GONG FU CHA: THE ART OF STEEPING TEA

GUNG HAY FAT CHOY

Lunar New Year 2021 fell on February 12th and brought us into the Chinese Year of the Ox. The Chinese Zodiac has over two millennia of history, similar to another of that country’s cultural icons: tea. It comes to reason that there are many traditions around tea, including its preparation, like gong fu cha, the skilled tradition of preparing tea.

Organic Green Dragon is a classic green tea, which is still the majority preference in the world’s most populous nation. China teas are often given fanciful names according to their artful leaf shape, and this flat, pan-fired tea falls within the Dragonwell category. As dragons of legend are auspicious and associated with water, we think the name is apt.

The subtle tastes and aromas of pure green teas are notoriously difficult to put into words. Organic Green Dragon has a lakeside freshness in its aroma, with a touch of green olive and new-season corn wafted in. It has good body and pleasant structure on the palate, yet it comes and goes lightly, less like a strong ox and more like an ethereal dragon.

This bright and mystical tea lends itself well to being brewed as part of the traditional tea ceremony, gong fu cha.

HOW TO STEEP A CUP OF TEA IN THE CHINESE TRADITION

Gong fu cha is the skilled tradition of preparing Chinese tea. Peet’s Tea Specialist Anni Pattee takes us through the five steps of this ancient art.

Everything I’ve learned about gong fu cha has come from the pleasure of sitting and sharing tea with others, the way most traditions are passed on. I am often told that the tea tastes better when I prepare it, which leads me to believe I have truly internalized this practice.

-Anni Pattee, Tea Specialist

To begin practicing gong fu cha, one simply requires a gaiwan (a traditional Chinese bowl with lid designed for steeping tea), a small pitcher, teacups, water, tea, and the desire to explore and learn from experience. 

When preparing tea in a gaiwan, you use a greater proportion of leaves to water than you would if you were making a large, piping-hot cuppa tea. With gong fu it is traditional to use 5 grams of leaves in a 150ml gaiwan. Instead of leaving the leaves to steep for 3-5 minutes for a single serving, the infusion is very short. Lasting only seconds, each gong fu infusion reveals a different character in the tea and the subtle nuances hidden within each leaf.

The practice and experience of gong fu can be meditative, relaxing, and illuminating. Follow these five simple steps to begin your gong fu journey.

  1. Heat enough freshly drawn water, to 170°F (several minutes off a boil) to rinse/heat the gaiwan, decanter and teacups. Reserving enough to rinse and then infuse the tea a number of times.
  2. Rinse the leaves. Place the tea leaves in the gaiwan (5g/150ml). Pour the heated water over the leaves, replace the lid of the gaiwan and immediately discard the rinse water. This invigorates and begins unfurling the tea leaves.
  3. Infuse by adding heated water to the rinsed leaves in the gaiwan. Replace the lid and decant the first infusion into the pitcher after 10 seconds.
  4. Serve the tea, filling each cup. Slurp loudly to aerate and spread over the palette.
  5. Repeat infusions adding 5 seconds each time.

Tea / Tutorials
  1. Margaret-Ann Ellis says:

    Gung Fu Cha can also be prepared, and often is, in the small teapots made especially for this. I have several, one 80 ml. for individual use, and several 150ml. for small groups. Unless the pots are porcelain or glass, most limit the use of the little pot to one sort of tea, oolong, green, black, Pu Er. Some limit the use to just one tea, but I’m not that finicky.

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