Gung Fu Cha Method of Tea Preparation

Tea Master Olivia Chan

The Chinese have a special method for brewing tea, which can produce remarkable results. It is called the Gungfu method. Gungfu means "skill and care" or "to do things well." It is the root of the term often used for Chinese black teas, "Congou."

The Gungfu method is typically used for oolong and green teas. The best results are with oolong. The typical method uses a very small teapot, preferably a Yixing-style teapot, small thimble-sized cups, bamboo tweezers, a bamboo scoop, and a tray with drains. Everything in Gungfu service is small and delicate, revealing the elegance of the tea it promotes. If you do not have a Gungfu tea set, you can approximate the method with an ordinary teapot, though the result may not be quite as good.

Genuine Yixing teapots are made of sandy clay found near the town of Yixing in Jiangsu province. Most of the teapots sold in the West with the label "Yixing" are not actually made from Yixing clay; still, they seem to serve their purpose well enough. Yixing-style teapots are made in a wide range of shapes, and are not glazed. The porous interior of an unglazed pot is seasoned by repeated infusions of tea leaves, and does not need to be cleaned.

You first want to pour hot water from your pitcher over the cups and teapot. Then fill the pot about two-thirds full of leaves and rinse or awaken them with boiled water. Immediately pour out the water and take in the aroma of the leaves. Refill the pot with water and replace the lid. Pour more boiling water over the top of the pot and allow the tea to steep for 20 to 30 seconds depending on the amount of tea and tea type. This infusion has the strongest aroma.

Some methods use two sets of cups: the tea is poured into the first cup (the sniffing cup) and then poured into the second cup (the tasting cup). One then smells the aroma left behind in the sniffing cup, and drinks from the tasting cup. Make sure each cup contains in equally strong infusion by filling the cups halfway first, then finishing them off the opposite direction (usually left to right, then right to left). Or use a faircup for serving.

The second infusion should be about the same steeping time as the first. It has a weaker aroma but more flavor. Subsequent infusions take progressively longer. Some teas can take four to five infusions, or more. A great way to gather with friends, connect and enjoy the delicate essence of the tea.