Tea Brewing 101
Whether you are new to Chinese tea or are a seasoned tea drinker, above all we want to encourage you to brew your tea however you prefer to drink it, and to play around and see what works for you, or for a particular tea - there is no wrong answer!
If you are used to brewing tea "western style" and want to explore brewing "gong fu" style, read on, and let us emphasize that we are by no means authorities on gong fu tea brewing and merely offer some guidelines.
TEA BREWING FAQ
GONG FU CHA 101
Getting ready to brew
- Choose your tea
- Choose your brewing vessel - if it's glazed clay, you can use it with any tea. If it's unglazed clay, it's ideal to use it with only one style of tea.
- Do you know the volume of your teapot? If so, calculate how much tea you want to use. 15:1 is a good place to start. For every 15ml of water, use 1g of tea, give or take.
- Break off your tea and weigh it. Use a tea pick, tea knife, or other kitchen object like oyster shucker or butter knife to gently pry off some leaves.
- Boil your water
- Rinse - fill your teapot/gaiwan with boiling water and pour it off almost immediately. You can use this to warm your cups up before discarding it.
- Steep 1 - this is usually a 'flash' steep. Steep your tea, allow it to rest for a few seconds, then pour it from the pot/gaiwan into the pitcher, then serve from there.
- The first steep can be quite mild - but it should give you a sense of what you're in for.
- Steeps 2 - 6+++; steep quickly, maybe adding 5 seconds per steeping.
- Repeat - until you feel the tea has nothing left to give! (This varies person to person. This could be 6 steeps, it could be 20.)
If your tea still has a little life in it, feel free to put it in a pot on the stove and boil for 5-15 minutes; drink hot with honey in the winter, or transfer to a container in the fridge for iced tea.
What is "Gong fu cha"?
Cha = tea. Gong fu = same as 'kung fu', it means "great skill", or "great effort". So, brewing tea 'gong fu cha' simply means to brew the tea in such a way that is almost like a practice - over time you become more attuned to it - and to brew the tea in a way that you are paying at least a little bit of attention to it.
A pragmatic definition of 'gong fu' is that it's a method of brewing tea, it comes from China, and it implies you'll be using a small pot or brewing vessel, and steeping the tea relatively quickly, many times.
What temperature should my water be?
We like to brew all KUURA teas at 100 degrees celsius, aka fully boiling.
They are very forgiving teas, mostly made with camellia sinensis var. assamica, aka big leaf tea trees. The leaves are sturdy and so they extract gently and gradually and over many steeps.
Only raw pu'er will bite back if you accdidentally forget you're brewing; all the other styles remain friendly no matter what you throw at them.
How much tea should I use?
An approximate ratio of tea to vessel volume is 1:15, so for every gram of tea, there are 15ml of water.
So, if you have a 5g sample, you probably want to brew that in a 90ml vessel. (Approximately!) Or if you have a 125ml teapot, maybe you want to use 8-9g of tea. Roughly!
So, measure the volume of your brewing vessel, then divide by 15 to get the amount of tea you want. Or, measure the volume of your teapot(s) and learn how much tea you generally like to use. Depending on the style of tea, slightly less tea than this ratio calls for might work just fine. It's just something to shoot for - the 'perfect ratio' will be different for every tea and every person you ask.
What equipment do I need? Do I need all that stuff?
A basic 'gong fu cha' set up includes:
- tray (sometimes with an area to catch or drain water; you can use any tray or dish with a lip)
- brewing vessel (teapot or gaiwan aka 'cup with lid')
- cha hai ('fair cup', aka pitcher, usually glass, so you can see the tea.)
- small cups
Other helpful stuff:
- A kettle that can boil water quickly and hold it at a boil, or at your preferred temperature. Since you'll be doing many steeps in rapid succession, the kettle does really help. You could also store boiling water in a thermos or something.
- A scale that's sensitive to .1 of a gram. (many kitchen scales work better for higher weights and are not that sensitive under 10g and won't budge until you make larger adjustments) In the absence of a scale, just go for it and make mental notes for next time!
Do you need all that stuff? No! Use what you have! That could mean brewing in a bowl or a mug and pouring it off the leaves into another mug. Or don't brew gong fu style at all - chuck some leaves in a mug and keep refilling, or use whatever large teapot you have on hand and just refill a few times.
Can I make iced tea?
Definitely! We prefer to 'rinse' the tea once (boiling water, discard after), then steep in boiling water. Allow it to cool, then chill. You can also 'cold brew' the leaves but the texture and aromas are much more muted. Depending on the tea and how much you want to use, you could also do multiple steeps and combine them for the final batch.
White and black teas are excellent cold. White tea can even be boiled at length on the stove to make a nice thick dark brew before chilling.
Can I put milk in my tea?
We suggest you try the tea without milk first, but if it would make you happy, go for it. (Milk is not recommended for raw pu'er tea specifically though.)
Milk and its fattiness coats the palate and makes more subtle flavours and textures harder to taste, but sometimes on a cold day a cup of milky tea is just the ticket.
Heavily boiled white tea tastes great with milk and milk alternatives, plus honey, if you like; shou pu'er also works great as a 'milk tea' style tea if you make a tea concentrate syrup. Give it a go and report back on your findings!