The Gong Fu Style of Drinking Fine Tea
In Taiwan, in China, and increasingly in the West, tea aficionados are drinking their favorite oolong and green teas Gong Fu style. Successive brews of loose tea are poured into small ceramic cups to be shared and appreciated, steep by steep, by a gathering of friends. This ceremonial drinking style is meant to focus one's attention and relax the mind and spirit in a convivial, shared experience. Paying close attention to the evolving taste and aroma of the tea, slowing to observe the dance of its leaves against beautiful ceramic cups enhances one's appreciation of both the tea and the moment. There is nothing like Gong Fu to create a warm, intimate atmosphere among friends.
Loosely translated from Mandarin, Gong Fu (Kung Fu in Cantonese) means skill and patience. There is artistry in a well-brewed cup of tea, but few hard and fast rules. Use the best water and tea available and a pot in which the tea can be brewed loose. We've listed a few guidelines below, but the brew is in your control. Experiment with steeping time and the ratio of leaves to water. The goal is to draw out as much depth of the tea's character as possible with each successive infusion. Oolong teas as well as more aromatic green teas lend themselves best to the Gong Fu method. At the In Pursuit of Tea office, our favorites include the Oriental Beauty Oolong, the Competition Tieguanyin, and the Twelve Trees (Tung Ting) Oolong.
Five to fifteen seconds is usually adequate brewing time for the first water infusion. All the water must be poured out at once into very small cups or into a small pitcher and, subsequently, into cups. If the water is left on the leaves for too long, the tea may become bitter. Classic Gong Fu pots and cups are very small as the tea liquor is quite concentrated. If the tea is of good quality, the same tea leaves can be brewed with water up to eight times without losing flavor and aroma.
In Taiwan, it is customary to fill a small Gong Fu pot one-third to one-half full of tea leaves. After a few steeps, the leaves will have expanded to fill the whole pot to overflowing. For lighter tasting tea, add fewer leaves and do shorter brews. Usually, depending on the type of tea, the first to the third brews are the finest.
Each brew of the same tea leaves will be slightly different. One brew may produce a slightly orange after-tone mingled with other subtleties, while another brew may have a distinctive nutty flavor or a slight creamy taste.
The best teapots for Gong Fu are unglazed earthenware. The porous clay body absorbs the tea's aroma, enhancing the flavor of subsequent brews. This kind of pot should never be washed with soap and water, or it will lose this benefit and may even take on the flavor of the soap. Pots should be reserved for use with specific types of teas – one for light oolongs, one for dark oolongs, and one for greens, etc.
Yixing teapots (pronounced "ee-shing") are the most famous of the unglazed Gong Fu pots. They can be purchased at our website or in any Chinatown. Their size can be deceptive. The tiniest pots are actually meant for two or three people when using the small Gong Fu cups. It is also nice to try larger cups.
The Gong Fu method is one of the most pleasing methods by which to enjoy very fine tea. We hope you will select one of our fine oolong teas and enjoy Gong Fu's healthful, intoxicating qualities.