by kate on February 24th, 2012
In 1974, Carl Douglas recorded ‘Kung Fu fighting’ in only 10 minutes as a B side. The one hit wonder topped both the US and UK charts and Bruce Lee’s posthumously-released ‘Enter the Dragon’ was released worldwide. Almost overnight, (‘fast as lightning!’), Kung Fu or Gong Fu as it is also known, became a modern phenomenon. In fact, Gong Fu had been around a lot longer than martial arts and carried a much broader set of meanings.
The term Gong Fu goes back to the third century AD and originally referred to ‘hard work’ in a general sense of labouring. Over the years it came to take on more abstract and philosophical meanings of strength acquired through practice, accomplishments achieved through self-control, and skill attained through discipline. It refers generally to the cultivation of a skill to the highest level – that includes martial arts but encompasses all disciplines, such as dancing, calligraphy, pottery, cooking, even good judgement – and the brewing of tea.
With tea, the term Kung Fu cha or Gong Fu cha has been applied to brewing and to tea itself since the 1600s. The defining characteristics of Gong Fu brewing style, as opposed to say restaurant brewing, are the ratio of water to tea and steeping times; Gong Fu brewing requires a small teapot, preferably a Yixing clay pot, small glass pot or a Gaiwan, a relatively large quantity of tea, often around 1/3 to 1/2 full of leaf – and multiple, short steeping times – about 30 seconds – giving many infusions from the same leaves. There is an art to brewing tea well and drawing the most out of the leaves. For some there is the spiritual aspect of enjoying the calm and the required concentration, but for everyone it can be a relaxing shared experience. You can focus on the taste and aroma of each infusion – and naturally debate the temperature, timing and leaf quality.
The practice of Gong Fu tea brewing has been raised to great heights of refinement and formality but it is still the popular, everyday way to share tea in China’s tea houses and shops. At Canton Tea, we recommend Gong Fu brewing styles for all high end teas – it is essential for good Dan Cong and other fine Oolongs and Puerhs. You don’t require much in the way of special equipment, authentic music or furniture to enjoy good Gong Fu brewing. Just stick to the following basic principles:
Water: Use the best neutral Ph spring or filtered water you can find and make sure it’s the right temperature.
Serving Jug: A small jug so that you can drain the tea liquor from your teapot between infusions. Also called a ‘Fairness Cup’ as it allows each person drinking the tea to get the same infusion, as opposed to pouring the tea straight from the brewing vessel where the first pour might be lighter than the last.
Cups: It’s worth making an effort here to have something appropriately small. The tasting cups allow you to share a small pot of gong fu style tea with friends. Because you have many infusions it doesn’t mean you drink less, you just spend more time drinking many cups and appreciating the changing characteristics of each infusion.
Tea Tray: A slatted one like this is best as it allows you to pour hot water over the cups and pot to warm them properly and to pour the tea liquor into all the cups in one continuous circular motion (known as “General Gwan patrols the city”).
More tea, less water: Brew little and often – ie multiple quick infusions allow you to enjoy the changing flavour profile of your tea. Gong Fu is mostly about brewing good tea properly, ie carefully, to get the most out of its wonderful taste, texture and aroma.
And that’s it. Of course the critical ingredient is decent tea. Though it’s a routine way to make good tea for yourself, if you have put in the work to develop ‘good gong fu’ it is actually a great way to share your loose tea experience with friends – you just need a bit of kit.
Over the next couple of weeks we will post blogs with more details about brewing with Gaiwans and Yixing teapots. In addition, to celebrate our exploration of Gong Fu we are giving away a genuine Yixing teapot worth £75 via our competition on Facebook. Click here to enter the competition for your chance to win.
In the meantime, to see some videos and learn about the more Rococo aspects of Gong Fu brewing, hit the links below:
Watch a video of a Chinese Kung Fu tea ceremony
Visit this site for a very detailed guide on brewing Kung Fu/Gong Fu
Weirdly, "Kung Fu Fighting" was on the radio this evening: BBC2 6:45 pm. First time I've heard it for years!
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