Gongfu: An Artful Cup of Tea

The Gongfu tea service is an ancient Chinese tea ceremony designed to help you leave your cares behind, and celebrate the present moment. There are many steps involving both the tea master and tea drinker that are performed to sharpen the senses and cultivate awareness.

Chaozhou, a city in the Guangdong Province of China is the home of the Gong Fu tea ceremony. The Gongfu tea ceremony like the martial art  Tai Chi share the same intent; both involve art, skill and effort. While both disciplines are highly ritualized and physical, they are each ultimately a spiritual practice.

The Gongfu tea ritual provides an opportunity for the tea master to develop artfulness and grace, while performing a relatively simple and seemingly mundane activity. The tea guest is invited to do the same. While slowing down and focusing our attention, we attune to our senses and to ourselves.  As we enjoy the present moment, we become aware of life’s subtleties and the richness that is always available to us.

Gongfu means “making tea with skill.” The intention is to produce a brew that tastes good and is satisfying to the soul.

The tea master prepares the tea tray with a gaiwan (tea bowl), lid, teacups (one ounce), friendship (small pitcher), tea holder, tongs and tea cloth. A kettle with hot water is kept near by. The tea master determines the optimal temperature for the water depending on the type of tea. The tea tray has wooden slats that allow discarded water to drain and collect underneath in a hidden container. The ritual involves multiple infusions of the same tea within a small teapot.

Once the tea tray has been prepared, the tea is measured. Most often, oolong tea is served although pu erh and some black teas are sometimes used in Gongfu ceremony. Each guest is given the opportunity to check the fragrance and appearance of the tea leaves. The tea set is heated by spilling hot water over each vessel, and allowing the water to overflow into the tray.

Each infusion is a bit longer than the previous one and has a slightly different fragrance, flavor and color. Multiple infusions stimulate the senses differently in appearance and intensity.

Some notable aspects about Gongfu is that the tea master uses tongs to serve the cups of tea. Also, Gongfu tea is unusually strong! Each serving is less than one ounce. A little goes a long way.

The Chinese speak of  “cha qi” meaning “tea energy.” Cultivating awareness in movement and the practice of making the best tea is believed to endow a person  with a good moral character.

During February 2019 the Chinese New Year, the year of the Pig is celebrated. It is believed to be a year of fortune and luck. Let’s drink to that!

Teas vary as much in appearance as the different faces of men – Hui Tsung