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Worldwide, China is well known for being one of the hubs of tea production, brewing and drinking. The history of tea in China dates back to as early as 4000 years ago. To perfect the art of tea drinking, various tea ceremonies that conform to Chinese philosophical orientations have flourished since its first inception. The most popular types of tea ceremonies include the Tocha, Gongfu, Zen and Sichuan.

Gongfu style of tea drinking is more about enjoying the aroma of the tea. It relies heavily on the type of vessel used, their aesthetic appearances and the tea’s general display. There are clear formalities and specific tools to use when brewing and sipping the tea. All the formalities have their roots from the widely known Gongfu ceremony, also known as the Kun Fu Ceremony. 

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History of the Gongfu ceremony

In Chinese Gong Fu (also Gong fu-cha or Kung fu-cha) refers to the art of doing something perfectly. In the spheres of tea brewing, it refers to the art of coming up with a tea of a resounding quality.  To meet this, there are various processes that the tea must undergo. However, the steps in the Gongfu style of tea preparation do not take a lot of time to learn from scratch. The cornerstone of the Chinese Gongfu ceremony is Oolong tea. Otherwise, some other types of tea e.g. the Pu-rhe and the black tea can also be used during the Gongfu tea brewing process.

Gongfu tea ceremony was founded on the need to make classical teas with excellent taste and aromas. Down the history, Chinese have been able to meet different types of tea e.g. the coarse tea, green tea and loose teas. They later absorbed the use of powdered tea that was not only convenient but also realized peak performance as far as tea brewing was concerned. By 12h century almost all the common types of tea had been in existence.

However, by the 14th century, the loose leaf tea type gained a lot of popularity in most of the Chinese homesteads. The Pu-erh and the powdered teas almost ceased to exist. This affected the brewing methods and even the formalities of the existing "ways of life". The effects were also evident in the type of brewing tools used for the new sets of ceremonies. And, since Japan and China existed in almost the same village, the change not only affected Chinese tea culture but also the Japanese one. 

The inception of the Gongfu style of tea preparation came into existence in the 18th century. Various narratives try to explain its place of origin. Most scholars believed it originated from Oolong tea planting regions such as Wuyi in Fujian and Chaozhou in Chaoshan areas of Guangdong. However, devoid of the varying myths, many people believe that Senchado residents in Japan were the founders of the Gongfu culture. 

The first official documentation of the Gongfu-cha style of tea preparation was in Mei 1972 by Chinese scholar gastronome Yuan. According to his documentations, Gon-fu tea was unknown to the people in the North, was not served by the shopkeepers of the time, and brewed by only the connoisseurs. According to the book, Gongfu brewing method was incepted during the Ming dynasty. 


During the 20th century, Gongfu-cha had not been known to many Chinese. This was devoid of the fact that it had been in existence for decades. According to the book, “First Dedicated Treaties” by Weng Huidong, Chinese only mentioned the term when passing even as late as 1999. They had not yet adopted the art of Gongfu tea preparation. 

Gongfu-cha became established during the early 21st century. It has been widely accepted as the formalized way of tea brewing and drinking among Chinese. The Gongfu culture has drawn some of its formalities from the traditional Chinese tea preparation. It’s a blend of the other existing Chinese and Japanese tea culture. Contemporarily, the Gongfu-cha is the orthodox successor of all the traditional tea cultures.

 

What you need for Gongfu Ceremony

Gongfu-cha tea ceremony is iconic. It is a period when the Chinese residents look forward to celebrating and enjoying the best aromas of their ritual brew. Unlike the other types of tea ceremony, Gongfu-style of tea drinking requires that the drinkers enjoy the aroma to the fullest before gulping down the ritual brews. Moreover, the display and the aesthetic appearance of the vessels matters a lot as far as the ceremony is concerned. 

