Dipping my toes into the art of Chinese Tea Ceremony (Gongfu Tea)

So even though we often drink tea during meals (dinners) and go through the tea ceremony during weddings, I’ve not been exposed to proper Chinese Tea Ceremonies which they call “Gongfu Tea 功夫茶”. When I first came across the term, I thought it was weird because Gōngfū to me is martial arts. But then I quickly learnt that it’s called that because it’s a skillful way (or one that requires much effort) of making and serving tea.

So what started off as wanting to drink tea at home during meals (can’t go to Chinese restaurants during MCO) ended up being an interesting learning journey into the art of Gongfu Tea. Okay more like I fell down a rabbit hole of tea culture. lol.

What I’ve learnt:

The Tea Pot (茶壶Cháhú)
The first thing that puzzled me while trying to search for teapots online (I have a glass teapot with a steel strainer but I wanted something similar to the ceramic teapots at Chinese restaurants… I’m anal like that) was why all the teapots were so small. I did eventually buy a 900ml white ceramic teapot.

Anyway, I learnt that the reason why these Gongfu teapots are so small is because:
1. If you are drinking alone, you can’t finish drinking each steep so quickly before the temperature cools
2. You also don’t want the tea to continue steeping in the pot while you’re drinking as it will affect the taste
3. Usually people use high quality expensive tea leaves and so it’s important to control steep time and temperature.

There’s also a whole world of Yixing purple sand teapots (紫砂壶 Zǐ shā hú) that you can “raise” (养壶 Yǎng hú) which it too advanced for me at the moment. But basically the longer you use it (raise it) the nicer it becomes.

For personal tea drinking, I use a small 120ml ceramic teapot which was one of those cheap tea sets from Shopee which came with 4 tea cups, a tea tray, and a tea clip (茶夹 Chá jiā). I think it’s good enough for now, I’ll only get a better one once I know what suits my needs. I use the big ceramic teapot (900ml) for drinking tea during dinner. It’s much more convenient to have a big teapot for this purpose and I tend to use normal quality tea that isn’t too sensitive to temperature and steep time.

Tea Cups (茶杯 Chábēi)
After getting the teapots, I looked into finding nicer tea cups. I realized I never took note of the size of Chinese tea cups in restaurants. How big/small (how many ml?), tall, wide, etc. My small ceramic teapot came with a set of 4 small tea cups which I found were a bit too small. I really enjoy using the tea cups I ended up buying from Purple Cane, pictured below. They are 90ml cups, but since it’s a bit thin the tea cools down fairly quickly. I also bought some cheap white tea cups that are around the same size (100ml) but thicker. I don’t like those as they are not as well made. I also realized white cups show off the tea colour much better and I prefer that aesthetic.

Tea Cup Coasters (茶杯垫 Chábēi diàn)
Basically I got hooked on a C-drama (The Untamed) and noticed one of the characters use a metal leaf coaster for his tea cup. Was blown away by how pretty it looked (am also very easily influenced) and got some myself (different pattern but still…).

Tea Cup Fork (茶杯叉 Chábēi chā)
Again, from C-dramas, I learnt about the existence of tea cup forks which are an elegant way of picking up a hot tea cup and serving it to guests. These sometimes come with the set of tea accessories sometimes called Six Gentlemen (六君子Liù jūnzǐ) because it’s a set of 6 tools.

Totally unnecessary but *aesthetics*

The Fair Cup (公道杯 Gōng dào bēi)
I didn’t understand the point of the extra jug or small pitcher I kept seeing in tea sets sold online but now I know it’s so that when you pour the tea into the separate tea cups, the tea remains the same consistency & taste. That’s why it’s called a 公道杯 Gōng dào bēi (directly translated as “Fair cup”, Gōng dào = justice, bēi = cup). Reminds me of how we usually just pour straight from the teapot and some cups will have tea that is lighter in colour compared to others. Apparently this “fair cup” originated in Taiwan. After searching online for days for a suitable one, I bought an “apple” glass one from Purple Cane which I love.

Tea Pets (茶宠 Chá chǒng)
Another very interesting thing is that there are “pets” you can “raise” as well. These are usually made from purple clay or ceramic and are placed on the tea tray as decoration. Some of them can squirt water when you pour hot water on it, some can change colour, some have cracks that will slowly darken as you continue to “feed” it with tea. I bought a small ceramic rabbit tea pet and it’s so darn cute.

There are a few other tea accessories on my wish list, like a bigger tea tray, a nice long wooden weave tray to display my tea cups, a ceramic vase shaped holder for the tea tools, a tea filter, and a tea scoop.

I also want to try exploring the various better quality teas. I don’t think I will spend more than RM100 on a single tea for now, something mid range would be good for a start (famous last words). We did receive a set of nice high quality sampler tea leaves from a generous neighbour, pictured below. We were blown away by how delicious the tea was (we tried two so far). The brand is “小茶匠 Xiǎo chá jiàng”, no idea if they sell this in Malaysia.

#SideNote: For fun I made some digital Chinese seals and used it in the photos in this post. The Chinese words are “优美梦想 Yōuměi mèngxiǎng” (beautiful/exquisite dreams) because “Dainty Dreams” was too hard to translate.

2 thoughts on “Dipping my toes into the art of Chinese Tea Ceremony (Gongfu Tea)

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