Gongfu tea ceremony

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The gongfu tea ceremony or kung fu tea ceremony (Chinese: sometimes referred to as Chinese: 功夫), also known as the Chinese tea ceremony,[1][2] is a Chinese cultural activity involving the ritualized preparation and presentation of tea. It is probably based on the tea preparation approaches originated in Fujian[3] and Guangdong.[4] The term literally means "making tea with effort". Today, the approach is used popularly by teashops carrying tea of Chinese or Taiwan origins, and by tea connoisseurs as a way to maximize the taste of a tea selection, especially a finer one.

A gongfu tea table with accessories


Attention to tea making quality has been a classic Chinese tradition.[5] All teas, loose tea, coarse tea, and powdered tea have long coexisted with the "imperially appointed compressed form". By the end of the 14th century, the more naturalistic "loose leaf" form had become a popular household product and by the Ming era, loose tea was put to imperial use. In Japan, tea production began in the 12th century following Chinese models, and eventually evolved into the Japanese tea ceremony, meant to be exclusive to political and military elites. The related teaware that is the tea pot and later the gaiwan were evolved. It is believed that the gongfu tea preparation approach began only in around the 18th century. Some scholars think that it began in Wuyi in Fujian, where the production of oolong tea for export began; others believe that it was the people in Chaozhou in the Chaoshan area in Guangdong started this particular part of the tea culture.[6]

Oral history from the 1940s still referred to Gongfu Cha as "Chaoshan Gongfu Cha".[7] It is likely that regardless of the earliest incidence of the approach, the place that first successfully integrated it into daily life was Chaoshan area. Chaozhou is recognized by some as the "Capital" of gongfu tea. After the 1980's, Taiwanese of Chaoshan origin brought back tea sets designed in Taiwan. For example the tea dripper tray which provides an easy solution to rinsing cups and teas.

Folk Gong Fu tea[edit]

Gong fu tea settings exist in many levels of society, one can see the similar tools and utensils being used. In Chaoshan, Fujian and Taiwan, many older people above the age of 40 uses the Gong fu tea sets to brew teas. Visitors to these regions could find them by the streets, in front of small shops or in their livingrooms. Although the same utensils and equipments are used, at folk level it is not seen as an obviously ritual or ceremony; if anything, the Taoist believe is imbedded in Chinese culture therefore subconscious. Consciously people see the tea setting as a place to bring family and friends closer, to enjoy some teas or quench their thirst. In small businesses a tea set is often placed to keep the water flowing - which in folk Taoist belief is to keep the money flowing. One can identify this type of set ups by spotting a ceramic 3 legged toad placed on the dripper tray to attract good fortune. In Chaoshan area traditionally the dripper trays weren't available. Their set compose of a small Yixin pot and 4 cups on a small rounded tray is used rather than the 1980's Taiwanese invention of dripper box styled Gong-fu Tea. Traditional Chaoshan Gongfu tea usually uses small pots and lots of semi-fermented tea to compress a strong brew. However as the tea trade commercialize, lots of teas does not stand this method of brewing as only very high quality traditionally made teas could stand such high pressure and not yield a bitter cup.

At the street level one can expect the practitioner to pursue 1. Taste, 2. Aroma, and usually; 3. Long and pleasant aftertastes. Many people would be able to brew their favorite teas very well from day to day practice. Such small pots brewing were recorded in Chinese history as early as Qing Dynasty.

Gong fu tea for show[edit]

Here we can look at the modern development of the term Gong fu tea.

In recent years China sees a boom in economy, in the 1980's Taiwanese tea experts of Chaoshan origin brings the concept "Chayi" (tea performing art) back to mainland China as an effort to promote tea culture. Its elaborate moves and delicate tools quickly became popular amongst many tea shops. In the following years without an exact date; having a young girl dressed in Qipao serving tea using Gong fu method is a typical ways to promote teas. (Much like the fancy cocktail moves) In order to further develop tea culture and supply the job demands for such tea girls, technical colleges started offering courses. Officially this is named "Chayi" Tea art. In order to increase the artistry of such performances, some moves from traditional folk dances are incorporated into choreographed Gong fu Tea making. Fancy names are coined for each step, they often draw inspirations from folk Taoist origins using auspicious words such as "palace","dragon" and "phoenix".

