The British have lots of articles about how to steep the perfect cuppa tea. But more and more things are changing in the UK, with the gongfu style of tea steeping becoming better known. Here in the U.S. there seems to be more interest in it, too. For you busy folks, though, it can seem a bit daunting…and time-consuming. Time to get your gongfu simplified.

Traditional cups without handles for your gongfu tea time. (Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

Traditional cups without handles for your gongfu tea time. (Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

Strictly speaking, gongfu is not a ceremony but a method of doing something (not just steeping tea). The term generally means “done with skill,” and can be applied to any activity or endeavor. Many people want to enjoy their teas using the gongfu (kungfu) method of tea infusion but tend to think it’s too involved or confusing. It can be if you follow all the details, but you don’t have to go to that extent. Keep it simple.

Gongfu tea time in 6 easy steps

  1. Gather Your Arsenal – In this case it’s the tea of your choice; a vessel for infusing that tea (usually a small clay teapot or gaiwan); enough fresh water (not hard or distilled); a kettle to heat the water; a heat source; 3 or 4 small cups; a pitcher (optional) for straining the tea liquid into before pouring into the cups; a tray or something to catch drips, spills, and overflows; and a clean cloth to wipe up spills.
  2. Infuse the Tea – Warm the steeping vessel with a little hot water and then pour it into the cups to warm them and then discard it. Add dry tea to the vessel; infuse for the amount of time needed for the tea you’re using.
  3. Serve the Tea – If you chose to use a little pitcher, pour the tea from the vessel into that and then into the cups. Otherwise, pour the tea into the cups.
  4. Appreciate and Savor the Tea – Sip the tea with a slurping action; this will pull in some air and also spread the liquid through your mouth, then swallow. This is where slurping is perfectly acceptable and actually desirable.
  5. Wrap Things Up – Check out those tea leaves after the steeping is done and letting your guests do the same. Handmade teas are often made of full leaves, tight buds, or leaf-bud sets that fully expand during the infusions – you sure don’t want to infuse teas like these in those infuser balls or some type of bag.
  6. Clean Things Up – This is probably the most important step. Clean teawares will be ready for the next use. Just be sure to do it properly. No soap on the Yixing teapot – it’s porous clay and would absorb the soap. Let the clay teapot air dry thoroughly before putting it away. Sterilize utensils with boiling water. Wash the cups, tea tray, etc., and let them air dry or dry with a soft cotton towel.

The above is a very paired-down version and will help you enjoy those premium teas better. Here are a few to try this way:

Happy steeping!

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

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