How to prepare tea

Gongfu – What is it?

Gongfu (also know and Kung-Fu) is a type of Chinese Tea Ceremony.  It uses a ritualized way of preparation and presentation of tea.  Gongfu Tea Brewing became popular during China’s Ming Dynasty about the year 1500. This method is great for Pu’erh, Oolong and Black teas.

So let’s jump right in. At the basic level, there are 5 variables involved:
1. Quality Of The Tea
2. How Much Tea Do I Use?
3. Temperature Of The Water
4. Brewing Times
5. The Quality and Type Of Teapot

One difference between using the regular brewing method and the Gongfu tea method is in the amount of tea leaves used and the steeping duration of the tea. The Gongfu method involves using more tealeaves, but the infusion duration is shorter. This allows for multiple infusions. This method of brewing requires practice and the term “Gongfu style” literally means using great skill to brew tea.

Serving Pot or Vessel:
Once the tea is steeped for the desired amount of time, then the tea is poured from the teapot into this serving vessel. This is to stop the infusion process.

Chart – Teapot Sizes for Number of People Served

Quality and Type of Teapot

The teapot is another important variable that is beyond the scope of this guide, but touching on the basics is worthwhile. Serious Gong-Fu Cha enthusiasts spend many hours debating the virtues of their teapots, but there is universal agreement on these four points:

  • Any tea is best made in unglazed clay teapots and the best teapots are made from “Purple Clay” (Zisha) from the Yixing (Yee-zhing) area of China
  • Zisha clay has excellent porosity and heat handling properties that significantly improves the taste of tea when compared to tea made in a glass, porcelain or glazed teapots.
  • A Yixing teapot should only be used for one type of tea
  • High-fired teapots with a finer, thinner clay are excellent for use with any tea and a must for Green, White and Oolong teas. Low-fired teapots that use a thicker and more porous clay work best for Black Tea (called Red Tea in China) and Pu-Erh Tea.

Clay teapots of all types and qualities can be ordered from the internet but as with buying tea, this can be difficult for the beginner. The caveats for buying tea apply equally to buying a teapot. If you want to save money or are a traditionalist, you can use the traditional gai wan which is an inexpensive glazed porcelain cup with a lid and base that comes in many sizes and can be used for all teas as it can be rinsed after use.

Glass teapots are often used for Green, White and “blooming” teas as they do not absorb the delicate tea fragrance like low fired clay teapots and you can see the leaves expanding. But a quality high-fired, clay teapot is still superior to glass or porcelain and improves the taste of tea over time.

Selecting A Teapot

Your teapot will be your friend for many years so make sure there are no cracks or chips. It should have a good weight and balance and feel comfortable in the hand. The handle and lid should fit your fingers and the lid should fit precisely in the top opening with the opening just large enough to accommodate the size of leaves you will be using. A smaller opening tends to keep the fragrance of tea in the teapot whereas a larger opening allows the fragrance to escape. So tea with small or rolled leaves and high fragrance (Green, White, Oolongs) will benefit from a smaller opening. A larger opening is better for tea with large leaves and low fragrance (Black and Pu-Erh).

The spout should be large enough to allow the tea to pour freely. Gong Fu Cha develops the taste of tea quickly with fast brew times so the hole of the spout needs to be as large as possible to not constrict the flow of tea being poured, which would make the brew times longer. Check other sized teapots to ensure the spout is proportional to the size of teapot. Many newer teapots come with a strainer built-in. If your teapot does not have a strainer, ask to have one inserted inside the spout.

The shape of a teapot is said to have an effect on the flavour of the tea, with different shapes of teapots accommodating the different shapes, sizes and expansion rates of tea leaves.

