A traditional method of brewing tea in China known as the gong fu style shares its name with a well-known martial art. Gong fu is kung fu, with just a different Roman phonetic spelling, which translates to “with skill” or “with practice”. This is a major point people in the West overlook – we do not view making tea as something that requires much, if any, skill.
Most people reading this probably know otherwise, and some of us may have practiced a bit of gong fu in the past or present. The Number #1 lesson in my opinion is that brewing with a gaiwan takes great skill and cognitive awareness to ensure you do not burn yourself, though with practice it all seems second nature. Often, when I’m brewing tea while working, I find myself manipulating the gaiwan with hardly a glance, and certainly no thought given to how I am holding or pouring it.
Do not think this applies only to Chinese tea – it is equally applicable to a whole range of teas. Many expert tea brewers go without scales, timers, or thermometers, yet still produce better tea than most of us. One might say they know their teas exceptionally well, or perhaps they are just reading the situation with amazing skill.
In Zen Buddhism, Dogen – an early figure in the history of Zen Buddhism in Japan – sought to explain away much of the duality that lay people perceive in their lives, as Zen Buddhism insists there is no such thing as duality. A famous conclusion of his was that practice is enlightenment. So apply that to your tea. Simply brewing a cup provides you with an enlightenment of sorts, which I’m sure many of us can attest to through our love of tea. And by way of practice, we become much more proficient as skillful brewers.
Practicing something we love to do is a great way to make the day better, improving ourselves while improving our mood. I cannot tell you the number of days that have been saved by tea, if for no other reason than I happened to enjoy my tea through and through on that day. So work on building up your tea skills, and your practice will be rewarded with enlightenment.