Gongfu cha with gaiwan

 

This traditional Chinese brewing method originates from the south-western province of Guangdong, but is now ubiquitous throughout China. The meaning is to “prepare tea with skill”, enabling multiple successive tastings of the same tea leaves to help you appreciate the unfolding nuances in the taste and aroma.

Each infusion involves a high leaf to water ratio along with a short steeping time. The concentrated liquor that is produced offers a fleeting snapshot of the profile of the tea for your enjoyment. Preparing tea in this matter is a testament to both to nature’s craft and the ingenuity of tea master or estate.

Gongfu Cha can mean a highly elaborate, formal ceremony with many tools and traditions to abide by, including incense and traditional music. In this guide, we've opted to show a condensed, semi-structured approach that is perfect for everyday tea appreciation and personal training.

In this guide, we hope to have removed most of the guesswork, so you can focus on enjoying your tea.


Parameters

  • Gaiwan
    (100ml capacity is ideal for 1 person)

  • Micro scales for weighing

  • Kettle

  • Tasting cups

  • A dish, plate or ceramic for holding your dry tea leaves

  • Decanting/pouring vessel with strainer

  • Tea boat or cloth (for holding spills)

Brewing table

Green tea, yellow tea

  • 3g dry leaf per 100ml

  • 80°C / 175F

  • 15s + 3 seconds for subsequent infusions

White tea

  • 4g dry leaf per 100ml

  • 85°C / 185F

  • 20s + 5 seconds for subsequent infusions

Black tea

  • 4-4.5g dry leaf per 100ml

  • 90-96°C / around 205F

  • 10-15s + 5 seconds for subsequent infusions

Oolong (strip style)

  • 4-5g dry leaf per 100ml

  • 90-96°C / around 205F

  • 20s + 5 seconds for subsequent infusions

Oolong (ball style)

  • 5-6g dry leaf per 100ml

  • 90-96°C / around 205F

  • 20s + 5 seconds for subsequent infusions

Method

Carefully weigh the dry tea leaves using an accurate set of scales, following the parameters from the brewing table above.

Alternatively, simply fill the vessel to 1/4 to 2/3 capacity with dry leaf - this method can be surprisingly effective!

For weighing and displaying the tea, you can use any small holding receptacle you like — we’ve opted for a brass plate.

Lastly, before you begin, take the time to appreciate the aroma and appearance of the dry leaf. This will whet your appetite!

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The first step is to pre-warm your teaware. This is to ensure that the brewing vessel and cups maintain a relatively stable temperature for steeping and drinking.

To do this, fill your gaiwan with boiling water to the brim. After a few seconds, decant a bit of the water into your drinking cups.

Discard the water from the vessels.

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Fill the gaiwan with the tea leaves. Cover the leaves with hot water and allow to rest for about 5-10 seconds — this is known as ‘rinsing’ the tea.

Decant some of the tea into your drinking vessels. You can drink this liquid if you like, but we recommend you discard it.

Since the vessel has already been preheated, the above steps are intended to aromatise the drinking vessels, flush the tea of impurities, and ‘awaken’ the leaves for their first infusion.

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Slowly pour the water into the gaiwan in an spiral fashion; begin pouring just below the rim and continue downward until you reach the centre of the vessel.

Don't worry if you overfill the gaiwan; it will simply drain over the sides.

Use the edge of the lid to push any stray leaves into the water. Scrape off any tea foam with the lid and cover the vessel. If any foam or leaves have gathered on the outside, rinse with hot water.

Time your first infusion following the brewing table (at the top of this guide). A good rule to follow is the fresher your leaf, the shorter we recommend the infusion time.

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When it is time to pour, carefully hold the gaiwan along the rim with your thumb and middle finger. Retract the lid with your index finger to make a small pouring aperture.

Decant through a tea strainer into a serving pitcher.

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Serve into drinking vessels. Repeat for subsequent infusions, increasing steep time, until the leaves are spent of flavour.

After the leaves appear to be spent, carefully remove them from the gaiwan and admire the 'bloom'.


Tips

  • Deceptively simple, the gaiwan requires precision and care when serving to avoid burning yourself. If you are not feeling confident handling the gaiwan, remember to go slow. You may consider practising with room temperature water first.

  • Don't be afraid to check the strength of the infusion by first pouring some of the liquor from the gaiwan into a tasting vessel.

  • The ratios for dry leaf to vessel capacity are suggested only. Feel free to vary these parameters to suit your tastes.

  • Just before decanting the liquor from the gaiwan, inhale the aromas from the inside of the lid. This will help to paint a subtle picture of the tea, even before your first sip.

  • A little puzzled by the ratios?
    Let’s say you have a 180ml capacity gaiwan, and you’d like to brew black tea. In this case, bring the water to 90°C. Then, to find your ratio, simply multiply 5 by 1.8.

    That’s 9g dry leaf of black tea to 180ml.