Unsurprisingly, China, the origin of tea, has a number of traditional tea ceremonies that date back to as early as the 17th century. The gong fu ceremony continues to be iconic today. Read on to learn more about the Chinese tea ceremony, as well as how to perform gong fu in our step-by-step guide.
Yes, gong fu. It may look and sound like kung fu. But don’t be mistaken; there’s no place for Bruce Lee high kicks and martial arts moves here. However, there is a connection here. But more on that in a bit.
First, let’s start with a few basic truths:
- China is a HUGE country with an ENORMOUS population. (1.40 billion people are living there as of 2019.)
- The Chinese have enjoyed tea for thousands of years. (The history of tea dates back to ancient China, almost 5,000 years ago.)
- They drink A LOT of tea! (Approximately 1.2 million pounds of it every year!)
- Tea is treated with the utmost respect throughout the country.
Understanding these simple facts, it is not surprising that there are many different versions of the Chinese tea ceremony.
What is a common denominator, however, is that all ceremonies are performed with a sense of artistry and effort in a usually serene setting. The teapot and tea cups are typically made from clay, are quite small in size and boast varying degrees of ornateness.
Another similarity between all tea ceremonies in China is that gong fu (literally, “making or doing something with great effort”) describes a preparation method that is certainly more complex than dipping a teabag in hot water. It also produces wayyyy better tasting tea!
How to Brew Chinese Tea, Gong Fu Style
It can take years to master the choregraphed motions of Chinese tea preparation, but for brevity’s sake, we’re giving you a very simplified version you can try at home with minimal equipment. Here’s how.
- The gong fu tea ceremony begins with the teapot being warmed with boiling water. After discarding the water from the pot, add tea leaves (preferably with a bamboo scoop) to the warmed teapot. (The Chinese style of making tea uses a higher tea to water ratio. The general rule of thumb is to use 5 grams of tea per 100 milliliters of water). We prefer using a gaiwan (which looks like a lidded tea cup) but you can use other types of small tea pots, or even a measuring cup and a saucer for the lid!
- Add hot (but not boiling) water in a circular motion over the leaves to “rinse” them. (If using a clay teapot, fill it until it overflows. Scoop away any debris or bubbles that form on the surface to keep the tea from around the mouth of the teapot before closing with the lid.)
- If using a clay tea pot, pour hot water is over it to keep it warm. (This step can be omitted if you don’t have a tea board to catch the water.) The tea is allowed to infuse for a short period of time (about 5 seconds) before the water is discarded.
- The process is then started again. This time, the tea leaves are infused for longer, around 15 to 20 seconds. (Check tea instructions for infusion times.)
- Pour tea into a “fairness” cup (or other vessel, such a small pitcher) before pouring the tea into each cup. (The fairness cup will ensure that every person tastes the same flavors.) Cups are typically only filled halfway; the empty half symbolizes friendship and affection.
- Admire the appearance, aroma and quality of the tea as you sip and enjoy it.
- Brewing in the gong fu method will allow you to enjoy numerous infusions. Repeat process, adding 10-15 seconds more for each subsequent infusion.
For a more visual guide, check out this video:
Fun fact: In the traditional Chinese tea ceremony, a red napkin is folded to banish any bad qi (energy).