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Shanghai | Art & Culture | Food & DrinksJune 13, 2012

Chinese Tea Ceremony

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Having spent already 3 weeks in China I have had the opportunity to experience several Chinese Tea Ceremonies.

Brewing methods of Chinese tea are closely related to everyday life. On this huge piece of land called China, 1.3 billion people use more than a couple of brewing methods to get their teas done. It's not like looking into a reference book and you can find them all because there are methods so casual that books don't care to tell.

Here, with the help of Masters, a movie and consulting sources, I am sharing  a method that  is mostly practised in South China. You can choose your brewing method  depending on what tea ware you have, the class of Chinese tea you want to brew, degree of convenience, occasion, etc.

An the most modern method:  Breville Tea Maker.

The "Serious" Methods

These are the brewing methods that all tea books and tea sites have to mention. They are cool ways of doing tea. If you don't mind the trouble of setting up a few things and you want more flavor from your tea, pick one from below.

Kung Fu Tea (small pot)

  • Tea wear: Small Yixing Teapot <= 6oz, teacups
  • Tea class: Best for Oolong tea, NOT for green tea
  • Convenience: Low (very inconvenient in fact)
  • Occasion: Serious tea drinking, want to get the best flavor out of your Oolong, tea friend meeting, when you have time to kill
Kung Fu Tea (big pot)
  • Tea wear: Yixing teapot > 6oz, teacups
  • Tea class: Best for Oolong tea, NOT for green tea
  • Convenience: Medium
  • Occasion: When you are working but still want to drink a nice cup of Oolong. I like to make a big mug of Oolong in a couple of brews and drink it throughout the day in office.
Gaiwan (small)
  • Tea wear: Porcelain GaiWan <= 4oz, teacups
  • Tea class: All, ok for Oolong tea
  • Convenience: Medium
  • Occasion: Casual tea friend meetings, or non tea friend meetings.
Before entering this heavy duty topic, let's get entertained by some basics first.

What is "Kung Fu Tea"?

Kung Fu Tea (also interchangeably called Kung Fu ChaGong Fu Tea and Gong Fu Cha) is a tea brewing process. In Chinese, Cha means tea. For Kung Fu, you might be familiar with one of it's more popular meanings - Chinese martial arts. But it has more meanings in Chinese - hard work, labor, level of achievement, skill, free time, etc. Kung Fu Cha is the Chinese tea brewing process that has a little bit of ALL these meanings - you will find out why when you go through the whole process yourself.

What classes of tea are appropriate for Kung Fu Tea?

Oolong class. Kung Fu Cha uses Yixing teapots  that retain a high temperature during brewing. High temperature is what it takes to extract flavor from Oolong. However, tender tea classes like green tea should NOT be brewed with Kung Fu Cha.

Procedures are dead. What do we look for in Kung Fu Cha?

We look for the right combination of amount of tea leave, water temperature, brewing time, etc. to make a good cup of tea. And keep in mind that Kung Fu Cha offers an advantage over other brewing - higher water temperature. The procedure explained in the text beloware just basic steps. Feel free to modify the steps (e.g. putting the Yixing teapot in a hot water bath to slow down heat loss, etc., etc.) if such steps give you a better cup of tea.

What gadgets do I need?

