China: Gong Fu Cha
In their everyday lives, the Chinese do not use a teapot, but prepare their tea in small individual bowls - zhong bowls - into which they place a little green tea and then pour on boiling water. The bowl is covered with a special lid that allows the tea to be drunk without swallowing the leaves. Tea drinkers will continue to re-infuse the same leaves many times throughout the day and will take their bowls with them wherever they go.
Alongside this everyday form of tea drinking, there is the Chinese tradition of tea drinking, Gong Fu Cha, which has been adopted in Taiwan for several decades now.
It was during the Ming dynasty that the practice of infusing tea first became widespread, that the first teapots appeared and that Yi Xing clay began to be used in their production. Tea drinking at the time was a refined and social act, which aimed to recapture and to imitate the forgotten rituals of the Song tradition. This aim led to the creation of a tea manual, the Cha Shu, which described in great detail every step in the preparation of tea and on which the Taiwanese Gong Fu Cha is directly based.
Today this set of rules is observed in most Taiwanese teahouses, where tea lovers can get together in a warm and friendly environment. The teas drunk there are of an exceptional quality, most often they are Wu Long (Oolong) with very delicate aromas and long lasting flavours, that require teapots made from a particular type of clay: clay from Yi Xing, a Chinese village to the west of Shanghai. Amongst other accessories one typically finds: the kettle; the tea boat, a sort of large shallow dish onto which the teapot and cups are placed; the spare pot, the smelling and the tasting cups.
So how is tea prepared according to Gong Fu Cha?
The tea lover inhales deeply from the first cup in order to take in the scent of the tea and then drinks from the second cup, savouring it slowly and taking little sips. The infusion is repeated several times following the same procedure.
Tea prepared in this way is much stronger than ordinary tea; it should be savoured like a liqueur and taken in very small quantities. Every artefact used, each gesture performed, has the aim of drawing out and extracting the scents and the aromas of the tea, which makes Gong Fu Cha primarily an art of tea tasting.
- place the teapot and the cups on the tea boat,
- pour some hot water into the teapot to rinse it and then pour this water away into the spare pot,
- put enough tea leaves into the teapot to half fill it. Rinse the leaves with a little water just to moisten them, then immediately pour the rinsing water into the spare pot,
- pour the contents of this pot into the tea boat,
- fill the teapot with water to the top as to force out any scum. Leave to infuse for one minute and then pour the liqueur into the spare pot.
- fill the smelling cup from the pot and then immediately transfer its contents into the tasting cup.