The Tea Ceremony You Probably Don’t Know About
Almost everyone has heard of the Japanese Tea Ceremony, but Japan is not the only one with a tea ceremony. In China, they have what is called Gongfu Cha, or Kung Fu Tea. Now, I’m sure at the mention of Kung Fu your mind immediately wanders to martial arts, but the term Kung Fu refers to any art or skill that you practice with effort. In Gongfu Cha, we are practicing the art of making and sharing tea.
Tea was originally used for medicinal purposes in China. Over time, people came to enjoy the calming benefits of tea, as well as the social aspects of sharing and enjoying tea. Tea ceremonies are founded in philosophy and religion and evolved as a way of showing respect for others and humility for nature. Gongfu Cha is thought to date back to the 18th century and began in Wuyi in the Fujian Province. This is also where the production of oolong tea began, so that could explain why oolong is traditionally the type of tea used in the ceremony. You can perform this ceremony for yourself or guests, but tea is always better when shared.
Performing the Gongfu Cha ceremony for others can offer a reflection of who you are. Through preparation, you will reveal your personality and spiritual feelings as you communicate with your guests through the use of the natural elements and the care taken to prepare the tea for their enjoyment. While this may sound very revealing, you need not worry. It can be a beautiful opportunity to offer an understanding of yourself and
For your Gongfu Cha ceremony, you will need the right tools to successfully prepare your tea. These tools can include:
- Tea. Oolong is traditional, but you can choose your favorite. Just make sure it is good quality, loose leaf tea.
- Tea mat or slotted tea tray. This is where you will place your tools while performing the ceremony. Tea mats will help keep the surface underneath dry. Tea trays go one step further to catch all the spilled water and serve as the place to dispose of any unused or discarded liquid.
- Tea container. This is what your tea is stored in.
- Tea towel. You clean up minor spills and drips with this towel.
- Yixing clay teapot or Gaiwan. The Yixing pot is best for oolong and pu-erh teas. The Gaiwan, as it is often made from porcelain, is best for green teas.
- Tea bowl. Use this to dispose of used tea leaves. You can also use it to discard your warming water if you are not using a slotted tray.
- Hot spring water. Spring water is preferred because the natural minerals help to enhance the flavor of the tea.
- Teacups. Small teacups are used to emphasize a focus on savoring the tea.
- Fair cup or justice cup. This pitcher or container helps ensure that each person receives tea of the same brew and flavor.
- Small strainer. You will want to pour your brew through this into the fair cup. It will catch any loose leaves. Some teapots already have a strainer built-in.
- Tea scoop. A utensil to scoop the tea form the tea container.
- Tea receptacle. Scoop the tea onto the receptacle and show it to your guest before placing it in the pot or Gaiwan. This allows appreciation for the tea they are about to enjoy.
- Tea funnel. This is helpful when adding your tea to the pot if it has a small opening.
- Tea pin. This helps to clear tea from the spouts, strainers, or filters.
- Tea tongs. Use the tongs to grip the hot teacups when warming.
- A natural or decorative element. This can be anything from the natural world that helps to communicate your intentions for the ceremony, such as a small flower arrangement, stones, a tea pet, or calligraphy.
The process is not as daunting as it may seem from the list of tools above. While some tools are necessary, you may not need all of them depending on your own style or formality of preparation. The steps in the ceremony can also vary due to the type of tea you are using. For example, some teas like oolong and pu-erh need to be rinsed before brewing. To get started, the main items you need are tea, hot water, a tea container, a tea scoop, at least two teacups, a mat or tray (a tea bowl is recommended if you don’t have a slotted tray), a fair cup, and a teapot or Gaiwan. You can find all these tools online, but if you prefer to shop locally, some tea houses also carry them. Of course, you can always be creative and use items you already have or can find at a thrift shop.
One of the pieces you may not be familiar with is the Gaiwan. This brewing vessel consists of three parts, each with a different symbolic meaning. The bottom, the saucer, represents the earth where the tea grows. The middle, the brewing cup, represents humans that will cultivate and drink the tea. The top, the lid, represents heaven which will nurture the tea with sun and rain. A Gaiwan is usually made from porcelain to help enhance the flavor and fragrance of the tea. One thing you will want to consider with a Gaiwan is the width of the lip on the brewing cup. You want there to be enough room to comfortably place your fingers because porcelain gets hot right along with the hot water, and you may burn your fingers while holding it to pour the tea. However, it is not difficult to learn how to use a Gaiwan properly. I prefer it over the Yixing pot because I love green tea, particularly Longjing, and other high-fragrance teas, for which the Gaiwan is perfectly suited.
The Gongfu Cha ceremony starts with warming your teapot or Gaiwan and your teacups. To do this, simply pour the hot water into the pot or Gaiwan and the cups. Dispose of the water after a few seconds by pouring it into the tea tray or tea bowl. Next, scoop the tea from the container and place it on the tea receptacle. Hand it to your guests so it may be inspected and appreciated. Once they hand it back to you, place the tea in the pot or Gaiwan and fill with hot water. Cover the pot or Gaiwan. The temperature of the water will depend on the type of tea you are brewing, so check the package beforehand. Brew times will be shorter in this tea ceremony because you will use a larger amount of tea with a smaller amount of water than what will be suggested by the instructions on your tea package. I suggest playing around with brewing to get your water-to-tea ratio just the way you would like before serving guests. Have the tea strainer sitting on top of the fair cup, and once your tea has steeped, pour the brew through the tea strainer into the fair cup. Finally, pout the tea from the fair cup into the teacups. You are now ready to savor your tea.
This is just an overview of how to conduct the Gongfu Cha ceremony. You can make yours more formal or more relaxed. My Gongfu Cha set reflects my own intentions for myself and my friends and family. Spiritual awakening is what I hope to invoke, allowing recognition of the true self so our minds and hearts may be open to the world around us. The Lotus flower is the perfect natural symbol for my ceremony as it rises through muddy waters every day to awaken and bloom. I crocheted my flower, lily pads, and tea mat to add a personal touch. Also, taking the time to handcraft something shows the warmth and kindness you are willing to extend to someone.
Other Chinese tea ceremonies include Wu Wo
Crocheted lotus flower photo by Misty Lantrip