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Gong Fu Cha (Chinese Tea Ceremony)

Gong Fu or Kung Fu Tea Ceremony is a Chinese Chaozhou and MinNan way of preparing tea with great skill.
Unlike the Japanese ceremony, the tea is more important than the presentation.
The first known treatise on the subject of Gongfu cha was first mentioned in Lu Yu's The Classic of Tea and has been popular since the Qing Dynasty (1644). In Gong Fu Tea, rather than focusing on the method of preparation and serving such as that of the Japanese tea ceremony, the taste of the tea is paramount. Although Gongfu cha brewing method does have uncompromising steps, it is important to note that the various Asian tea consuming cultures have added local styles and equipment; adding to the richness of the Asian tea culture.

The word Kung Fu seems misplaced as we normally associate this with a Bruce Lee movie. Kung Fu means great skill, the martial art version is more appropriately called Wushu, therefore one might have Kung Fu (great skill) in their Wushu (martial art).

China Tea HouseOn the left is a Bejing Teahouse that I visited in 2002.

Chemistry and Physics behind Gongfu Cha

In essence, what is desired in Gongfu cha is a brew that tastes great and is satisfying to the soul. Tea Masters in China and other Asian tea cultures will study for years perfecting this method in order to do so. However, method alone will not determine whether a great cup of tea will be produced. It has been suggested that the chemistry and physics behind Gong fu cha is what makes this method far more superior than any other when brewing Chinese teas. Gongfu Chemistry and Physics can be broken down into 2 groups: Chemistry, and Temperature.

Water

Water should be given careful consideration when conducting Gongfu Cha. Water which tastes and/or smells bad will adversely affect the brew as tea is 99.99% water. However, distilled or extremely soft water should never be utilized as they are deficient in crucial minerals and so can result in a "flat" tasting liquor. For these reasons, most tea masters will use a good clean local source of spring water. If this natural spring water is not available, bottled spring water will suffice. Hard water should be avoided at all cost, even after it has been filtered.

Temperature

During the Gongfu cha process, the skilled master will first determine what is the appropriate temperature for the tea being used in order to extract the essential oil of tea.
Approximately 195 degrees Fahrenheit/85 degrees Celsius for Oolong tea 200 degrees Fahrenheit/98 degrees Celsius for compressed tea such as Pu-erh tea

Tools/equipment/utensils

Teaware1. A small Yixing clay teapot, around 150 ml in volume (maximum) called a Cha hu
2. Three cups, each 30 ml, called cha bei
3. Fresh water. Tap water should be filtered, hard water should be avoided.
4. Kettle (clay or glass is preferable, in order to determine the temperature of the boiling water).
5. Stove or a hob to boil water
6. A pail or container to dispense water called a cha gang
7. A water dispensing tray or a bowl for tea pot during water pouring called a cha pan
8. Table
9. Seat for guests
10. A clean cotton cloth to wipe off any excess water on the table

There are several extra utensils required in the refined Taiwan style Gongfu tea ceremony:
1. A wooden tea spoon to measure the amount of tea leaves required called a cha chi
2. A tea pitcher (to make flavor between cups consistent.)(Taiwan style Gongfu Tea ceremony)
3. Tea strainer called a lou dou
4. An aroma pitcher (a Taiwan style Gongfu tea ceremony)
5. Tweezer called a giab in both Chaozhou and MinNan hua

Boiling water

The boiling water temperature depends on the type of tea used.
* 95 degrees Celsius for Oolong tea
* boiling - 100 degrees Celsius for compressed tea such as Pu-erh tea
* Gongfu tea ceremony is usually not prepared with green tea.

The temperature of the water can be determined by timing the size and the sizzling sound of the air bubbles.
* 75 to 85 degrees Celsius. Known as "crab eyes," ~ 3 mm in diameter, with rapid and loud sizzling sounds.
* 90 to 95 degrees Celsius. Known as "Fish eyes," ~ 8 mm in diameter, less frequent sizzling sounds and the sizzling pitch lower.
* Boiling, no air bubbles, no sizzling sounds.
The above rules cannot be applied in highlands as the water will boil at lower temperatures in higher altitudes.

Ceremony procedures

Surroundings

A suitable space must be provided. A table large enough to hold the tea-making utensils, the drip tray, and the water is the minimum necessary. Ideally the surroundings should be peaceful and conducive to relaxation and socialization. Incense, flowers, and low, soft, traditional music will all add to the ambiance, as will songbirds.

This culture of having Gongfu tea is so important to the Chaozhou people and they give a name to the ceremony, namely Oin goin Bhung Hue . This concept cannot be translated into Standard Chinese. It means having a relaxing and conducive environment for passing on one's culture. People of all ages will be in the vicinity of this Gongfu cha ceremony, including young children. History, culture and tradition are then passed on to the children while drinking Gongfu cha [and in Chaozhou hua - we say eat gongfu cha] and having conversation. This art of conversation is so important and we have a special way of saying it, namely pueh ue

Preparation

1. Lay the serving cups on the table. Warm and sterilize the cups with hot water. Pour away excess water.
2. Fill up the teapot with tea. For the 150 ml tea pot, you will need at least 15 grams of tea leaves.
3. Put the teapot into a water tray or a bowl.
4. Boil the water to preferable temperature as described above in the Boiling water section.
5. Fill up the teapot with water until it overflows.
6. Scoop away any bubbles or debris floating on top of the teapot and close the lid.
7. Pour and drain the water from the teapot as soon as possible into all the serving cups. (Taiwan style: fill up the pitcher as well)
8. Pour away the water from the cups. (You may use wooden tweezers instead of bare hand)

Brewing

1. In Chinese it's called gao chong di zhen
2. Fill up the teapot again with boiling water until it covers the top. Replace the teapot lid.
3. Pour hot water, or use the water from the serving cups from the preparation process, on the surface of the teapot.

Serving

1. In Chinese it's called Guan gong xun cheng
2. Wait for 20 to 50 seconds, depending on the type and quantity of the tea used.
3. Boiling water should be poured into the tea pot, until it is overflowing, and then the lid is used to remove the froth. Replace the lid on the pot and pour boiling water over the tea pot. This process is called in Chinese gua mo lin gai.
4. Pour the tea in the serving cups in a circulating form evenly. (Taiwan style : Pour all the liquor into the pitcher before serving)
5. Serve the guests.
6. The second brewing is the most delicious tea. It should have a beautiful scent / aroma and a wonderful bittersweet taste.
7. A quality oolong tea is good for anywhere from 4 to 8 brewings. Each subsequent pot follows the same procedure, but requires a slightly longer infusion time.
Taiwan style serving - Sometimes, a tall slender cup will be used as the aroma cup. The tea is poured into this vessel and then poured into the shorter, wider drinking vessel. The drinker can then smell the aroma of the tea by bringing the aroma cup up to the nose and not risk spilling any tea on themselves. The tea is then drunk from the smaller, wider vessel.

End of ceremony

1. Put the used tea leaves in a clean bowl for your guests to appreciate the tea you have used. They will smell the tea leaves and compliment you on your choice of excellent tea.

Clean up is an important step of the ritual

1. Brewed tea and tea leaves should not remain in the teapot after the ritual. It must be cleaned up thoroughly and rinsed with hot tea.
2. Utensils must be sterilized with boiling water.
3. The tea pot should be rinsed with hot tea and the outside of the pot should be rubbed / polished with a good linen cloth; never rinsed with water. Allow the tea pot to dry naturally.
4. Let the utensils and serving cups air dry on a tea tray.