Saturday, September 17, 2011

Touching on Gongfucha 工夫茶 - What it is NOT

Gongfucha (or Gong Fu tea, Kung Fu tea) is becoming an increasingly well-know term amount tea communities worldwide. Lots of people have heard about this Chinese tea preparation but few have a good concept of what it truly is. When speaking with people in the tea community, even those in China, I find that different people have different impression for gongfucha. Some people say it is the same as Cha Dao 茶道. Some say it is the Chinese tea ceremony. Some even say it is a way to make very strong tea. And the worst I have seen: Wikipedia defines gongfucha as "a commercialized show basing on the tea preparation approach."

As a member of the tea community who grew up with and know gongfucha, I feel that I have the responsibility to promote gongfucha and share with the tea community what gongfucha really is.

First of all, gongfucha is not a commercialized show. Gongfucha has a very elaborate approach to making a good cup of tea. The amount of care and efforts dedicated to making that small cup of tea can easily impress those who are new to gongfucha. To tea retailers, this makes gongfucha especially useful in adding value to the tea they sell during tea tasting. Therefore, it is now very common to see tea retailer using gongfucha in tea tastings, many even exaggerated the process to the point that it looks more like a show than a practical way to make good tea. I think that is why some people mistaken gongfucha as a commercialized show.

Cha Dao 茶道 is another term often mistakenly used to describe gongfucha. It is sometimes used interchangably with the term Chinese tea ceremony. Out of these two terms, the first I want to clarify is that there is not such thing as Chinese tea ceremony. I did not research to find out where this term originated. But I have seen people refer to tea making performance as Chinese tea ceremony. Tea making performances are those involving a young Chinese lady dressed in traditional Chinese custume and making tea with elegant moves. These shows are commonly found in tea houses in China nowadays. They are just performances to entertain and attract patrons.

The difference between Cha Dao and Gongfucha is more interesting and involves the history of Taiwan. Taiwan is geographically very close to the Minnan and ChaoShan region of mainland China where gongfucha is widely popular. Therefore it used to share the same tea culture with these regions. However, from 1895 to 1945, Taiwan became a colony of Japan and had its culture greatly influenced by Japan. 茶道, originally a japanese term, although they are Chinese characters, beame a widely used term for the Taiwanese local tea culture. Furthermore, the local tea culture also developed its own characteristics under influence from Japan. So the term Cha Dao is often used by the Taiwanese people for their way of making gongfucha.

Even though Taiwan is located not far from mainland China, it has been an independent state with limited exchanges with China due to political hostility. Only within the past 20 years, and with the gradual easing of the tension between China and Taiwan, trade and cultural exchanges have been established and Cha Dao made its presence in China. So the term Cha Dao obviously cannot be used in place for Gongfucha.

Hopefully this adds some clarification to the differences between the terms.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Tea Sinks During My Recent Trip

A tea tray, also refered to by some people, myself included, as a tea sink, is an indispensable part of the gongfucha teawear set. It can be made of clay, wood, bamboo, porcelain, or stone. I prefer to call them tea sinks over tea tray because they primarily serve the purpose of a sink - collecting liquid runoff, and that some of them are made like a large shallow bowl. Below are a few pictures of tea sinks I took during this recent trip. I thought some people may be interested to see them, so here they are:

This is the old fashion gongfucha tea sink made of porcelain.

A porcelain lotus leaf tea sink, with matching gaiwan and tea cups.

A flat bamboo tea sink with Qing Hua Porcelain gaiwan and teacups.

Another bamboo tea sink with White Jade porcelain teaware. (White Jade is not
real jade. It's juat a name to describe the nice finishing on this type of
white porcelain.

A HEAVY Zisha (Purple Clay) tea sink with lotus engraving. This tea
sink weights in at over 50 lbs.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Back From China

After a month in the hot and humid weather of FuJian and GuangDong province in China, I am finally back to the States. While I am adjusting for the jetlag, let me jumpstart this blog with a video from one of my trips deep into the tea country in the Phoenix Mountain. In this video I visited the tea farm of my longtime friend and tea farmer, Mr Wu. He tooked me to different parts of his farm to show me the many different varieties of Phoenis DanCong tea plants, some of which grown organically.

This is not the harvast season so there are only a dozen
or so tea pickers on the mountain - many on the other
side of the slope and can't be seen. During harvest
seasons throughout the year, everyone from the village
would be in the tea farms picking tea.

Mr. Wu showing me his experimental organic plants.

Picking some samples to compare with the regular plants.

Examining the hardly known Duck Sh!t variety. Yes, it's the name of this
variety of DanCong tea.

The Magnolia variety. Rubing the fresh leaves a few times with your palms
produces a light pleasant floral smell.