Topic: Styles of gongfu cha

I've been wondering about the different types of gongfu cha. I didn't really know that there were different types until I had heard about Chaozhou gongfu cha, where they crush up a good amount and then fill the vessel to about 75%(?) with whole leaf. I also believe that I heard a name put to the style where they carefully wash/preheat the pots, cups, faircup, etc., by basically going through all the steps of brewing without tea, though I don't recall the name.

So are there many other types, and what are they? Are they used, or were they developed, primarily for certain types of tea?

This was partially inspired by the thread on ceremonial styles, but I didn't want to post in that thread because I am wondering more about practical/everyday styles of the different regions.

Re: Styles of gongfu cha

I think (and someone please correct me if I'm wrong) that Chaozhou / Chaoshan gongfu cha is the root of gongfu cha. Even in that style, I don't think there's one exact method that's agreed on by everyone. I outlined one method that I've seen at
I do that this procedure (or its rough equivalent) could be followed on an everyday basis, and is practical (it sounds complicated, but it's not really that complicated and doesn't IMO contain unnecessary steps). Even when brewing other types of teas or following a slightly looser style, I tend to incorporate a lot of these practices into my tea brewing. I think gong fu cha has a big element of ritual in it (which is part of what interests me about it), but not as much ceremony, especially when compared to something rigid like Japanese tea ceremony.

Some general trends in Chaozhou gongfu cha, based on my own limited experiences / reading:
1) A small kettle is ideal (for quick heating of water), preferably the traditional charcoal stove / side handled chaozhou red clay kettle / olive pit charcoal, but many people seem to use metal or glass kettles these days too. In fact, everything (kettle / brewing vessel / cups / etc.) is small.
2) Amount of tea leaf used is generally pretty high. For roasted Tieguanyin, I have definitely heard volumes of 1/2 to 1:1, and some of the leaves (probably between 1/6 and 1/3, but the exact proportions and methods of building the pile of tea seem to vary) are crushed with the hand... keep in mind that the older style Tieguanyin was not tightly balled the way it is now... According to Tim, with most teas other than Tieguanyin you don't crush any leaves, with the possible exception of Feng Huang Shui Xian (not 100% sure about that one). I think it's typical for people in this area to use a lot of tea leaf with wiry teas also, but I certainly have heard of people who don't do this (Imen's teacher, for example). So my understanding is that a lot of tea leaf is typical, but I don't know if there's a hard and fast rule. I think this is a general trend even with other variations.
3) Traditional teas would be Anxi Tieguanyin (typically high fire), Feng Huang Dan Cong / Feng Huang Shui Xian (local to Chaoshan area), Wuyi Yan Cha (I have heard that at one point, this was considered the best, but not sure if it's common now). I'm sure pu'er is also consumed in this area, but whether it's brewed in the same way or not, or whether it's considered gongfu cha, I am not sure.
4) In most ceremonies I've seen, there are either 3 or 4 cups, which should be brewed equal strength... the pot or gaiwan is poured directly into the cups in a circular motion, and only 4 (or 5 at most) brews are consumed. If there are more people than cups, people alternate or defer to each other.

I know you read it, ABx, but for the archives, also worth reading is the bit about the "4 treasures" at

I would assume that almost any type of gongfu cha (and in fact most types of serious tea brewing of any sort) would involve washing / preheating everything, though maybe not before every infusion or in the exact same way.

I think most other gongfu traditions are just variations on Chaozhou gongfu -- adding the cha hai and / or aroma cups (both Taiwanese inventions?), using slightly larger pots / cups, different styles of trays or tea boats. I'm not sure how significant the poetic descriptions of the whole ceremony are. Most of the areas where it is common are geographically close to that area (other parts of Guangdong, parts of Fujian, Taiwan, Hong Kong), and / or have large overseas communities of people from that area.

Are they used, or were they developed, primarily for certain types of tea?

I think that generally speaking, oolong teas, particular the types I outlined above, are traditional. I know pu'er and other post-fermented teas were very popular in Guangdong, but I don't know if they were brewed this way (until recently) or not. I have, however, heard of red tea called "gong fu red tea" (from Fujian, I believe), and I know that Yixing potters also like to drink a local red tea... I'm not sure where drinking red tea in this style was popular, if at all -- presumably around that same area.

Re: Styles of gongfu cha

Thanks, Will. I too was thinking that the Chaozhou style gongfu cha was the original, inferring from one of the articles I read here, but I wasn't sure.

My original thought was that with regional tea preferences, it would make sense that each area might have a particular way of brewing. Taking your mention of crushing up some of the older style TGY and crushing the leaf as an example. I would also imagine that once you're used to brewing this way, you're likely to use the same method when you come across another tea.

I guess I'm mainly looking for different things to try in brewing. As you mention, I think that I take away a lot from different things I've learned and incorporate them into my own style. Thanks to Imen, and the discussions you and I have had about Imen's brewing, I'm more likely to pour water in slow, high, and on the edge of a gaiwan for something that needs less heat, for example. Imen's tips have also opened me up to trying small amounts of leaf when I come across a tricky tea as well - I've found some aged wulong that seems to come out best when you brew it similar to Dancong.

