Brewing Tea Gongfu Style

By Stephanie Harkins [reposted from our sister blog]

Ti Kuan Yin Oolong
Ti Kuan Yin Oolong

The Gongfu tea ceremony, also known as the Kungfu tea ceremony, literally means “Way of tea brewing with great skill”. The ceremony itself a Chinese method of brewing teas. Usually Oolong tea, which is a type of tea between green and black tea, or Pu-erh tea, which is an earthy and pungent tea, are the teas that are brewed Gongfu style. Unlike the Japanese tea ceremonies which focus on traditional gestures and hand movements, the Chinese Gongfu ceremony focus is on the quality of the brewed tea.

To brew your tea in this manner, first you must have all the appropriate accessories. A Yixing clay teapot is necessary, which contains a special type of clay called “Zisha” which absorbs tiny amounts of the teas with each use, and after prolonged use, the teapot takes on the flavor of the teas. Along with your teapot, you will need 3 small (30 ml) teacups, as well as fresh filtered water. A kettle for boiling the water will be required, and a container to dispense water, a tray for catching the water or tea as it is poured, and a clean cloth to wipe up any spills.

Once you have all the necessary equipment, you must find a good space to hold your tea ceremony. Ideally this would be spacious, peaceful and relaxing. Incense, flowers and traditional music can help to enhance your environment.

The first stage of the ceremony involves preparing and warming the teapot and cups by laying them out and warming as well as sterilizing by rinsing with hot water, then pouring that water away. The second stage is for appreciation of the tea itself, where the people partaking in the ceremony inspect the tea to be brewed for aroma and appearance. In the next part of the ceremony, the tea leaves are placed into the teapot.

Next, the tea leaves are “rinsed” using a technique called “Rinsing from an elevated pot”. You do this by placing the clay teapot into the water-catching bowl, then pour water at the appropriate temperature into the teapot from an elevated position until the pot overflows. Water heated to the appropriate temperature for the tea is then poured into the pot until the pot overflows then any debris or bubbles are gently removed to keep the tea from touching the mouth of the pot which you cover with the lid.

Some people suggest that this tea should then be steeped shortly then poured out. Other people suggest immediately pouring the first tea leaf brew into the cups without allowing it to steep. This first brewing is known as “A row of clouds, running water”, which is essentially performed to rinse the tea leaves. After rinsing the leaves, the pot is refilled with water poured from a low height. Then the hot tea from the first brew is poured over the outside of the teapot before serving the tea to guests in an even manner around the table. Usually the tea leaves being used are good for 4-5 steepings!

Finally the Gongfu ceremony ends by placing the used tea leaves into a clean, clear bowl for all guests to inspect and appreciate.

Stephanie publishes the Tea Review Blog.

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