Gongfu is the Chinese way of making tea in a Yixing teapot. The word simply means “doing something with great skill and discipline”. The Gongfu style of making tea involves choosing the best grade of tea, using the right teaware, and serving it in traditional teacups. Chinese people appreciate tea and even hold tea ceremonies. The aim of Gongfu is to create a brew that hits all the tones and satisfies the drinkers.
Many western tea lovers know a few things about preparing Chinese tea, but very few know how to prepare it the right way and what is needed to make the brew taste great.
That’s why we have prepared this lengthy guide to help you make Gongfu cha the right way. Before we discuss the procedure of making Gong Fu Cha, let’s talk about a few things you need to consider.
Things to Keep In Mind before Preparing Chinese Tea
1. Quality of Tea
When it comes to Gongfu Cha, there is a big difference between good tea and great-tasting tea. Whether you are new to tea brewing or you are a seasoned tea lover, it is important to use high-quality tea when making Chinese tea. And keep in mind that Chinese tea is prepared using loose leaf tea.
To help you identify quality tea, here are three tips;
In general, there are two kinds of tea processing, including CTC and Orthodox. In the CTC (cut, tear, and curl) method, tea leaves are passed through a threading machine that cuts, tears, and curls the leaves into small pellets. This processing method is suitable for preparing tea leaves for teabags. Tea made through this method brew quickly to create a strong beverage, although this comes at the expense of the subtle flavors and aromas of the tea.
On the other hand, in orthodox method, tea leaves are well-handled to minimize breakage. Orthodox-prepared teas are rolled into balls and preserved well. This means that they retain the aromatic compounds and complex flavor.
Therefore, the best loose leaf tea leaves for making Gongfu cha tea should look like tea leaves. Avoid loose leaf tea with woody fragments or stalks as it will be less flavorful. You should see the leaves unfurling slowly as you steep.
High-quality, dried loose leaf tea should feel how they look – whole, sturdy, and smooth. It should feel heavier than they look- if the tea feels overly light, it might be an indication that the manufacturer over-dried it. Quality loose leaf should not integrate or crumble with gentle handling. Once steeped, the leaves should feel smooth and slippery.
High-quality loose tea, irrespective of the type you are brewing, should have a distinct aroma. If you smell the package and you only feel traces of scent, this could be a sign that either the tea is getting old and stale or is low quality. For instance, green tea should smell fresh and grassy, while black tea should have a sweet, earthy smell. When steeped, high-quality tea should have aromatic and unique scents.
Excellent tea should have a recognizable taste that is strong enough to awaken your taste buds. Sip slowly, to get all the flavors of the tea. You should notice flavor notes.
Quality green tea should feel and taste smooth while black tea should have a stronger, more intense taste.
Irrespective of the type of tea you are sipping, quality tea should awaken your taste buds on your tongue.
To ensure you are getting high-quality tea, find a trusted vendor. You can ask experienced tea drinkers for recommendations. If you don’t know any seasoned tea drinker, you can visit Chinese tea shops near you and try out the teas they are offering.
In most cases, shops will sell small samples of different teas, which you can go and experiment with. Tasting different teas or same tea from different manufacturers is the best way to know what to stick with.
If you don’t know any reputable vendor in your locality, you can check online. It can be challenging to spot a reputable vendor online, but you can start by checking tea-related forums and Facebook pages to see if you can get some recommendations.
Once you spot a few potential vendors, discuss with them to know the sources of their teas. Also, check for reviews of their previous customers.
The price of tea should also guide. However, this should not be the main factor since not all expensive tea is quality, and not all quality tea leaves are expensive. When you are starting out, avoid spending large sums of money on tea. Experiment with a few types to identify the type of tea that tastes good for you. From there, you can now start purchasing high-grade tea of your specific type of tea.
2. Quantity of Tea to Use
As mentioned earlier, you should only use loose leaf tea to make Gong Fu Cha. When steeped, loose tea made from either partial or whole broken tea leaves will expand and unfurl as they come into contact with hot water. This result in brewed tea that has subtle flavors.
There are a few factors that determine the taste of your brewed cup of tea. The three main factors include- the quality of tea, which we have already covered in the first point, the quantity of tea, which we will cover shortly, and water temperature.
