Saturday, February 05, 2011

The Practice of Brewing: Gung Fu Cha


Tea is simple. This is partly because learning about tea is fun and rewarding. One of the great things about brewing loose leaf tea for yourself is that you get to know each tea so well. As the water comes to a boil, we pull some leaves from the tin. Holding them up to the light, we see the brightness, the consistency in shape and color of the leaf. Hot water is poured, filling the teapot to warm the teaware. Feel the weight of the tea in your hand. We are assured of the quality upon noticing its relative weight. It seems heavy for its mass.

Gong Fu Cha requires an yi xing pot or a lidded cup known as a guy wan. There is no reason why we could not make an American version of the gung fu cha method. In fact, this is encouraged in Taiwan tea culture, as part of the practice of gung fu cha is thoughtful self expression. Keep in mind that function outweighs form 6 billion to 1 when adding high-end oolongs to the mix. Also, the fact that yi xing tea ware evolved as tea culture evolved, I would be surprised if there is anything better to use for steeping oolong and puer tea than an yi xing teapot.

Both the guy wan and the yi xing teapot can be used to brew gung fu cha. This means tea prepared through great practice (cha is the Chinese word for tea). Does making tea require such practice? No, that is why teabags are so popular. For some, it is merely a warm and stimulating beverage. Outsiders to the tea world do not always understand how the act of preparing tea can be done with such practice. Even for practitioners, the subtleties of the practice are only revealed over time. At times, tea trickles down into an individual, elevating their awareness and surrounding the mundane with an electric glow—this often indicates a meaningful experience. However, this type of experience, though pleasant, might be tossed aside for those who are results oriented.

When using whole leaf oolong tea in a small clay teapot, the volume of leaf used expands to lightly fill the teapot by the end of the third infusion. Keep in mind that tightly rolled oolong has a tendency to expand to four times its size. With light and fluffy twisted leaf oolong, it will look like you are using more initially, but this tea will not expand as much in the brew process. With twisted leaf oolong, it might be your preference that the pot is only two thirds to three quarters full after several infusions.

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