It is important to note that this art of incorporating dance moves into Gong fu tea is very subjective for interpretation and is a relatively modern folk art and should not be considered necessary for tea brewing. More literati tea or spiritual tea lovers at times shy away from using the term "Gong gu Tea" in China since the over-use of show in relation to the term due to our mass-media being visual based. As a result recently people have adapted the term "Tao of Tea" or "Chadao". (茶道) to indicate a less performance-based approach.

Many tools and ceremony procedures have been created since the 1980's based on the core of Chaoshan small pot brewing, artful terms were given to the steps of brewing. There are quite a number of schools in regards to the naming of the brewing steps, but they are all drawn from the rich history of China.

Ancient water selection and boiling[edit]

Being able to find the most adequate water for one's tea would make one a true tea master. This requires an in depth knowledge of observing nature. It the famous Chinese classic novel "Dream of a Red Chamber" (紅樓夢 traditional,红楼梦 simplified) it was described that a tea expert using water which she collected from melted snow on plum blossoms and stored it in a ceramic jar underground. Without modern technology, people had very cultivated senses to tell the traces of origin from tasting water.

The ancient Chinese tea masters do not use quantitative method of looking at water temperature, rather they observe the sound and look of boiling water, the advantage of this method is that with trained eyes one would be able to determine: 1. The liveliness of your spring - in western terms the oxygen content of your boil depending on how the bubbles appear; 2. the characteristic of the spring - (in western terms soft or hard water)

Here's an extract from Luyu's Chajing - "Book of Tea":

  • At 75–85 °C, the bubbles formed are known as "crab eyes" and are about 3 mm in diameter. They are accompanied by loud, rapid sizzling sounds.
  • At 90–95 °C, the bubbles, which are now around 8 mm in diameter and accompanied by less frequent sizzling sounds and a lower sizzling pitch, are dubbed "fish eyes".
  • When the water is boiling, neither the formation of air bubbles nor sizzling sounds occurs.

At high altitudes water boils at lower temperatures, so the above rules cannot be applied. Students of Gongfucha often starts with a set guide line for temperature and timing to begin their practice. However teas under the same category has variants. Later the more experienced practitioners use their accumulative experience to brew much like chef not having to follow recipes.

Beginner Water Guidelines[edit]

Water which tastes or smells bad will adversely affect the brewed tea. However, distilled or extremely soft water should never be utilized as this form of water lacks minerals, which will negatively affect the flavor of the tea and so can result in a "flat" brew. For these reasons, most tea masters will use a good clean local source of spring water. If this natural spring water is not available, bottled spring water will suffice. Yet high content mineral water also needs to be avoided. Hard water needs to be filtered.


During the process of learning Gongfucha, a common way to begin is to remember a set temperature for a certain type of tea. For e.g:

  • 95 °C for Oolong (Chinese: traditional 烏龍; simplified 乌龙; pinyin: wūlóng) tea
  • 100 °C (boiling) for compressed teas, such as Pu-erh tea (Chinese: 普洱; pinyin: pǔ'ěr)
  • Note: Green tea is usually not used for a Gongfu tea ceremony.

Tools and equipment[edit]

Below is a list of the main items used in a gongfu tea ceremony in Taiwan, known there as (Pinyin: Lăorénchá).

  1. brewing vessel, Yixing teapot, porcelain teapot, or a covered bowl gaiwan.
  2. tea pitcher (chahai), or any matching size decanting vessel, used to ensure the consistency of the flavor of the tea (Chinese: , Pinyin: gōng dào bēi)
  3. hot water kettle, e.g. an electric kettle
  4. brewing tray, or a deep, flat bottom porcelain plate to hold spills (spills are typical)
  5. tea towel or tea cloth, usually dark-colored
  6. tea spoon (tea pick) for clearing the teapot spout, and clearing tea leaves etc.
  7. tea cups (traditionally 3 cups are used in most instances), matching size. Also named Pinming Cup (品茗杯)). Fragrance smelling cup: is intended to capture the aroma and essence of the brewed tea, and is matched with the Pinming cups.[8]
  8. timer
  9. strainer, a tea strainer (Chinese: , Pinyin: lòu dŏu) sometimes built into the tea pitchers
  10. tea holder, tea leaf holder for weighing and dispensing, or a wooden tea spoon to measure the amount of tea leaves required (Chinese: , Pinyin: chá chí)
  11. optional: tea basin or bowl used as the receptacle for used tea leaves and refuse water
  12. optional: scale
  13. optional: kitchen thermometer
  14. optional: scent cup (snifter cup) used to appreciate the tea's aroma (Chinese: traditional , simplified 闻香杯, Pinyin wén xiāng bēi)
  15. optional: A pair of tongs called "Jiā" (Chinese: ) or "Giab" in both the Chao Zhou and Min Nan dialects.