The other example I mentioned came from a video on youtube where the person goes through a long process of pouring water in an empty pot, then to the faircup, then to each cup, and then washing each cup in the hot water in another cup, then doing a couple rounds of rinsing of the tea and finally using aroma cups. I gave a link on TeaChat once and someone mentioned that this type of long drawn out brewing is particular to one region. So with Chaozhou and this other (which I can't remember the name), I'm thinking that there must be others as well.

Re: Styles of gongfu cha

ABx wrote:

The other example I mentioned came from a video on youtube where the person goes through a long process of pouring water in an empty pot, then to the faircup, then to each cup, and then washing each cup in the hot water in another cup, then doing a couple rounds of rinsing of the tea and finally using aroma cups.

How else would you wash and pre-heat everything? I thought that's roughly how everyone does it.

As far as cup washing, I've seen either using tongs or just bare fingers, washing two cups at a time in a third cup (with the mouths against each other so you can spin them around faster; you have to use your fingers for this one), and / or using a cup washing bowl, or some combination of these methods. I've seen a lot of people wash the cups first in a cup washing bowl, but then still also wash the cups normally before serving. I think all of this has mostly to do with how delicate / expensive your cups are, how concerned you are about not using your hands (while many people think that the brewer can use their hands, in shops, often shopkeepers want to be extra-careful to show that they're concerned about hygiene), and how you learned.

In Chaozhou gongfu cha, in addition to pre-heating each cup between infusions and pouring that over the top of the pot (if one is used), I've also heard that there is sometimes mid-session rinsing, mostly if there are more people than cups. These traditions have obvious roots in simple hygiene.

Re: Styles of gongfu cha

I should have waited until I was more awake before posting :) In the video he poured water into the empty teapot, then poured the water from the teapot into the faircup, then on down the line, and again with at least 2 or 3 rinses. So they basically go through the motions of brewing and serving about 5 or 6 times before ever drinking the tea. That is opposed to just pouring water from the kettle into each and/or soaking them in boiling water in a tea boat or something.

I guess I could see re-pre-heating cups mid-session if people have slowed down and let the cups cool or, as you say, if they need to clean them for others to use. I wonder if the average Chinese person is willing to continually drink tea as we do -- I know that my friends aren't often willing to sit down with a tray and keep it going.

These traditions have obvious roots in simple hygiene.

I think that's what I like about gongfu cha versus the ceremonies; even though it can seem elaborate to Westerners that don't know what's going on, it's really all just practical.

Re: Styles of gongfu cha

ABx wrote:

I think that's what I like about gongfu cha versus the ceremonies; even though it can seem elaborate to Westerners that don't know what's going on, it's really all just practical.

I agree.  My first tea teacher and real tea experience was with a Chaozhou gongfu tea guy.  He taught me not to overcomplicate the procedure - the emphasis should be on the brew and the company.  Heat, rinse, brew, serve - these were the basics.  Unlike the formal Taiwanese and Japanese ceremonies, Chaozhou-style gongfu tea (which I also believe, as mentioned above, is the original style of gongfu tea) seems to stress the tea itself more than the procedure. 

The pitcher ensures that everyone's tea is the same.  But when I was learning this style, I was taught to line the cups up in a row or to put them next to/close together and then to pour directly from the pot down the row - moving up and down it several times - or to fill the cups in a circular motion.

Strong, gongfu tea is good for the soul!

Re: Styles of gongfu cha

I think the different styles of gong-fu cha refers to the regional variations in tea-drinking style and culture that developed organically, based on the tea and teaware available in that region.  For example I understand that in Chengdu, Sichuan, they use a gaiwan to drink their primarily-green tea as a yixing teapot would be unsuitable.  Folks in Chaozhou might not consider that to be gong-fu cha, since it doesn't resemble their own style, but as long as you are making the tea concentrated, taking care in the temperature of the water, and decanting the tea when the steeping process is finished (as opposed to drinking straight from the gaiwan) I would consider it gong-fu cha.  I work at a teahouse and perform gong-fu tea service, as well as teach gong-fu cha classes, and I only use a gaiwan at work (we do have one yixing teapot I use for Da Hong Pao). 
Because the different regions all produce and or consume different teas, I imagine that the styles of tea-brewing there are shaped primarily by what works best.  As discussed above, gong-fu cha is a practical art with an emphasis on the flavor of the tea rather than the ritual of the brewing procedure.  The Japanese tea ceremony was standardized (by Sen no Rikyu) early on, and so any desire to deviate from the established procedure warranted the foundation of a new "school" or style.  There are now dozens of styles of Cha No Yuu, many of which, including the three root schools (the san senke) are located in the city of Kyoto.  They all use the same tea (powdered matcha from the gyokuro tea plant, usually from Uji), similar utensils, and similar techniques, as opposed to the rainbow of teas used in gong-fu cha and the myriad styles that have developed to brew them.
That said, who has been to China/Taiwan and knows about the different regional styles?  I don't, but i'm going soon, and I'll try to find out...