Fujian is known as one of the birthplaces of gong fu tea (功夫茶). In Fujian, just about every home and office has a tea set for brewing gong fu tea. Gong fu tea is part of the daily lifestyle of Fujian people.
The gong fu method was developed to bring out the true essence of the tea leaf; thus allowing the drinker to sip small mouthfuls of exquisite tea liquid. Ancient poets referred to this tea liquid as “sweet dew”.
To enjoy tea in the finest fashion, you need to have the following basic tea utensils on hand:
• Chapan (tea tray)
• Tasting cups
• Gaiwan (or teapot)
• Gong dao bei (serving pitcher)
• Strainer rest
• Tea sink
• Tea tongs
• Tea towel
• Water kettle
To brew tea in the Fujian gong fu style requires a few basic steps:
- Prepare utensils
- Rinse teaware
- Measure tea leaf
- Pour water
- Remove bubbles and fines
- Rinse tea
- Steep tea
- Warm cups
- Second pour
- Distribute tea
- Serve tea
- Taste tea
- Clean utensils
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All the utensils are first arranged on the chapan. You should take care to ensure each piece is fairly clean (i.e., free of spent tea leaves, etc.) If not, you need to wash the cups and, brewing vessel, and serving vessel first.
This is a pre-rinse in hot water, intended to scald the vessels and warm them up.
Measure tea leaf
Using a tea spoon, you must measure out the proper quantity of tea leaf. The tea leaves are then placed in the gaiwan or teapot.
Pour hot water of correct temperature into the gaiwan or teapot to the appropriate level.
Remove bubbles and fines
When the hot water is poured over the tea leaves, bubbles and froth will form on the top. This is removed using the gaiwan lid or teapot lid. This is done to remove the undesirable tea fines and dust that may float to the top of the tea.
Because tea is a hand-made commodity, it’s best to do a short rinse of the leaves for 2-3 seconds in hot water. This rinse also enables the leaves to re-hydrate and awaken a bit.
Hot water is again poured to the appropriate level and the tea allowed to steep for anywhere from 3 to 10 seconds.
Using the tea rinse, or optionally plain hot water, the tasting cups are warmed prior to use. Tea tongs are useful here, so as not to scald the fingers.
The steeped tea is poured into the cha hai, often through a filter. The cha hai stores the brewed tea, and is used to prevent hot water sitting on the tea leaves too long, resulting in a stewed tea that is both bitter and astringent.
When the cha hai is empty, repeated steepings of tea are possible. And depending on the type of tea, you may get anywhere from six to 20 steepings from the same tea leaves.
The steeped tea is poured from the cha hai into each individual tasting cup equally. Care is taken not to pour each cup too full.
The tea may be served to guests. It’s best first to wipe the bottom of each cup on the tea towel first, then place each cup on a small saucer for the guests to enjoy.
The tea is tasted first by observing the color and clarity of the tea, then appreciating the aroma of the tea, then sipping the tea and appreciating the taste.
To prevent tea stains forming on tea ware, it’s best to immediately rinse each piece in water. After a tea drinking session, you place the tea cups into the tea sink, where they can be soaked in water. For a more thorough washing, the gaiwan, chahai, and tasting cups can be brought together in the tea sink to the kitchen sink, and washed well. Also, the chapan should be wiped thoroughly with a tea towel to prevent tea stain build-ups.