A tea pet, usually made from the same clay as a Yixing teapot, is fun to have. One kind of "tea pet" is a "tea boy." Prior to the tea ceremony, he is soaked in cold water. Hot water poured over him during the tea ceremony will make him "pee."


The ceremony should be carried out in an appropriate space. A table large enough to hold the tea-making utensils, the drip tray, and the water is the minimum necessary. Ideally the surroundings should be peaceful and conducive to relaxation and socialization. Incense, flowers, and low, soft, traditional music will all add to the ambience, as will songbirds.


  1. The first stage of preparation is known as 溫壺燙杯 (simplified: 温壶烫杯, Pinyin: wēn hú tàng bēi) literally "warming the pot and heating the cups." At this point the cups and pot are laid on the table. They are then warmed and sterilized with hot water, the excess is then poured away. When pouring from the cups in the Taiwanese Lăorénchá style, the wooden tweezers may be used instead of bare hands.
  2. The second stage of the preparation is known as 鑒賞佳茗 (simplified: 鉴赏佳茗, Pinyin: jiàn shǎng jiā míng), literally "appreciate excellent tea." At this point those who would partake of the tea during the ceremony examine and appreciate its appearance, smell, and its other characteristics.
  3. The third stage of the preparation is known as 烏龍入宮 (simplified: 乌龙入宫, Pinyin: wū lóng rù gōng), "The black dragon enters the palace" (this term in particular is used when Oolong tea is used for the ceremony). The teapot is filled with tea. For a 150 ml tea pot at least 15 grams of tea leaves are used, however depending on the size of the pot and the strength of the tea the pot may be filled between 1/2 and 2/3 full.
  4. The leaves are now rinsed using hot water poured from some height above the pot, this is known as 懸壺高沖 (simplified: 悬壶高冲, Pinyin: xuán hú gāo chōng), "rinsing from an elevated pot". This is done by putting the teapot into the catching bowl. Water heated to the appropriate temperature for the tea is then poured into the pot until the pot overflows.
  5. Any debris or bubbles which form on the surface are then scooped away gently to keep the tea from around the mouth of the pot which is then closed with the lid. This is known as 春風拂面 (simplified: 春风拂面, Pinyin: chūn fēng fú miàn), meaning "the spring wind brushes the surface."
  6. At this point opinions differ as to what should be done with the tea. Some suggest that the tea be steeped for a short while, and discarded into the cups (重洗仙顏, simplified: 重洗仙颜, Pinyin: chóng xǐ xiān yán), meaning "bathe the immortal twice". This is in order that the temperature inside and outside of the pot is the same. Others recommend immediately pouring the first brew into all of the cups without allowing the tea to steep.


  1. Customarily this first brew is poured into the cups but is not drunk. This is known as 行雲流水 (simplified: 行云流水, Pinyin: háng yún líu shǔi), "A row of clouds, running water". It is essentially a slightly extended washing of the leaves.
  2. The pot is then refilled with fresh hot water until the water reaches the mouth of the pot. This is known as 再注清泉 (Pinyin: zài zhù qīng quán), "Direct again the pure spring" or 回旋低斟 (Pinyin: húi xuán dī zhēn), meaning "pouring again from a low height." This second term refers to an important principle in the brewing of Chinese tea ceremonially: Gāo chōng dī zhēn (trad.: , simp. 高冲低斟), "high to rinse, low to pour." This is because in the rinsing the tea is rinsed using the force of water poured from a height, whereas in the brewing water is poured closer to the leaves in order not to force the flavour from the leaves too rapidly.
  3. The bubbles which may have formed on the surface are removed using the lid, and the pot is closed. The hot tea from the first brew is then emptied over the teapot's outside. This is known as 刮沫淋蓋 (simplified 刮沫淋盖, Pinyin: guā mò lín gài). Wait for 20 to 50 seconds, depending on the type and quantity of the tea used before beginning to serve the tea.


