So You Want to Gong-Fu?

Gong-Fu with the squid!

The Gong-fu Tea Ceremony is a storied traditional method for brewing and enjoying tea (here’s another instructional video). When you start to spend money on higher quality leaf, the gong-fu tea ceremony will yield better results for a more immersive and enjoyable tea experience. Even lower quality tea can taste much better using the gong-fu method!

Full disclosure: I’m just as lazy as the next guy some days. There are times where I can barely be bothered to rip open a single serve teabag of Queen Anne and throw it into a mug with hot water. I also have a few different ways I make loose leaf tea that are simple and get the job done—such as in a western-style teapot or my Teforia. But when I’m ready to enjoy some special tea, it’s gong-fu all the way.

Plus, my daughter loves our tea parties!

What I wanted to do with this post is to gather a basic gong-fu kit together so that you can do your own gong-fu sessions. Keep in mind, you are typically looking at higher quality loose leaf teas, not the traditional English Breakfast or Earl Grey. You would want to do oolongs, pu-erhs, yellows, and some of the black tea offerings from China and Taiwan. Check my other tea post for ideas on where to get some solid tea.

Also, check out this handy gong-fu brewing guide to help you on your journey!

Basic Shopping List

Below is a list of basic items you will need to do a good gong-fu session. These are all affordable versions of these tools as found on Amazon, and you can certainly spend a LOT more on these items. I created a list for you with examples of all of these items. Some I own, some are just standard items, but you can check out my Amazon idea list right here. Given the rate at which product turns on Amazon, you can probably find similar items just by doing some basic searches or looking at the related products at the bottom of these product pages.

Also, here are two tea companies (MeiLeaf and Crimson Lotus Tea) that sell kits as well if you want to go that route with a great deal on that Crimson Lotus one!

To be clear, there is one item on this list that is definitely not required (it is part of the fun though).

  • Gaiwan. Literally translated as lidded cup, is one of the simplest and most elegant brewing vessels you can use for gongfu brewing. The gaiwan allows you to get close to your leaf before, during, and after brewing. It’s very simple to use and has a permanent place in fine tea brewing. Don Mei has a great video on what is great about the gaiwan. I have several (including the two you see in the picture above—the pink one is Pay’s) that I use. I also brew using yixing clay and glass gong-fu tea pots, but those are for another day.
  • Strainer. All tea will have a little bit of dust that gets past your gaiwan lid, so using a tea strainer will keep that liquor clear (not alcohol, but the infusion… it’s called liquor). You can get some really fun and fancy ones, or a simple metal one.
  • Cha Hai, or the Fairness Cup. Once your infusion is complete, you pour it through the strainer into a fairness cup. Why is it called a fairness cup? Because the first liquor poured off the infusion will be weaker/lighter than the last bit that comes off. A fairness cup mixes all that together so you can enjoy the brighter notes with the thicker infusion at the end.
  • Tea cups. You have to drink out of something! I know folks that drink out of the gaiwan directly, but I prefer drinking from cups. You can get ceramic, clay, or glass, all from Amazon. Whatever makes you happy!
  • Tea table. A big part of the ceremony. You will notice that there seems to be a lot of overflowing water, pouring of tea washes, and just general liquid messes that the ceremony creates. That’s what the tea tray is for. The one I linked to works well, but there are plenty of other options. The first time you do it, be close to the sink in case you make a small mess or you discover that the rubber stopper in the tea tray reservoir is not quite totally in place (yes, that happened to me). Once you get the hang of it, you can be more mobile. I also have a smaller tray when it’s just me that is literally like a bamboo box. Just turn it upside down in the sink when I’m done and it’s clean.
  • Kettle. Hot water is a pretty key component to brewing tea. The important things you want in a kettle are quick heating, the ability to set different temperatures, and the ability to hold at a temperature for a period of time. You can go CRAZY expensive on kettles, but this one works extremely well. I have one for me and have bought for friends. Everyone loves it. If you are wondering why you don’t just get water boiling, watch this video to learn about the different kinds of tea.
  • Tea towel. Potentially an optional item when you start, but you will need a way to dry the bottoms of the teacups when serving. Any towel will do, but you can get fancy!
  • Tea pets (optional)! Ok, this is the one that is not necessary, but I did find an awesome water buffalo tea pet at a very nice price (and, I didn’t even click One Click Buy on that one… yet…). Tea pets served an important function in the very early days, initially indicating that the water was hot enough for tea brewing. They are used for good luck and prosperity. Pouring the tea wash and some of your tea from your infusions over your tea pet is a fun inclusion to every gong-fu tea session.

That’s a wrap, for now!

I hope you enjoyed this brief guide to gong-fu brewing, and I would love to hear from you as you start (or advance) your own tea journey!


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