Preparing tea using the traditional Chinese gong fu method is a lot of fun. It is also a wonderful way to fully appreciate the leaves, noticing them throughout the tea service. Technically, gong fu cha is not a ceremony, unlike the Korean and Japanese tea ceremonies. It is a casual tea service, which is very much a social event. This is not to say that you can't turn this into a meditative practice. Indeed it's been done for millennia and we can thank the great tea sage and philosopher Lu Yu, who penned the Cha Ching, or The Classic of Tea (760 to 762 BCE) during the Tang Dynasty for giving us great insight onto this ancient beverage, from preparation to enjoyment of every sip.
“Tea tempers the spirits and harmonizes the mind, dispels lassitude and relieves fatigue, awakens thought and prevents drowsiness, lightens or refreshes the body, and clears the perceptive faculties.” Lu Yu (733 to 804 BCE)
The practice has a beautiful choreography, which uses specific equipment and techniques, and incorporating your own evolving touch. Three tea experts could be cupping the same exact tea using the same exact method, yet, the resulting taste and energy of each of these cuppings will be different. That's part of the magic.
On the most basic level, when using the gong fu method, tea leaves are steeped for seconds, not minutes. In this way you allow the tea to reveal its flavor, mouthfeel, and energy, over the course of several steeps. In general a good quality tea will give you 5 steeps or more. Often times it can last 7 or 9 steeps, and when it comes to post fermented teas such as pu'erh, it is not unusual to experience 12 or more steeps from a single serving of tea leaves.
For the most part, Chinese tea leaves undergo a rinsing. With some green teas, you don't have to, but in general, rinsing allows the leaves to warm up while unfurling slowly. That initial aroma awakens your senses, often while salivating. The 2nd and 3rd steeps are often the strongest, especially on a tea that will last anywhere between 5 and 9 steeps. There is a gradual slope that leads to a peak then gently maintains a balanced flavor and energy prior to settling gently down on the finish. Steeping a tea for several minutes, would simply cheat you of that experience. That is not to say that western steeping is wrong. It is just different and has its own merit, if done just right.
Step 1: bring the water to a boil, and rinse gaiwan, teacups, and fairness pitcher (decanter). Pour out the water into a bowl.
Step 2: Put some tea leaves in the heated gaiwan (the type of tea and size of gaiwan will determine how much). Place the lid on top, shake gently to heat the leaves.
Step 3: Bring the gaiwan to your nose and crack the lid open just enough for you to enjoy the aroma of the leaves.
Step 4: Pour hot water over the tea leaves in the gaiwan (be sure the temperature of the water is appropriate for the type of tea you are steeping). Close lid for a few seconds (this depends on the type of tea). Place filter on fairness pitcher. Pick up the gaiwan by placing your thumb and middle finger on the very edge of the gaiwan. Place your index finger on the top of the lid, and shift it to create an opening so you can decant the "rinse water" into the fairness pitcher, immediately. That's the rinse water, which is discarded. Repeat the process, pouring water over the leaves again. Steep a few seconds and decant into the fairness cup again. That's the 1st steep, now called "tea soup."
Step 5: Take the fairness pitcher and pour the "tea soup" equally among small tea cups and enjoy sipping.
Step 6: In some cultures slurping is frowned upon. Here we encourage you to slurp gently in order to introduce air and cool tea as you taste each serving of tea in just 3 sips.
Step 7: Repeat Step 4 to 6 as many times as the tea leaves will continue to give, each time increasing steeping time by 5 seconds.
For quantity of leaves, water temperatures, and steeping times, go to Quantiies & Temperatures.
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