Have you ever wondered why we use certain pieces of teaware in Gong Fu Brewing? Here’s a guide explaining the function of each piece in a basic Gong Fu Tea Set.
Why is the Teaware so Small?
The main difference between the Western and Gong Fu brewing style is the water to leaf ratio. In Gong Fu brewing, you’ll be using less water and more leaf than you would in Western style. This yields a more concentrated tea, which allows you to enjoy the full potential of your tea leaves. Tea leaves are a finished product of love and craftsmanship, so in order to taste the vision that the tea makers intended for us, we brew in the way that will bring that out in its entirety. This method allows us to enjoy the aroma, taste, mouthfeel, and aftertaste of good tea in full technicolor. You simply cannot have the same experience with the same tea leaves if you are diluting your tea Western style.
The Brewing Vessel
This is what your tea leaves will be steeping in! If you love drinking tea, you might have a collection of teapots already, but you might notice gai wans, clay teapots, and glass pitchers used in Gong Fu brewing. Clay teapots are an advanced topic for another day, but we’ll jump right into gai wans.
A staple in anyone’s Gong Fu tea set is a porcelain gai wan. Gài means lid / cover and wǎn means bowl, which is an accurate description of a gai wan (a lidded bowl).
We prefer using a gai wan to a teapot when brewing tea at the tea house for its versatility. Porcelain has just the right heat retention for the majority of tea types. In addition, porcelain has an advantage over clay for its high density achieved through firing at such high temperatures. This allows the tea to express its flavors without interference.
A gai wan pours out tea faster and with less resistance than a teapot can. When brewing tea, every second the tea leaves sit in water is a second it continues to extract. Every second counts and can affect the experience of the tea completely. Additionally, gai wans leave more room for your tea leaves to expand than, an infuser basket for example. The opening is wide and therefore easier to clean as well.
You might think it peculiar to see tea leaves brewed in a glass with no lid, but this is the best way to brew green and yellow tea. These teas are very delicate, so we brew in vessels open to air so to not steam our leaves. Glass and thin porcelain are the best materials for brewing these teas because they have the lowest heat retention and will help cool down your water for your teas. We prefer using glass for the added benefit of being able to watch the dry leaves unfurl and turn back into fresh leaves.
An extremely important component in your Gong Fu tea set is the fairness pitcher, also known as a gong dao bei. You might’ve noticed that when you pour directly from your teapot at home into multiple cups, the color of the tea in each cup is different. This is because, as mentioned before, your tea will continue to rapidly infuse as long as your leaves are sitting in hot water. When brewing Gong Fu Cha, we decant all of the liquid from the brewing vessel into the fairness cup before serving. This is to ensure that everyone you’re serving gets the same tasting tea. Even if you are just drinking alone, you still decant all of your tea into a fairness cup before drinking so that you will not be leaving your tea to over-extract.
Because we do not use infuser baskets in Gong Fu Cha, we strain our tea out as it is being poured from the brewing vessel into the fairness pitcher. This will catch even the smallest broken pieces of leaf from falling into your tea, and subsequently averts astringency. We commissioned all our teaware to be just as functional as they are beautiful, so the strainer holder serves a purpose too. It acts as a thoughtful touch to your tea set, as it will prevent your strainer from touching your tea table when you set it down.
We recommend enjoying tea from smaller cups rather than large mugs. Often referred to as a 3-sip cup. The size of the cup allows you to enjoy the tea while it’s hot, as opposed to having to wait for a large amount of hot liquid to cool. The size also allows us to mindfully enjoy and appreciate tea as an experience and not a beverage. Don’t forget to pick up enough teacups for you and your guests!
You might have seen tea trays, tea boats, or tea waste bowls used in Gong Fu Cha. Because we don’t drink the tea rinse, it helps to have a portable sink to pour the excess liquid into. The type you choose to use is up to personal preference. You can even use a regular cup or bowl from your kitchen for an impromptu tea waste bowl.
Tea pets are ceramic figures that can accompany you while you drink Gong Fu Cha. They’re optional, but if you’re going to be pouring out your tea rinse, someone might as well be drinking it, right? Some tea pets are designed to do different things when tea is poured over them. Unglazed clay tea pets will develop a shiny patina over time. Some porcelain tea pets will develop a desirable eggshell pattern from tea staining. There are some that even spray water or change color!
Your Own Tea Set
There are many different types of teaware to choose from, and you will undoubtedly be collecting more on your tea journey. We recommend starting with the set we use at our East Village tea house, which is both functional and versatile. Pick up your first tea set and start brewing Gong Fu today!