Friday, June 24, 2011

Martial Art Tea

What does martial art have to do with tea? For those of you who really know why gong fu tea got its name and understands written Chinese well, you probably already know where I am heading with this post.

Okay, to answer the initial question, let me BRIEFLY cover how gong fu tea got its name as well as give you a short lecture in Chinese 101. So gong fu tea or kung fu tea, whichever you prefer, got its name from the Teochew dialect commonly spoken in the Teohew area (aka ChaoShan area) in Guangdong Province of China. This map shows you where the ChaoShan area is:

****ChaoShan area includes Chaozhou and Shantou, hance the name ChaoShan.

Gong fu tea, correctly written in Chinese as 工夫茶 is pronounced Gun Who Theh in Teochew dialect. Gōng fū chá is the Mandarin pronounciation of  工夫茶. In Cantonese it's Gōng fū Chǎ. So we got the term gong gu tea from Mandarin and Cantonese. Worth noting here is that the term Gun Who (工夫) is unique to the ChaoShan area and has an unique meaning of doing things the proper way, following every step. Let me emphasize: the written term 工夫 is not commonly used in written Chinese.
When the ChaoShan people introduce their Gun Who Theh (工夫茶) to the rest of China, they communicate in Mandarin, the official dialect of the country, and introduce 工夫茶 as Gōng fū chá. Remember I said the term 工夫 is not used outside of the ChaoShan area? So when the Mandarin or Cantonese speakers hear gōng fū chá they natually think of the commonly used written term of gōng fū - 功夫. 功夫 has two broad meanings: 1. martial art, or, 2. skills. So when 工夫茶 is mass marketed to the general Chinese consumers and to the rest of the world by people who don't understand the Teochew dialect, it becomes 功夫茶, or martial art tea! Interesting right? Another classic example of lost in translation.
So when I see tea label like this, I always joke that drinking it would make you a black belt. Really, it's what the label suggests.

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