Due to the rigid formalities of the tea ceremony, whether you will brew a tea that brings about the delighting senses hangs on the type of vessel used. It is for this reason that Chinese people integrate specific tea wares, commonly referred to as Gongfu tea sets. In the modern Gongfu-cha ceremonies, the set includes; teapot (Gaiwan), pitcher, kettle, Chinese tea scoop, strainers, teacups, strainers, tongs, aroma cups, tea cloth, tea brush, tea pets, tweezers, needles, teaspoon and the working surface. 

However, the most important aspect (the sipping) of the Gongfu tea ceremony lies in the design of the tank. Unlike other types of Chinese tea ceremony, the process of tea brewing for Gongfu Ceremony calls for the use of a small cup. Popular brands feature thin-walled porcelain body, wide mouths and shallow depth. This not only makes it easy to feel the aroma but also enhances convenience in cleaning. 

The capacity of the cup is so much low as compared to other brands out there. To some people, it can be a letdown.  Some of the main reasons behind this include: 

  1. The brew is of outstanding quality. Drinking it in excess will automatically make you drunk. 
  2. The main objective of Gongfu tea drinking is to taste the drink and savour its aroma. 
  3. The tea is taken while hot. The shallow and wide-mouthed cup allows for efficient dissipation 
  4. The ceremony is linked to the Zen master narrative.  His teachings encourage eating at regular intervals but in moderation not to reach the point of satisfaction. 

 

How to perform a Gongfu tea ceremony

Gongfu ceremony adopts the traditional methods of tea brewing and serving. For an unmistakable brewing, the process integrates three basic values; effort, dedication and time. From the start to the finish, the session follows five processes:

1. Burning the incense

Gongfu ceremony plays a vital role as far as connecting with the ancestors concerned. To increase the spirituality of the whole sessions, the host will burn incense in the place before anything else. This also introduces a relaxed feel and calm environment that is ideal for any tea drinking session. Otherwise, the incense also serves as a way of acknowledging, appreciating and being grateful for the founders of the wonderful ceremony. 

2. Showing off the leaves

Chinese people are more concerned about what goes down their throats. As a result, they must inspect and approve the quality of the tea leaves before the brewing process. In this phase, the host puts the leaves on a plate and walk around to show them off. The aroma of the dry leaves adds to the main objective of the Gongfu ceremony. 

3. Warming the pot

Yixing purple teapots are normally used on this special occasion. To remove any odd smell, the brewer usually warms the pot gently over the fire. This also helps in the isolation of the heat when steeping. The water used during the warming process is also used to sterilize the strainer and teacups. Alternatively, the teacups can be washed with water or sterilized with the water from the first steeping process. 

4. Rinsing the tea leaves

The tea leaves are then added into the pot. The amount to add depends on the type of tea leaves and the size of the pots. The host then adds hot water (separately boiled using an iron tea kettle) to the pot till the water overflows. Once the mixture ceases to bubble, the lid is replaced immediately and the water poured out of the pot. To avoid cooking of the leaves, the lid is slightly tilted to allow for a slight opening. 

5. The first brew

Using boiling water, fill the pot until it overflows. Put the lid on, and count approximately 6 seconds while gently pouring some water on the outer surface of the pot for the first 2 seconds. This is to achieve excellent isolation of the heat inside the pot. After the last second, pour the tea into a pitcher, close the lid and tilt. Repeat this process as many times as you want until you come up with the best brew. 

6. Finishing up

Once you have tasted and ascertained that what you brewed is what you wanted, you can finally use the tongs to remove the leaves from the pot and rinse the vessel with warm or hot water. Take the pot out, remove the lid and place it in up-side-down to dry. 

 

Conclusion

Gongfu ceremonies are an integral part of Chinese tea culture that serves to bring out the feel, efficacy and the Chinese appreciation of tea. It is the modern way of realizing the same results of traditional tea brewing most efficiently and conveniently. Otherwise, the whole buzz and glitzy experience during the Gongfu tea ceremony lie on the Gongfu tea sets used. 

Start your day right with a cup of tea