Gong Fu Cha: 7 Steps Before You Brew Tea

The following discussion of gong fu cha technique was adapted from training materials Roy prepared for Imperial Tea Court staff. 
Gong Fu Cha 1.0
In Chinese, gong fu means making an increased or focused effort and suggests the high skill level that eventually results from this hard work. You can say “I am going to put in more gong fu to be a better person” or “I will use more gong fu to be better at my goal.” Gong fu cha means making an effort to achieve proficiency at learning, understanding, and presenting tea. In any endeavor, when you’re ready to show off your gong fu technique, first put yourself into a relaxed and focused mindset. For gong fu cha, take a few gentle breaths, relax, and if possible remove metal objects such as jewelry from your hands and arms (metal opposes tea’s wood element). Then proceed through the steps outlined below. Don’t rush: the journey is as important as reaching the destination!

1. If you are making gong fu cha for someone you don’t know, introduce yourself and thank your guest for the opportunity to practice your gong fu cha with them. You can also apologize in advance for the unavoidable shortcomings in your presentation.

2. Introduce the teaware you will be using. Identify each item by name and explain its function. You can demonstrate how each piece is used and tell why it’s included in the presentation.

3. Present the tea you will serve and talk about where it came from, its history, and why it’s unique. I also like to explain a little about how the tea is processed. For example, an oolong from Li Shan has a gentle, silky texture and a unique vegetal undertone compared to the more robust presence of tea from Shan Lin Xi. A Wuyi oolong is both more oxidized and more high-fired than a jade tie guan yin from Anxi.

4. Now it’s time to focus on one of the most important elements in a successful gong fu cha presentation: water. Discuss details of the water, such as its source (for example, filtered or bottled) and why you chose it, as well as brewing temperature. If you have previous experiences with water variables, share them with your guests as you start to heat the water. Be sure to bring the temperature slightly above the desired brewing level to account for cooling.

5. Next, use some of the hot water to rinse the cups, pots, and pitchers. Physically, rinsing cleans the teaware and warms it up so it doesn’t cool the tea too quickly. Mentally, you are focusing your attention on making tea; it’s as if you were washing away distractions and negative feelings and cleansing your heart.

6. Now it’s time to explain how you intend to brew the tea. Discuss the yi xing teapot you’ve chosen today, and you can talk a bit about yi xing in general if you and your guests both feel the need. Explain the strategic placement of leaves in the pot. Tell how you will use the water and your pouring technique. Few people understand the significance of how you pour water into the pot for each steeping. How to use the water’s force to strategically move the leaves and make each leaf brew evenly is rarely considered, much less mastered. It will be an important part of your gong fu!

7. It’s time to let the water and your tea meet for the first time, an event commonly referred to as tea rinsing. I call it 温润泡 (wen run pao), “warm and moisten.” Covering the tea with hot water and immediately pouring the water off helps remove broken bits of leaf from the pot and washes off dust, soot, and other impurities, but most importantly, it moistens the tea and releases aromatics. The aroma tells the tea’s story: how much oxidation and firing, whether it’s aged or simply stale, what flavors are likely to dominate. This information helps you decide how to brew the tea so that you can bring out the elements you and your guests enjoy most. Pass the teapot around and have your guests savor the aroma to get a better idea of their impressions and which elements they find most intriguing.

8. Finally, you’re ready for the first steeping of your tea. However, before you go there, I suggest that you fully absorb the preceding seven lessons. When you have taken them to heart, it will be time for Gong Fu Cha 2.0.