The concept of Gong-Fu in Chinese means ‘in depth’ or ‘highly skillful’. It refers to skills acquired through extensive practice, often combined with knowledge accumulated over time and/or passed down by previous generations.
Teas originated from China. There is a tea consumption history of at least 2000 years, and less so in the rest of the world. Over the 2000 plus years, every single aspect of teas, from the cultivation, production to how they are consumed by the consumers (art of making a pot of premium tea) have all been fine tuned. The brewing process is the final stage of bringing the best out of the fine teas.
Sometime during the long history of tea consumption in China, Gongfu tea - a way of making, tasting and drinking certain teas, was invented.
It is believed it started from the border areas of the Fu-Jian and Guang-Dong province, especially the Chou Zhou area. It was first used as a way of tasting Oolong teas, and extended to now almost all other tea varieties such as green tea, black tea and Pu-erh tea.
The tea consumers noticed that the tea steeping was such dynamic process that the best way to explore was to segregate the various stages by using small tea vessels and multiple infusions.
All premium loose leaf teas can be used for multiple infusions, some more than the others. For example, some Pu-erh teas (made of arbor tea tree leaves) can be infused up to 30 times while most of the premium green teas (made of tender tip eaves) would only last 3-4 infusions. The tea drinkers discovered the various infusions presented rather different characteristics, in the colour, aroma, texture, taste and after taste of the tea brew, and the best way to experience these differences was to use small teapots and tea cups:
- A small teapot allows to brew a small amount of tea at a time
- Due to the limited amount of tea produced from each teapot, it required frequent top up of hot water to produce the multiple infusions
- this freshly brewed and served tea is by far superior to the tea brewed in a large pot, sat and soaked for a long time
- The small tea cups allowed the tea brew from each infusion to be tested independently
The Gongfu tea set was invented to facilitate this process. The essential elements of a Gong-Fu tea set include: a small teapot, several small tea cups (based on the number of the tea drinkers presented), often a tea strainer and a tea sever and a tea tray. The tea tray offers a platform to brew the tea as well as catching any ran down and residual water during the tea preparation for later dispose. There are various other tea accessories that can be added to a tea set, such as Cha Dao and tea pets.
The Gong-Fu tea sets and Gong-Fu tea are now the most popular way to brew premium teas in China, in families and business venues such tea shops and tea houses. It is also a social media similar to the coffee or wine in the west.
Gong-Fu tea is a unique way of tea brewing and serving.
Many Chinese premium tea accessories such as YiXing ZiSha teapots are only made in Gong Fu tea sizes (small sizes).
A few notes:
- Gong-Fu tea is used in tea ceremonies, but more widely used under other circumstances, such as family homes. There is almost a Gong Fu tea set in every Chinese family.
- Gong-Fu tea does not have to be complicated, it is just a different way of brewing and serving. It is characterized by small quantities and good control of the brewing time, the tea leaf volume and water temperature. It may take some practice to prefect it, the process is however just as enjoyable as the result.
- Gong-Fu tea brings the best quality out of a premium tea. It does not however make a lot difference to a low quality one (when a tea is of low quality, Gong-Fu tea brewing cannot make it great.)
Some ancient Chinese wisdom:
Water – natural mineral water is supreme.
Fire – open charcoal fire is ideal.
Tea accessories – small ones are the best.