What is Gong Fu brewing – and why you should give it a go
A short introduction to the Chinese tradition of gong fu cha. Here's why you should give it a try.
What is gong fu brewing?
Gong fu brewing is a Chinese style of brewing tea. There are many variations of it, but here's what it is in a nutshell: brewing extremely small and intense 'tea shots' in a short period of time.
You also use around 5 times more tea leaves (always brewing loose of course). However, you also get extremely flavourful tea – sometimes exceeding 15 infusions (when you brew the tea). This may sound extremely odd, having to effectively re-brew your tea, but in fact – assuming your drinking the high quality true loose leaf tea – you will get so much more out of your drink.
Gong fu brewing is a meditation, and is therefore considered a type of ceremony in China. But don't let that stop you from doing the same thing at home.
What do I need?
You don't need much to give it a go. There are two simple ways of brewing your tea gong fu style: so called 'Grandpa style', and 'Full gong fu style'.
For grandpa style, all you need is a small cup or a bowl of no more than 100ml, and 4-6g of preferably very high quality leaves (no, the teabags won't do). Simply place your tea in your container and brew with slightly cooler water than usual (85-90 degrees C is best). Then sip away – no need to wait around – just drink the tea. As you drink, the leaves will continue to infuse and the taste will become stronger. Once you reach your last 10ml or so, re-infuse the leaves and start again for as long as you wish and as long as your leaves keep going.
And there you go, you're gong fu brewing in its simplest form.
However, what if you want to go full gong fu?
In order to fully gong fu brew, you will need a brewing vessel, preferably a 'gaiwan' or small 100-200ml tea pot. if you are brewing with other people, a 'gong dao bei' is needed, which is a pitcher that allows you to spread the tea evenly and therefore everyone is given the same strength of tea. 'Gong dao bei' literally translates to 'fairness cup'. And, of course you're going to need a cup, preferably a very small one, suitable for shots.
Chinese tea-ware is a wonderful world that cannot be covered in one article, much like true tea. Most likely, if you are just getting into gong fu brewing, you don't need anything of this sort. However, you can still experience full gong fu brewing to a certain degree using a simple pitcher, teapot (if it's over 200ml then just don't fill it to the top), and a cup of any size. The aesthetics will not be the same, but you can dip your toe into gong fu brewing this way to taste the difference yourself.
I'm still not sure how far to pour my water.
A good idea is to measure your water to leaf ratio: a good average would be 5 grams of leaf to 100ml of water.
What tea should I use?
The highest quality you can get. Not teabags but true tea. Also try to avoid artificially-scented teas, as they really do not give you the full gong fu experience. You could do some searching on the internet for good shops that sell high grade tea, depending on your region – just make sure to search for tea fit for gong fu purposes.
If you want to know shops I particularly recommend, ask me in the comments, or I will do a top-five article soon. Oh, and as I side note – do not buy from large internet shops like Amazon, you should be looking for more boutique sellers.
How long should I brew for?
Only around 20 seconds at most. Of course this depends on your amount of tea leaves, but if you're following my 5g/100ml rule, I would say 15 seconds.
What temperature water should I use?
Here is a rough temperature table depending on your type of tea:
White tea – 80 degrees Celsius
Green tea – 75 degrees Celsius
Oolong tea – 85 degrees Celsius
Black tea – 90 degrees Celsius
Pu-Erh tea – 97 degrees Celsius
Temperatures differ from tea to tea, but it's especially important with white and green teas that you don't use boiling water, as this gives you an astringent, bitter, stewy brew.
And finally, don't forget to have fun with this brewing method!