  • Finest quality new high-fired teapots have a clear and distinct ring like a little bell when you lift up the lid about a quarter of an inch and allow it to drop gently on to the teapot (make sure you are holding the teapot on the flat of your hand so it is not damping the teapot in any way). In most cases, the higher the pitch and the longer the ring, the finer the quality
  • Teapots used for Pu-Erh tea are thicker and made from a more porous clay than other teapots and don’t have the distinctive bright ringing sound. These are selected by an examination of the clay which usually has a rougher texture than teapots used for other teas
  • Older teapots have a distinctive patina from the infusion of tea oils and constant use which can dull the pitch. Many new teapots have a similar shine from a wax coating that is applied to protect the clay and make them look nice on the shelf. (see how to remove this coating below in Seasoning A New Teapot)
  • If you like antiques, a Yixing teapot dating from the 1980’s, 1950’s or even late Qing Dynasty is a wonderful thing to own as they are often one-of-a-kind designs and older teapots are made from excellent clay. Some were made by very famous artists and can fetch big prices. Antique teapots have a history (verifiable or not) and have been infused with tea oils over many years. They can give a decided “thunk” rather than a clear ring because of the accumulation of oils in the clay but can still be of the finest quality. But remember, you are in the antique game now so buyer beware!
  • Always pour any extra tea you might have over your teapot and give it an occasional polish with a soft dry cloth. This will help to build up the oils in your teapot, allowing it to contribute its own unique “taste” and gives the teapot a nice shine
  • Unfortunately, just about every teapot for sale is claimed to be a Yixing teapot, so in short, when buying a teapot, deal with an expert you can trust

Aroma Cups and Drinking Cups:
Each person is given an aroma cup and a drinking cup. The tea is poured from the serving vessel into the tall aroma cup. The tea is left in the aroma cup for a couple of minutes and then it poured into each individual’s drinking cup. The emptied cup captures the fragrance of the tea and can be enjoyed by putting the aroma cup under your nose. Finally you can enjoy the cup of tea from the drinking cup.

Gongfu Brewing Steps:

  1. The teapot should be rinsed with hot water. This is done to clean the pot and warm the pot in preparation for brewing the tea. After rinsing, the water should be poured out.
  2. Immediately, place the tealeaves into the teapot. Put in about two teaspoons or about enough to cover the bottom of the teapot. Fill the teapot to the rim with boiling water and quickly pour it out, this is done to rinse the tealeaves and removes the dust.
  3. Add boiling water to the rim of the teapot and let the tea brew. Cover the teapot with the lid and continue to pour boiling water on the outside to ensure equal heating of the tea. You may want to experiment a little to find the perfect brewing time with the specific teas.
  4. Rinse the aroma cups and the drinking cups with boiling water.
  5. When the correct amount of time has passed, pour the tea into the serving pot.

6. Pour the tea from the serving pot to the aroma cups.
7. Pour the tea from the aroma cups to the drinking cups and put the aroma cups under your nose.
8. Enjoy your cup of tea.
9. Repeat step 3 to step 8 for additional infusions. The infusion time should be a little longer for each subsequent infusion.


You can take free online lessons on the gongfu tea ceremony at the Teaclass website.

Watch a video tutorial of the gongfu style of tea preparation here on youtube.

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Temperature and Brewing times

One of the more important things to consider is the temperature you steep/brew your tea. There are as many opinions as there are varieties of tea as to the “correct” brew temperature.

I have found that When you use water that is to hot for the type of tea that you are wanting to drink it causes the tea to become bitter. The hotter the water the more likely you are to “burn” the tea. The longer you steep the tea the more flavor that you are infusing into the water. Using a lower water temperature and a longer brewing time will make a better tasting tea.

So how do you know what temperature you should use and just how long do you steep the tea for? The best thing you can do is to find a good general starting point and adapt from there until you find the temperature and time that works for your personal taste.

Here is a helpful chart that I made up and use for brewing/steeping times and temperatures for each main category of tea type.

White tea.     175°      2-3 minutes
Indian Green   175°    2-3 minutes
Japanese Green Tea   160°  1-2 min
Chinese Green Tea. 175°  2-3 min
Oolongs    200°    4-5 minutes
Darjeelings    195°    4-5 minutes
Black Teas.   200°   4-5 minutes
Herbals.      200°    5 minutes

Straight from the Gaiwan into the cupThese are starting points that I use. I live in Colorado at a mile above sea level so my water boiling point is different than someone at sea level. Here our water boils at 206° so the typical 212° for black tea doesn’t work. I found that the first thing that really spoils the taste of a tea is the water temperature. To hot and it will “burn” the tea and not hot enough, the flavors aren’t pulled out of the leaf. Finding your teas perfect temperature will take some experimentation.

I found that 200° works well when a tea manufacture calls for water at full boil.

So now how to I go about brewing my tea?
Tea Press?

I’ll be going through these different options and I will link up to them soon.