I’ve been exploring different ways of tasting tea in a simple gongfu style. My problem with gongfu cha is that I tend to drink tea alone. It can also be intimidating from how complicated it. Sometimes all we want is tea for one.
photo credit: sir charlitos
For those of you who aren’t familiar with gongfu cha, it’s a highly ceremonial method of appreciating tea in groups.In Chinese, the term Gongfu cha literally means “making tea with efforts”. While there’s fun in being fancy, I’ve always felt like it seems like a lot of work and equipment for the solo tea drinker.
What can we learn from gongfu cha when drinking tea alone?
If I could distill the gongfu cha down into a concept, it’s about enjoying your tea while you’re present in the moment. Tea is usually the accompaniment to the primary activity, not the centerpiece of an event. Gongfu cha elevates the drinking of tea to the guest of honor.
As I spend more time with tea, I’m appreciating more and more the nuances of the tea’s flavor and quality based on how you brew it. How can you appreciate the tea by yourself, and make it the centerpiece of your day? Here’s my simple approach.
5 Steps to My Own Solo Gongfu Cha
Instead of multiple pots and cups, this can be a one-person, one-cup tea ceremony for yourself.
- One tea vessel with strainer capabilities such as a gaiwan or a tea mug, or
- One individual-sized tea pot and a cup to pour tea into
Step 1: Preheat your vessel
Rinse the cup or the pot that you’re preparing the tea in hot water. Usually I boil more water than I need, and give my cup a quick rinse to heat it up.
Step 2: Examine the tea
Take a minute to appreciate the dry leaves tea. I like to smell it, roll it around, and examine it closely. What will it look like when it unfurls? Does it look roasted? What does the vegetal smell from the dry leaves hint about the tea’s aroma once it’s been infused?
Step 3: Rinse the tea leaves
I like to give the tea a quick rinse by pouring water over the tea leaves, and quickly draining it out. The heat of the water releases the first wave of the tea’s aroma.
Okay, now stop. Take a deep breath.
Breathe in the tea’s flavor, and appreciate this moment.
Step 4: Steep the tea and remove the leaves
Based on the type of tea, steep your tea according to the directions. Make sure in this case that your tea leaves are able expand as you’re steeping them (those mesh tea balls are generally not very good at this). Then make sure you remove the tea leaves from the tea. If you have a small pot, you can do this by pouring the steeped tea into another container. I use a tea mug like this one and simply remove the infuser and place it into the lid.
Step 5: Smell and examine the infused leaves and taste the tea
After you’ve steeped the tea, this is a great time to look at the infused tea leaves. How do they look now? What can you tell or guess about the preparation process for the leaves by looking at them fully unfurled? Smell the tea and try to match the smell against the aroma of the dry leaves. Enjoy your tea!
Enjoying tea over multiple infusions
I can usually infuse tea a few times with this method, and observe the changes in flavor and aroma of the tea over multiple infusions. The most important part of reusing tea is in separating the leaves from the liquid in step 4. Each time I’ve steeped the tea, I take the tea leaves out either by pouring out the pot or taking the tea container out. This protects the tea from over steeping and bitter flavors.
How Does This Compare to Formal Gongfu Cha?
I hope that you guys don’t think this is too informal of an interpretation of gongfu cha. The fundamental question here is, is gongfu cha about the ritual or about the appreciation of the tea?
I believe in the latter. Tea can and should be appreciated in all its forms. While part of the fun is in the ceremonies, so much of it to me seems to be encapsulated in how mindful you are of the tea experience. This is a great way to fully experience and taste the tea without the equipment. What do you think?
If you want to learn more the formal version of gongfu cha, I’ve embedded a video below.
Thanks for reading!