The ratio of leaf tea to water majorly dictates the taste of your tea. Steeping too many leaves could result in a brewed tea that is too astringent, strong, or even bitter. On the other hand, steeping too many leaves could result in a weak tea that tastes more like water than a cup of tea. Either scenario is not pleasant and results in a waste of delicious tea.
So, how much tea leaves should you steep to get the perfect brewed cup? Although there is no direct answer to this question, we can generalize and say, one serving of loose leaf tea should have two grams of loose tea per eight ounces of water.
Of course, these guidelines will not work for everyone since people have different tastes and preferences and tea leaves are different. Some people like their teas strong because they like to add sugar and milk. Others like it weaker because they are starting out. Whatever your preference is, there are simple guidelines you can use to get closer to your perfect cup of Chinese tea.
Keep in mind that 1 tablespoon of tea leaves is termed as 2 grams.
Many manufacturers indicate measurements standards on the product labels, and thus you should not have a problem brewing perfect tea. Measure your pot to know the number of cups that fill it. Divide the number by 8 ounces to know how many teaspoons of tea leaves to use. You can experiment several times until you find the right portions of tea leaves that suits your taste.
Related Article: How to Properly Measure Loose Leaf Tea For Brewing
3. Water Temperatures and Brew Times
Making Chinese tea involves breaking down the structure of tea leaves to release their aroma and flavor. Gong Fu Cha is all about doing this in a controlled way to extract maximum flavor consistently from tea leaves severally.
Too hot water for the tea you are brewing will break down the tea leaves too quickly and thus result in a flavor that is inconsistent. Warm water for the tea will result in a diminished flavor because the tea leaves were not broken down right.
Knowing the ideal water temperature is something you will learn over time. As you brew Chinese tea, you will adjust and hit it right.
To help guide you;
- Green/White tea should be brewed with water that has temperatures ranging from 75 to 80 degrees Celsius (167-176F).
- Oolong tea should be brewed at 90-97C (194-206F)
- Pu-erh tea should be boiled at 95C. This means water that just reached a slow boil.
If you don’t have a thermometer to measure temperatures, allow water to cool for about 2 minutes after reaching the first boil to get to 90C and 5 minutes to get to 75C.
You can use variable temperature controlled Chinese kettles to keep your water hot.
This is the most critical part of making Chinese tea. Making Gong Fu cha tea is quite different from making your regular tea. Therefore, ignore the instructions on your tea packaging and follow these guidelines;
You should rinse tea leaves for 5-8 seconds to clean them before the first brew. For uncompressed loose leaves, the first brew should take 6 seconds while compressed tea should take 10-15 seconds.
2nd brew should take 4 seconds and 8-10 seconds for compressed tea.
3rd brew should take 6 seconds and 8 seconds for compressed tea.
4th brew should take 8 seconds for un-compressed loose leaves and 10 seconds for compressed tea.
5th brew should take 10 seconds and 12 seconds for compressed tea.
With these simplified guidelines, you should make great-tasting tea as quickly as possible and achieve consistent results. As you perfect the skill of brewing, you will feel comfortable to adjust the times depending on the desired taste you want to achieve.
Related Article: Why the Chinese Rinse Their Tea? Should You Rinse Tea?
4. Type of Teapot to Use
This might not directly relate to the brewing process, but it is important that we mention that it is a part of the brewing process. If you are serious about enhancing your tea drinking experience and preparing Gongfu Cha the right way, then you will need to get yourself the best Chinese or Japanese teapot for that purpose.
Here are a few universal agreements on teapot usage;
- Any tea is best prepared in an unglazed clay teapot. The best teapots are made from Zisha (Purple Clay) sourced from the Yixing area in China.
- Zisha clay has great handling properties and is breathable, which improves the taste of your tea as compared to preparing it in glazed, porcelain, or glass teapots.
- An unglazed Yixing teapot should only be used to brew one type of tea as they are known to absorb flavor. This will help avoid corrupting the flavor
- For green, oolong and white teas, use teapots with finer, thinner clay. Pu-erh tea and black teas should be brewed in low-fired teapots.
You can get clay teapots of all qualities and types online. Read product descriptions and check customer reviews to know a suitable pot for your needs and budget.
If you want to get a teapot that can brew different teas, go for the glazed ones, or those made from glass.
