Many people want to enjoy their teas using the gongfu (kungfu) method of tea infusion but tend to think it’s too involved or confusing. However, any task is simpler if you take it a step at a time. So here is the basic style of gongfu tea time in six easy steps.
1 Assemble the items needed
Any good cook knows that you start by gathering the ingredients, the mixing bowls, measuring spoons, baking pans, frying pans, sauce pans, etc., before you start mxing things and trying to create that soufflé or 3-layer cake. What you’ll need: the tea; the vessel for infusing the tea (small clay teapot or gaiwan, around 150 ml); fresh water (preferably not hard or distilled); the kettle for heating the water; the heat source; the cups (3 or 4, about 30 ml each); a chahai for holding the tea liquid after infusing and for pouring it into the cups; some kind of tea table or tray or something to catch drips, spills, and overflows so you don’t have to focus on tea stains but instead on the tea enjoyment; and a clean cloth (preferably cotton) to wipe up those spills.
2 Infuse the Tea
Start by warming the pot/gaiwan with a little hot water and then pouring it into the cups to warm them; then discard that water. Add dry tea to the pot/gaiwan and infuse for the appropriate amount of time (the amount of tea leaves and time will vary by tea). (Note: Some people pour the water into the pot or gaiwan from a height of 12 inches or more above it.) Some recommend that this first short infusion be used to bathe the cup while others recommend drinking it. The choice is yours.
3 Serve the Tea
If you are using a chahai (little pitcher for the infused tea), empty the tea from the pot or gaiwan into it and then pour the tea into the cups. A chahai assures that each guest gets a cupful that is infused the same as the other guests. It also helps keep leaf pieces at a minimum in the cups. You may also want to use aroma cups if you are serving a particularly aromatic tea such as floral oolongs – pour a small amount of the liquid into each cup for your guests to appreciate and savor.
4 Appreciate and Savor
The aroma cups mentioned above are taller and more slender than the sipping cups. You will want to raise the cup to your nose and inhale deeply, taking care not to exhale into the cup. Then add the liquid into your sipping cup which should have been filled already. Sip the tea with a slurping action to try to pull in some air and also spread the liquid through your mouth, then swallow. This should enhance your perception of not only the tea’s flavor, but its aroma.
5 Wrap Things Up
Don’t miss out on taking a good look at the tea leaves after steeping and letting your guests do the same. The leaves are the stars of the show. Some are the economic lifeblood of the people that grow, harvest, process, and market them. Handmade teas will often consist of full leaves, tight buds, or leaf-bud sets. They will be fully expanded after the infusions (you will generally be able to do 5 to 9 for most teas) and a delight to behold. Your guests will enjoy the sight, to be sure.
6 Clean Things Up
Clean up everything. It sounds pretty self-evident, but if you’re used to using ceramic teawares, you may also be used to leaving the spent tea leaves in the pot. Clearing them out is essential for an unsealed Yixing clay teapot, but it’s also good for a gaiwan to prevent staining which is actually tea leaf residue that could affect subsequent steeps; let the clay teapot air dry thoroughly before putting it away. Sterilize utensils with boiling water. Wash the cups, tea tray, etc., and let them air dry or dry with a soft cotton towel.
Gee, wasn’t that simple?