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Most westerners associate the term “gong fu” (or “kung fu” in Cantonese) with the martial arts. The phrase “gong fu,” however, simply refers to mastery of a particular endeavor, so it can be applied to a wide variety of subjects.
The gong fu style of brewing tea involves the use of a small tea pot and small cups, and here “gong fu tea” means the mastery of preparing tea.
Gong fu tea is popular in China and Taiwan where it is used to brew oolong tea, black tea, and puer tea. The procedure and utensils vary slightly from region to region, but there are more similarities than differences.
Gong fu tea sets consist of a tray or bowl for capturing excess water and tea, a small tea pot, a serving pot, several small handle-less tea cups, a scoop for the tea, prongs for removing used tea leaves, long slender cups for capturing the aroma of the tea, and a tea cloth for drying the bottom of the cups before serving.
Gong Fu Tea Pots
Tea pots for gong fu style tea are small – usually from 100 ml to 300 ml. They are often referred to as Yixing tea pots after the region in China where this type of tea pot was first manufactured during the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD). The soil in the Yixing area has a unique combination of iron, quartz and mica giving yixing pottery a purple tinge. For this reason Yixing teapots are sometimes called “purple tea pots.”
The only true Yixing tea pots come from the Yixing region of China, but the small tea pots used for gong fu tea are also manufactured in other parts of China and also in Taiwan. Potters in Taiwan are renowned for their bold designs and the high quality of their gong fu tea pots.
After the tea is finished brewing in the tea pot, it is poured into a serving pot. This prevents the tea from getting too strong and allows the leaves to be brewed many times.
Gong Fu Trays
Trays are needed to brew gong fu style tea because some of the hot water is discarded during the brewing process. The trays serve to capture and drain the excess water. The trays can be made of stone, stainless steel or wood, or sometimes a ceramic bowl is used.
Stainless steel trays have a perforated cover through which the excess liquid passes. Stone or wood trays usually have a drainpipe that leads to a small bucket which is hidden from view. These trays can have elaborate carved designs and are sometimes incorporated into table tops.
Gong Fu Tea Cups
Gong fu tea cups are small – enough for a gulp of tea. The small size allows the tea to cool off quickly, an important matter since hot tea is served almost continuously.
The tea is first poured into aroma cups – tall thin cups that allow the scent of the tea to funnel upward. After the host pours the tea into the aroma cups, the guest pours the tea into the drinking cup and savors the aroma of the tea. The aroma cups may be rolled between the palms to enhance the fragrance. Before serving the tea to the guests, the bottoms of the cups are dried off by briefly placing them on the tea towel.
Tongs and a scoop round out a gong fu tea set. They are often made of wood and may match the wooden tray. The scoop is used to transfer the dried tea to the tea pot for brewing, and the tongs are used to remove the used tea leaves after they have been brewed several times.
Video: Gong fu Pu-erh tea with an Yixing teapot (7 minutes)