However, it is important to mention that clay teapots are still superior to porcelain or glass teapots since it improves the taste of your tea over time. On the downside, they can only be used to brew one type of tea while their glass and porcelain counterparts can be used to brew different varieties of tea since they do not absorb flavors.
Ensure that you select a quality teapot since it will be your companion for many years. Therefore, choose one that will not crack or chip easily. It should feel comfortable in hand and have a good weight. Its handle should perfectly fit your fingers, and the lid should fit the top of the teapot.
The opening should not be too big as that will allow the fragrance to escape- it should be small enough to accommodate the size of the loose tea leaves you are using.
Tea with rolled or small leaves and high fragrance such as white tea, green tea, or oolong tea will benefit from a teapot with smaller openings. A teapot with a larger opening is better for black tea, and Pu-erh tea since these teas have low fragrances and larger leaves.
The spout should be wide enough to allow smooth, quick pour. Ensure the spout is proportional to the size of the teapot. Some teapots feature an inbuilt strainer, thereby eliminating the need to buy a strainer.
Related Article: Which Tea Pot is Right For You?
5. Quality of Water
The taste and quality of your tea is also affected by the quality of the water you have used in your brewing process. Tea experts recommend that you use fresh spring water when preparing Gong Fu Cha as this water has the right pH level and mineral elements. Good water makes your tea taste better. Avoid re-boiling water as it loses its taste, and this diminishes the flavor of your tea.
With that in mind, we can now talk about the procedure of brewing Gong-Fu Cha.
Making Gong-Fu Cha
What you will need
To prepare Gong Fu Cha the right way, you need to follow the procedure just like how it was done during the ancient times. Before making Chinese tea, you should have the following items;
- High-quality loose tea leaves (of course)
- Teapot, preferably one made from clay. However, glass or porcelain vessels will still do the work
- Pitcher with a lid
- Chinese tea-scoop (western teaspoon)
- Tongs for handling handle-less teacups
- A strainer that fits in your Chinese teapot and pitcher
- Chinese teacups are shallow and wide, enough for one or two sips. This emphasizes that quality supersedes quantity when it comes to Gong Fu Cha. However, there are bigger ones you can buy as well
- Kettles to serve your tea
- Tea trays with inbuilt reservoirs
Related Article: A List of Essential Teaware You Need to Brew Loose Leaf Tea
Step 1 – warm the teapot and sterilize your teaware
Fill your teapot with boiling water and allow it to settle until it becomes warm. This ensures your teapot distributes heat evenly to all parts when you are steeping tea.
Sterilize teacups and your strainer by pouring boiling water into them. Observe hygiene and always keep your area of operation clean and organized. This shows you are giving Chinese tea the respect and appreciation it deserves.
Step 2 – Rinse the tea leaves
Place the measured tea leaves in a teapot and fill with warm water. Allow the water to overflow the top and wait for 5-8 seconds. Pour off the water and lift the lid of the teapot to allow the heat inside to escape. This help to ensure your tea leaves doesn’t steep and lose their aroma.
Related Article: Why the Chinese Rinse Their Tea? Should You Rinse Tea?
Step 3 – First brew
As mentioned earlier, this should take 6 seconds for uncompressed loose leaves and 10-15 seconds for uncompressed leaves. Ensure that you place the lid on your teapot as your tea brew.
When pouring water, do so in slow motion to ensure even brewing. After the time lapses, pour your tea into a pitcher and place the lid on the pitcher. Pour water from your teacups using the tongs and pour tea into them.
Step 4 – Additional brews
This will follow the same procedure, but you need to observe the timings.
Step 5 – Dry your tea leaves
After you are done with your brewing process, remove the leaves from the teapot and place them in the open air to allow them to dry.
Clean the rest of the teaware and allow them to air dry as well. Ensure that your clay pot and other teaware are completely dry before storing them.
There you have it, a simplified procedure of making Chinese tea.
The world of Chinese tea is interesting and vast, and thus you need to take your time and explore. There is a lot to discover. Be warned- once you go down that route, there is no turning back. Once you taste Gong Fu Cha, you will not like your regular tea again.
Ensure to get all the necessarily teaware and follow the above procedure of making Chinese tea. Cheers!