Small brewing vessels and tasting cups are an iconic part of the Chinese method of brewing tea called gong fu cha. For devotees of traditional Chinese teas, the process of brewing and tasting several infusions in small cups can be a personal moment to refresh, or a way to showcase and share the tea they love with others. But for tea drinkers familiar with western traditions, the diminutive scale and elaborate-looking process of gong fu cha often seem impractical.
If you’ve never tried your hand at the Chinese method, rest assured that it does not need to be complicated. Reduce gong fu cha to its simplest form by using only a pot and single cup of matching size. Add tea leaves to the pot, followed by hot water, and decant your brew into the cup. Despite the lack of ceremony, this minimal process will help you brew and appreciate a better cup of tea in the following three ways:
1. Stop Over-Brewing Teas
Any tea drinker knows the great dismay of stepping away from a steeping mug, only to find it cold and bitter later on. Simply put, a traditional western steep of 3-5 minutes is just long enough to let our ever-wandering brains find something else to do.
In contrast, gong fu cha calls for short infusions, typically of only 1-2 minutes. To increase the strength of the brew, add more tea leaves, instead of more time. A small pot will make for a strong, concentrated infusion, but short brews will keep flavor naturally sweet, and leave less time to get distracted and accidentally leave the tea too long.
2. Get the Most Out of Every Leaf
All whole-leaf teas will yield flavor through at least three infusions, developing more flavor as the leaf slowly expands. Infusions are best kept short and rapid, as any bitterness from over-steeping will persist in subsequent infusions, and wet leaves can lose flavor if left too long between brews.
Instead of chugging three large mugs of tea, capitalize on flavor by brewing in a smaller pot, and combining three infusions to fill a single cup. This small adjustment will draw the leaf open more slowly, and result in a more potent brew with better flavor, from the same amount of tea leaves.
3. Train Your Palate
Finally, drinking in a smaller volume can help any tea drinker train or refine their palate, as smaller cups encourage slow sips, rather than big gulps. Smaller volumes of tea also cool more quickly, removing the distraction of heat, and allowing for more subtlety to show through on the tongue.
While several teas of the same variety might taste practically identical in a mug, a gong fu tasting will reveal differing nuances that reflect details of each tea’s terroir, harvest date, or craftsmanship. This is why connoisseurs love to brew in this style, and also why we use this method to test the quality of every tea, both in our sourcing process and in our retail shop.
Have you tried brewing with the gong fu cha method? Let us know why you love it (or not!) in the comments below.
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