  1. In most Chinese gongfucha ceremony the tea is poured evenly into the teacups, in a circular manner around the guests. In the Taiwanese style ceremony however, often the tea is first emptied into the tea pitcher (cha hai) before being served to the guests. A quality oolong tea is good for anywhere from 4 to 8 infusions. Some Puerh teas can last for 8 or more infusions. Each subsequent pot follows the same procedure, but requires a slightly longer infusion time.

Aroma appreciation[edit]

  1. In the Taiwanese style ceremony, at its highest form, the aroma of the tea is enjoyed as well as its taste. In this case, the tea is first poured into the tea jug, and then into scent cups (聞香杯), or sniffer cup. This is known as 毆杯沐淋 (simplified: 殴杯沐淋, Pinyin: ōu bēi mù lìn), "bathing the scent cup."
  2. The drinking cup is placed upside down over the top of the scent cup and balanced there. This is known as 龍鳳呈祥 (simplified: 龙凤呈祥, Pinyin: lóng fèng chéng xiáng), meaning "The dragon and phoenix in auspicious union." This is a ritualised action, and is viewed by some as a form of prayer for the prosperity, well-being, and happiness of the guests.
  3. The two are inverted so that the scent cup is upside down in the drinking cup. This is known as 鯉魚翻身 (simplified: 鲤鱼翻身, Pinyin: lǐ yú fān shēn), "the carp turns over."
  4. The final stage, 敬奉香茗 (Pinyin: jìng fèng xiāng míng), "respectfully receive the fragrant tea," occurs when the scent cup is lifted and the tea is released into the drinking cup. The guest can then enjoy the aroma of the tea from the scent cup before consuming the tea from his drinking cup. In good etiquette the drinker will drink his tea in three sips, no less; the first a small one, the second the main one, and the last an after taste.

End of ceremony[edit]

  1. The ceremony ends with the used tea leaves being put into a clean bowl for the guests to appreciate the tea in its used form. Good etiquette dictates that the guests should make appropriate compliments regarding the choice of tea.

Cleaning up[edit]

Cleaning up is an important step in the ritual.

  1. Brewed tea and tea leaves should not remain in the teapot after the ritual. The pot must be cleaned up thoroughly and rinsed with hot tea.
  2. Utensils must be sterilized with boiling water.
  3. The teapot should be rinsed with hot tea and the outside should be rubbed and polished with a good linen cloth.
  4. A clay teapot should never be washed with detergents or soaps.
  5. The tea pot must be allowed to dry naturally.
  6. The utensils and serving cups should be allowed to air dry on a tea tray.

Gongfu Tea in general[edit]

Regardless of the schools and rituals, what is most commonly desired in Gongfu Cha is to bring out the best sides in the brewer's selected tea. With knowledge and practice; bring out a well-balanced brew considering three factors: 1. Taste, 2. aroma, 3. after taste/throat taste. This level of art is trying to appreciate the obvious and noticeable pleasant characteristics of different teas. In order to achieve this art one must 1. understand the different characteristics between each tea; 2. control the perfect timing to separate the leaves from the brew, 3. allow fellow tea drinkers to enjoy the experience.

With the term Chaodao (way of tea) or Chancha (Zen Tea) becoming more popular, another two elements have been added to practitioner's pursuit: 1. body awareness from the tea's energy (which is also in entry level of meditation); 2. spiritual oneness with nature.


  1. ^ Richardson, Lisa Boalt (2010). The world in your teacup: Celebrating tea traditions, near and far. Eugene: Harvest House Publishers. p. 12. ISBN 9780736925808. 
  2. ^ Fresh Cup (Fresh Cup Publishing) 17: 342. 2008. 
  3. ^ Joseph Needham. Science and Civilization of China, V.6, P.V, od Science pp 561 Cambridge University Press ISBN 0-521-65270-7
  4. ^ 陳宗懋, 中國茶經, pp 590 上海文化 ISBN 7-80511-499-4
  5. ^ The Classic of Tea
  6. ^ 南強,烏龍茶 pp 132 中國輕工業出版社 ISBN 7-5019-5350-3
  7. ^ 國際在線. "工夫茶的"工夫"". Retrieved 20 December 2010. 
  8. ^ tea for life. "How to use Gongfu Teaset". Retrieved 19 December 2013.