Translating loosely as “making tea with effort,” the traditional Chinese Gongfu-Cha method transforms tea preparation into a ritual. One must have the focus to perfectly brew tea in a series of mindful movements.
Gongfu brewing is the very antithesis of today’s quick-and-easy teabag standard. Long before convenience became the most important factor in tea making, the Gongfu ceremony was developed in southern China during the Great Qing, the last imperial dynasty. A famous poet of this time, Yuan mei wrote of the ceremony:
“The cups are small as walnuts, the pot as small as a fragrant lemon. No more than one liang (ounce) is poured at a time. Holding the cup to the mouth, you must not swallow in haste, but first smell its fragrance, and then taste and contemplate it. The delicate aroma strikes the nose, and there is a sweetness that lingers on the tongue. After one cup, you drink a second, and a third. It frees people from restlessness and pacifies arrogance”.
The introduction of Gongfu-Cha was something quite profound for the Chinese of this time. For it was not long since the Ming Dynasty when loose leaf tea replaced tea bricks and brewing tea replaced eating it. Transforming Chinese tea culture into an all-new era where tea practice became a fine art and long revered by noblemen and scholars all over China. The freer brewing methods brought about new teaware, too, much of what we still use today.
One particular piece, the Gaiwan is still the most popular brewing tool among tea aficionados. A three-piece brewing vessel, usually made of porcelain. It retains less heat than clay, making it suitable for brewing delicate white and green teas. The fundamentals are none too complicated: dousing the pot and cups with hot water to warm them, rinsing the leaves, then brewing and pouring the tea in timed succession, with multiple, short infusions in mind. Which is precisely where our practice of it begins.
When using a Gaiwan, don’t hold back on giving the lid a good sniff. The evaporated aromas are concentrated here and detecting the subtle changes in aroma brew after brew is a trained skill for any tea connoisseur. Mastering the Gaiwan takes a little bit of practice, but in no time you will be storing away your trusty teapot for good. We suggest reading our journal post, How to Gaiwan, to get started.
The evolution of tea continues in its most sincere appreciation. We see a modern revival of artistic emphasis on tea through Chayi, an elaborate performance of precise movements, developed only recently in 1970. A well-trained individual in ’the art of tea,’ as it directly translates, establishes the perfect harmony of six Chayi beauties: man, tea, water, ware, environment, and artistry; thus makes tea come to life.
With respect to any high-quality tea, a trained brewing technique will help get the best flavors out of it. Allow us to recommend a selection of our top teas for you to start practicing Gongfu.
Long Jing has been perfected for centuries long. It is well-known for its flat leaves that are shaped like swords that give off the toasty aroma of chestnuts when brewed.
A Keemun, well-known black tea from China
A great year for tea lovers, 1876 is when the first Keemun made its debut. And what a magical revelation to the palate: Wine, plum, pine, and smoke mingle with orchid floral notes in a complex, sweet cup that satisfies and surprises in equal measures.
A rock tea from Wuyi Mountains, the birthplace of oolongs and black teas. A notable region in tea history for the first experiments with oxidation. Teas from this region are characterized by a distinct mineral note.
A Kenyan rendition 0f the famous Chinese Silver Needle, where it is said that young virgins, following a strict diet, wearing silk gloves and using golden scissors would cut every single tea bud.