Gongfu tea is one of China’s formal tea ceremonies, dating back to the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). However a form of gongfu tea, which is no longer practiced widely in China, is mentioned in the earliest tea text, the Cha Jing or Classic of Tea by Lu Yu (733-804). The term “gongfu” means skill from practice, the idea being that expertise come from experience and not just merely learning steps. While the term gongfu has been applied to the martial arts, it really should be applied to the serious practice of any art form, therefore gongfu tea is the serious practice of the preparation of tea.
There are many forms of gongfu tea, some requiring just a few pieces of essential tea ware to an elaborate ritual that utilizes many different pieces for the preparation of tea. Gongfu tea should not stress the act or ritual of brewing tea but the skill in brewing tea. Gongfu can be as simple as a single Yixing clay pot and a few cups. It can also be an elaborate complex ritual requiring tea trays, tea tools, incense burning, and meditative ambience.
Throughout Chinese history, gongfu tea has made its way from village and farm to city and teahouses. A farmer can easily brew a gaiwan (covered cup) of tea with his friend or a priest could sit down and brew a pot of tea as a means to enlightenment and both would be considered gongfu tea. We should not limit ourselves to the form of brewing gongfu tea; we must understand that essence of brewing gongfu tea. This essence can be broken down into the basic fundamental of brewing tea:
- Understanding tea leaves
- Understanding water
- Understanding tea ware
Once you begin the journey to understand these fundamentals you can truly begin to appreciate gongfu tea. To study gongfu tea is to study the art of brewing tea.