  1. Yixing teapot (must) - Yixing teapot is slow in losing heat. Small (personal preference is below 6 oz) and deep teapot is preferable for best result. For convenience, bigger teapots can be used (the trade off is a lesser degree of control over flavor).
  2. Teacups (must) - that is, if you don't want to drink direct from the teapot. 3-4 cups of about 1 oz each is fine, depending on the size of the teapot.
  3. Kung Fu Tea Tray (not a must) - quite a bit of spill and waste water is produced during the process. The tea tray holds such water so you don't have to wipe it off the table. It might seem to be just for convenience but it's BIG convenience.
  4. Tea Tools (optional) - in the tool set, there are tea shuffle, funnel, tongs, digger, tea needle. You won't get into much trouble though if you brew without the tool set.
  5. Tea (must) - need no expert to tell tea is a must.
  6. Faircup (optional) - transitional container when teacups are full but tea in teapot has to be emptied to avoid overbrewing.
  7. Tea Strainer (optional) - screens out small pieces of tea leaves.
  8. A pair of hands (must), and perhaps your mouth too.
  9. Source of hot water (must) - Sorry, please don't try to look it up in the PIC above because it's not there. You can use a variety of source, say, a pot heated on stove, an electronic heating pot, etc. Just make sure whatever you use can give you boiling water.
The following paragraph uses a small Yixing teapot Kung Fu Tea (below 6 oz preferred). Big pot Kung Fu Tea follows the same steps except that you use a bigger teapot. You can brew a big cup of tea in a single round for the sake of convenience. Special thanks to Kelly for lending me her hands in the following demo.

1. Preparation stance. On your mark ... ready ...

2. Go! Use tea shuffle to add tea to the teapot.

3. Oops, forget all about the tea funnel. Should use it if the opening of the teapot is small.

4. Tea rinse round starts -add hot water and fill teapot until it overflows a little. You will find foam floating on top. Brush it away with the lid.

5. Let water stay for a few seconds before pouring it out. Use the water to wash the teacups too.

6. Pouring ... Other than washing the tea leaves, the rinse round allows the teapot to heat up before the brewing starts. Remember, high temperature is the key to Kung Fu tea.

7. Use the tongs to wash teacups. Have I mentioned the water coming from this round is not for drinking? If you have already did, never mind. It's not poisonous.

8. Make it a habit to pour used water over the teapot, and run hot water over the teapot after washing to keep the temperature of the teapot as high as possible. Some people put the teapot in a hot water bath.

9. Round 1 of tea brewing starts - hot water into the teapot. Don't mind me repeating myself like an old man - high temperature is king. The water has to be as hot as possible. Fill till it spills a little. For the sake of having all the gadgets stay in the PIC, one thing is done wrong here. The water is supposed to be poured from high, non-stop, in a circular motion around the rim to spread heat evenly to prevent Se.

10. Cover the teapot. Some tea will be squeezed out of the very full teapot but that is fine. The tea tray is there to catch the spill for you.

11. After a minute or so , first few cups of tea are ready. Now pour tea into the teacups. Easy? NO! That is one of the steps that requires a lot of Kung Fu *** (see below for detail).

12. Be my guest. Tea buddies, don't thank me for all the work I've put into making these few ounces of tea. I like doing it.

13. ... Come on, what are you waiting for?

14. While the slow drinkers are enjoying their tea, round 2 brewing starts.

How To Pour Kung Fu Tea
  • Tea has to be poured low to minimize escaping of aroma.
  • To be qualified a skillful brewer, the color of the tea in the 3 teacups has be the same (last drop of tea that comes out of the teapot is darker as it gets more brewing time). 2 tricks are used:
  1. "General Gwan Patrols City" - pour tea in a circular motion into all the teacups at the same time. Some tea would be spilled between cups but that is allowed.
  2. "Han Xin (also a general) Counts Soldiers" - the rule is to pour the last drop of tea out of the teapot because you don't want the brewing to continue inside the teapot. So at the end if the pouring, hold the teapot about 6-12 inches above a teacup, secure the lid with your thumb (like in step 11), accelerate towards the teacup, breaks just above the teacup and let gravity draw the last few drops of tea. Repeat that with all the teacups.
  • If the teacups can't hold all the tea, use the faircup. Just make sure no tea stays in the teapot after brewing time is up.
More on Tea properties soon
Joelle's tips:
The video: Tea Ceremony Chico  Grande Productions
The Tea houses : Shanghai ; Fenghui Tea House Yu Yuan Wen Chang Road 2F19
                                 Beijing; Chinese Tea House outside Temple of Heaven
The modern method: Breville Tea Maker
The Source: Chinese Tea

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