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.


  1. Good article Aaron! The Taiwanese tea influence, from my experience in Shanghai, has been large on the mainland. Not only with cha dao, but also heavily so with boba tea. Last few times I went back to China it seemed that the Taiwanese tea is held in high regard -- sort of like how many people automatically assume clothing made in Italy is high quality. I've been pondering this question lately though, is 工夫茶 by and large a commercialized show nowadays to sell tea?

  2. No David no! I am confident to say that 99% of gongfucha is prepared by people who use it to enjoy their tea at home. What we see on media and in teahouses are just the 1% that has been commercialized and exploited. Sadly this 1% is all we see and we get the wrong impression about gongfucha. I will be posting more about gongfucha soon. Have been a bit busy lately. My goal is to spread this art/culture to more people.

  3. This is a very interesting commentary. Bravo. It is so rare to find information about Chao-shan culture in English that I feel rather lucky stumbling upon your blog.