragrance and taste as the steeping goes on. Thus tea drinkers receive a fuller and more complex spectrum of tastes and aromas of the tea. Even though there’s not much liquor compared to British style of brewing in a big pot, Gong Fu Cha is about spending the time sipping tea through small portion, and reach an almost meditative state of mind. Second, because steeping time is short and tea leaves are given time to revive, we can steep teas up to at least 6 times with most teas such as oolong tea, white tea, Pu Erh tea and black tea, except for green tea. Gong Fu Cha is not just a particular way of brewing better taste tea, but also a cultural and mindful experience.
What is Gong Fu Cha ceremony?
Many people know about the Japanese matcha ceremony, but are not necessarily aware of the Chinese Gong Fu Cha ceremony. Nowadays, the Gong Fu Cha has three styles. The original one named “Chao Style” as mentioned above is from Chao Zhou, the second one is from Fu Jian and the third one is from Taiwan. They all have detailed features that make them a little different from one another but fundamentally, they are the same. Now we will go over each of them.
The Chao style
The traditional Chao style’s tea set includes a ‘tea boat’, a 'Gai Ou' (similar to Gai Wan but smaller with a fixed size) or a clay pot that's made of a particular type of local clay (different from Yi Xing/purple clay pot) and three tea cups (also with fixed size). Three tea cups are usually put into a pyramid shape, which symbolize the Chinese word '品', meaning 'to taste'. The most challenging part is to pour the liquid out directly from Gai Ou into three cups evenly, with the exact same amount and same thickness, and this is precisely why ‘Gong Fu’ is needed. If you go ever travel to Chao Zhou, you can find such tea set even at local hotels, and that’s because such style is still commonly used and highly embraced by local people from a cultural heritage point of view. Locals mainly use such style for their Phoenix Dan Cong Oolong Tea, which is another local cultural highlight.
The Fu Jian and Taiwan style
Gong Fu Cha from both Fu Jian and Taiwan is much more ‘forgiving’ since it includes a sharing pitcher. So instead of pouring tea liquid directly from Gai Wan, it will first be poured into the Fairness Cup before pouring into three tasting cups. This way makes sure tea liquid is given out evenly in each cup. Both Fu Jian and Taiwan style also include the “Aroma Cup”, which is a skinny and much taller cup for capturing only aroma instead of serving liquor., and the design of such cups is specifically for capturing fragrance of oolong tea thanks to its complex layers of aroma. The serving sequence generally goes this way: a tea will be brewed in Gai Wan or a clay pot, then tea liquor is first poured into the Sharing Pitcher from Gai Wan, and from Sharing Pitcher, liquor will be poured into the aroma cups. Drinking cups will then be placed on the aroma cup, and the host will flip both cups. The host will take the aroma cup off slowly as the liquor goes into the drinking cup, so then guests will be able to sniff from the aroma cup. It’s a very enjoyable process to watch. However sadly, the usage of aroma cup is no long as popular in Fu Jian as in Taiwan, but the rest of the process is the same. People in Fu Jian mainly use Gong Fu Cha style for their internationally famous Wu Yi Rock Oolong Tea, and people in Taiwan use the style for their internationally famous Taiwanese High Mountain Oolong Teas.
The Aroma Cup
Beyond tea brewing…
Gong Fu Cha is the core of Chinese tea culture and tea tasting. Tea tasting involves an artistic appreciation and comprehension for beauty, sentiments, senses, and reason, and it takes Gong Fu, a well attended heart and mind, and a quiet ambience. I am also a yoga instructor and I did events of yoga + tea during this summer, and people have asked me what my reason was to put these two elements together. My answer was and still is because Yoga is about practicing mindfulness and besides the joy of tasting tea after yoga, Gong Fu Cha is also my personal meditation practice because the brewing process requires a lot of concentration and capturing the nuances of the constant changing factors in order to adjust and to make a better next steeping. Fortunately, I have tea friends who share a similar experience as me.
Coming up next...
For the next article, I will explain the tea wares that are used and the brewing methods of Gaiwan in detail so you can try at home and start discovering your own Gong Fu world.