Gong Fu Cha: a refined yet popular way of enjoying tea

Gongfu Cha Oolong tea Tea brewing

What is Gong Fu Cha?

Gong Fu Cha (English: Kungfu tea; Chinese: 工夫茶) is not a type of tea, but a unique way of brewing and tasting tea (typically semi-oxidized oolong tea). The term Gong Fu (工夫) refers to time and energy consuming, and pay particular attention to exquisite aesthetics. Gong Fu Cha was mentioned in Chinese literature as early as 1734 in The Sequel to the Classic of Tea (《续茶经》) by Lu Tingcan (陆廷灿). At that time, it only referred to a type of tea in Wuyi mountain which required much Gong Fu to produce. In 1808, Yu Jiao (俞蛟), an official in Guangdong province, wrote his work Romance in Chaozhou and Jiayin (《潮嘉风月记》) in which Gong Fu Cha was first recorded as a way of brewing and tasting tea. It is clear that Gong Fu tea was originated from Fujian Province and later spread to Chaozhou, Guangdong province and Taiwan region.

According to Weng Huidong (翁辉东) in his book the Classic Tea in Chaozhou (《潮州茶经》) finished in 1957Gong Fu Cha as a systematic way of tea brewing and tasting experience, is unique in terms of the following five aspects: tea, water (including water temperature) and teaware selection, brewing and tasting technic.

Tea selection

Not every kind of tea is suitable for being brewed in Gong Fu style. It was born to suit semi-oxidized oolong tea, particularly rock tea from Wuyi mountain. Oolong teas are usually rolled into ball shape or cord shape, so the fragrant and taste can be slowly opened up during the brewing process, layer by layer. Personally speaking, raw puerh tea can also be enjoyed at its most while brewed in Gong Fu style.

Water selection and temperature control

Water plays an important part in brewing and tasting tea. Although most of water (tap water, mineral water, spring water, etc) is suitable for brewing tea, soft water is recommended for bringing out the best taste, and natural spring water matches oolong tea the most. Water temperature is particularly vital during the brewing process. While oolong tea is best to be brewed in 85-95°C, puerh tea requires boiling water in all steepings. Traditionally, a fire stove should be prepared during the whole process. Nowadays, an electric kettle, or a thermo bottle can also be a convenient option.

Teaware selection

Shi Hongbao (施鸿保) wrote about teaware in Min Za Ji (《闽杂记》) in 1858: “Teawares are exquisite. Tea pot is as small as walnut and called Meng Gong Hu; Tea cups are extremely small, called Ruo Chen Bei” (“茶具精巧,壶有小如胡桃者,曰孟公壶,杯极小者名若琛杯”). Smaller teapot and tea cups are good for preserving the fragrant of the tea so as to give a better tea tasting experience, since smelling the tea liquor before drinking it and smelling tea cup afterwards are also part of the tasting process. The typical set of teaware for Gong Fu style includes water kettle, chapan (a kind of tea tray with bowl, for storing water after rinsing), teapot, and tea cups.

Brewing technic

The first step in brewing process in Gong Fu style is to rinse the teapot and tea cups (with boiling water). It not only cleans the teawares but also heats them up because temperature matters a lot during steeping. Then pour the tea into teapot. At this point, the heat remains in teapot will bring out the first layer fragrant of the tea. The first steeping is about waking up the tea leaves and again heating up tea cups. The length of each steeping time should be measured in order to the bring out tea fragrant and taste layer by layer. Avoid steeping too long time unless in the last one or two steepings. In Chaozhou, Guangdong province, the tea set traditionally contains 3 tea cups and they are placed on the chapan in a shape of character 品 (to taste). Tea liquor were poured into the tea cups in a round-about way. The last few drops are shared equally into the cups as tea liquor in the last few drops are the strongest in taste. In this case, every cup shares the same depth of taste of the tea liquor.

Tasting technic

To taste tea in Chinese is Pin Cha (品茶). The character 品 depicts three mouths. As an old saying goes: Pin Cha requires three sips, only three-sip forms Pin (品茶分三口,三口方为品). To better appreciate and enjoy the tea, we need to feel the tea with all our sensations. First, smell the tea when the tea leaves are still dried in the teapot, and the first layer of tea fragrant was brought out by the remaining heat of the teapot after rinsing. Second, taste the tea liquor in the cup in three sips, feel the taste on your tongue, around your teeth and throat. Lastly, smell the tea cup when it is empty.

Gong Fu Cha is not only a refined way of tea tasting experience, but also a way of showing hospitality during social and business activity. The tradition and culture of Gong Fu Cha are deeply rooted in the minds of Fujianese, Cantonese and Taiwanese, so they brought the culture wherever they move. While they move abroad, Gong Fu Cha were also brought to the rest of the world and getting more and more popular among tea lovers from everywhere.

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