In my last post, Western Style vs Gongfu Style, Part One, I wrote about Western Style brewing tea as being more of a nonstop flight compared to a road trip. Gongfu-cha or Eastern Style brewing is the complete opposite. It is a slow paced adventure where each infusion has its own character. Gongfu-cha gives the drinker complete control over the tea. Each infusion is only brewed for a few seconds, and it is up to the drinker to adjust brewing parameters to taste with each successive infusion. Gongfu-cha involves brewing with more leaf and less water for a very short period of time. Depending on the tea, steep duration can range from a few seconds to a minute. As the session goes on, infusions can last for a few minutes to get all the flavors out of the leaf. I only brew gongfu style at home when I have time to really focus on tea. As the brewing vessels are small, tea cools very quickly, so it is best to drink the tea as you are brewing it.
Usually, I devote some time to the tea without outside distractions. The process of brewing tea this way is very meditative and calming. Focus shifts to the tea, and I enjoy tasting everything about the tea. Subtle flavors that are lost in Western style brewing become very apparent in gongfu-cha. For example, I recently drank a sheng (raw) puerh that started with a bit of smokey notes, then as the session progressed the tea started to have more floral notes, and as the session ended the tea had a sugarcane like sweetness. These are notes that would be lost or dominated by smoke in a Western style brew.
Gongfu-cha can be done with small teapots or a gaiwan. When I say small, I really do mean small. I have a pot that is 150ml, and that is considered big. My gaiwan is 100ml and that is still enough for sharing with people. The small brewing vessel allows for rapid successive brewing without using too much leaf. As the leaf-to-water ratio is high, having a smaller brewing vessel allows for a more efficient use of tea. Typically I follow the rule of using 1g of tea for every 15ml of water. Brewing gongfu can also be economical as I’ve had sessions that have lasted me a whole day using the same 7 grams of tea.
Gongfu style brewing is best for puerhs and oolongs. These teas can be delicate and require precise brewing. They also have many nuances that only become apparent throughout the brewing session. This is especially true for teas that are highly compressed or rolled. The flavor tends to open up in later steeps that would be lost if brewed in one large session. Gongfu-cha is a journey with tea. It is a relaxing ritual that allows me to focus on the tea and enjoy different aspects of the same tea.