Preparing Tea: the Chaozhou Gongfu cha way
The wonderful global community of teaphiles always inspires me to dig deeper into my own tea journey. This includes many experiences and knowledge I take for granted. The gongfu cha discipline is an integral part of my upbringing. It’s only now when I’ve had some distance from it when I hear and observe it through the lens of other cultures and other interpretations, I realise certain techniques that come as natural to me as breathing, are indeed intricate and significant.
Thanks to one of the tea friends who sparks a discussion on comparing pouring methods, I was introduced to the term ‘running method’ referring to pouring directly into the gongfu tea cups in a way that evenly distributes the tea without using the gong dao bei (公道杯; fairness pitcher). This to us Chaozhou gongfu cha drinkers is guan gong xun luo, 关公巡逻.
Gongfu cha like any other Gongfu, for example, Tai Ji (or taichi), is a discipline that expresses the cosmology and philosophy of the Chinese. Every gesture and movement has meaning. In this post, I will highlight 6 metaphors for the preparation steps of gongfu cha dao, 工夫茶道. It’s important to note that this is a folk art that is ever-evolving. These are a few metaphors gongfu cha folks use, specifically concerning the origin, Chaozhou gongfu cha.
1: 白鹤沐浴. “Bathing white crane”
Once the scene is set, the kettle is boiling, use this water to rinse your teapot/gaiwan and tea cups. This also helps warm up your vessels.
2: 请君入宫/烏龍入宫. ‘Enter the palace’/ ‘oolong enter the palace’
Mythicizing teas, there are variations of this phrase depending on what teas are entering the conversation. Typically ‘oolong’ or ‘guan yin’ are used because gongfu cha and oolong tea go hand in hand.
Place tea leaves into your tea vessel. This sets the tone of paying respect to teas. Gongfu tea is an act that requires your presence, physically and spiritually.
The metaphor, ‘as high as the waterfall on the cliff’. Pour your boiling water into the vessel in a continuous high motion. One should hear the impact when water hits the tea leaves, a strong flow pushes them to swirl in your vessel. This creates a scene from nature, a moment to allow you to return to the source.
4: 春风拂面. ‘Spring breeze brushes by (your) face’
Once the water is to the brim, brush away bubbles or any impurities with your lid. This metaphor illustrates the gentle brushing motion, meaning to avoid brushing away any tea leaves, or to ./o much water, and to place the lid on gently.
5: 关公巡城. ‘gūan gōng xún chéng, guan gong patrols the town’
Guan Yu was a well respected military general from the Eastern Han Dynasty. Today he’s worshipped as gūan gōng, Lord Guan, in Chinese folk religious traditions. Benevolence, and justice, are among the many qualities Lord Guan represents. To circle back and forth between each teacup when pouring, to ensure each receives an equal amount of tea in strength, aroma, and flavor; this was referred to as the ‘running method’ from the friend who inspired this post.
6: 韩信点兵. ‘Han Xin counting soldiers’
This is another military reference. Han Xin was a military general crucial to the founding of Han dynasty. Famous for his war strategies and tactics. The backstory to this idiom refers to the Chinese Remainder Theorem. (For the purpose of this post, I will not get myself into a discussion about math…An entirely different forum can be dedicated to the complexities of math and military tactics in ancient Chinese literature.) This saying is often abridged, skipping the second half of this saying for ‘the more the merrier.’ This is another crucial step in pouring gongfu cha. When you are near the end of the pour, hold tight to your tea vessel and with a dipping motion, make sure each droplet of tea is evenly distributed. Any remaining water in the pot will affect the next infusion.
Chaozhou gongfu cha is keen to emphasize on temperature, boiling hot! As a matter of fact, this obsession with drinking gongfu cha as hot as possible has been debated in recent years to have contributed negatively to the health of Chaozhou folks. Nonetheless, there have been countless times I’ve shared tea with those not familiar with gongfu cha, and heard the surprised reaction: “how are you not burning yourself??” Therefore, the above steps are done very swiftly. It’s about practice. In doing so, you will come to understand gongfu cha’s essence.