There is something in the nature of tea that leads us into a world of quiet contemplation of life. – Lin Yutang
Is your kungfu strong? Would you like to strengthen not only your body, but your mind and spirit? Allow me to teach you the easy to follow way of the Tao of KungFu Tea. The kungfu does not refer to a type of tea, but the way of making tea. In this sense, Kungfu tea translates as “making tea with skill”. Chinese write this as Gong Fu. When used in martial arts Kungfu or Gongfu means: Kung (Gong) skillful, hard work or training and Fu – time spent.
A true warrior, like tea, shows his strength in hot water. – Chinese Proverb
There are many styles of kungfu tea sets, but they all contain small cups, small pot with infuser and a small serving pitcher. There are many elaborate tea sets costing hundreds of dollars, which include special utensils and a tea tray. If you go to a tea house you can pay for a more elaborate tea ceremony. But most people drink tea in the late afternoon or evening as a way to relax with family and friends. The goal of using tiny cups is to take the time to unwind and leisurely enjoy the company.
The steps are simple and easy to master. Start by boiling water. Buy a water boiler. It is so much easier to make tea of you have one. When we traveled in China, we carried our own water boiler, because we needed to boil everything, and I could tell you some stories about hotel water boilers :-(.
For obsessive tea lovers, the type of water can make a difference also. There are charts too about which temperature is optimal for certain types of tea. But let’s keep it simple.
Wash out your cups, pot and pitcher. You can use boiled water if you like. Just make sure you start off with a clean gongfu tea set. While the water is boiling add tea to the tea infuser – the little tea basket in the tiny pot. I like my kungfu tea strong, but my wife prefers a more subtle flavor. You decide how much to use.
Additions to tea: During this awful pandemic, my wife and I like to add dry chrysanthemum flowers to the tea. In Traditional Chinese Medicine chrysanthemum flowers help to clean the lungs.
We also add goji berries. Wash these several times with clean water and add them to the tea pitcher. Goji is a powerful very versatile medicine food. It can help your body become more balanced. Goji is added to many Chinese foods such as soup, because they have a lot of positive health benefits.
Once the water has boiled wash the tea. Fill the pot with water and pour it out two or three times. This cleans the tea. Fill the pot with water. Refill the boiler and boil some more.
Take the pot to the table and let the tea steep for a few minutes. Always fill others’ cups first. You can keep refilling the pot for as long as you like, or until the color and flavor fade away. Relax and enjoy the company.
Here’s a tip: If you are enjoying the conversation and someone fills your cup, you can gently tap your index and middle fingers on the table to say thank you. This tradition dates back to a Qing Dynasty emperor who enjoyed touring his kingdom in disguise. He wanted to practice pouring tea, but traditionally people had to kneel to the emperor. The emperor instead asked those around him to bend their fingers (to represent their bent legs) and tap their fingers on the table. So the next time you are enjoying some tea, don’t forget to tap and say thank you.
Selecting your tea.
Fortunately for you there are hundreds of varieties to choose from. All tea comes from the same plant – Camellia sinensis. The different types of tea are created by various curing processes and regional variations of plants and geography.
Years ago we visited the ancient neolithic site of the Hemudu Culture in Yuyao. Archaeologists uncovered the six thousand years old roots of tea plants which had been domesticated by the ancient people. There are many legends around the origins of tea drinking.
Basically though people began to drink tea because the water was unclean and had to be boiled. Somewhere back in the mists of history, some folks dropped in some tea leaves and the rest is, as they say, history.
Tea has to be processed once it is picked. When tea leaves are exposed to the air they begin to oxidize. Just like apples and other fruit begin to turn brown, tea leaves change color and the flavor is enhanced by the process. This oxidation is a critical step that produces different types of tea. Green teas are not fully oxidized, therefore the leaves are still green.
I lived for years in the city of Hangzhou. Hangzhou is famous many things including Longjing – Dragon Well tea – the most famous green tea in China. Longjing tea has been produced for over 1200 years. It is famous for its potent scent, bright colored leaves and sweet taste. To judge if you tea is the highest quality LongJing tea, place several leaves in a glass of boiling water. If the leaves stand straight up vertically, the tea is high quality.
The highest quality Long Jing tea is plucked before the Qing Ming holiday. The people of Hangzhou are famous for giving gifts. Several times the parents of some of my private students gave me Qing Ming Longjing tea to thank me for teaching their children. Because of the high quality of the tea, my wife would often take those and re-gift them (Chinese are well know for this habit).
HuPao Springs – Dreaming of Tigers Spring said to some of the best water in China. The combination of HuPao Spring water and Longjing Tea will bring the energy around you into harmony and increase your overall health, or so it is said. Locals gather around the HuPao spring area to carry water home by the gallon. The area was once the home of the legendary eccentric Zen master monk Ji Gong, also known as DaoJi. DaoJi was said to be the incarnation of a the dragon taming arhat Xianglong Luohan, but I digress.
Some teas, such as the famous Pu Erh tea are allowed to undergo fermentation. Teas that are allowed to ferment are darker and have a stronger scent and flavor. The longer the tea is stored and fermented the stronger its kungfu and also the higher the price.
Pu Erh Tea
Here are more of the teas we have around our home.
Tuo Cha from Yunnan
Tea stored in a dried persimmon (my brother-in-law’s)
Black Tea with Lychee (it has a very nice aroma)
Tea has been a part of world culture for thousands of years. For centuries, the people of southwestern China traded tea for Tibetan horses along the Tea Horse Road. We visited the area numerous times. The ethnic minority cultures there are fascinating.
I have learned a lot about Tea Culture from my family and my students over the years. You can buy a KungFu (Gongfu) Tea Set online or visit a local Asian supermarket. There are hundreds of different types of tea available.
Liu Bao Black Tea
Lately, while my wife is back home, I have been enjoying Liu Bao Tea in honor of my father-in-law who recently passed away. The tea comes from near his ancestral home. It was his favorite, and he drank tea every day. Pick a tea or three and enjoy the leisurely pleasure of Kung Fu tea. It’s always tea time somewhere.