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The Gongfu Method of Tea PreparationThe Gongfu method of preparing tea is more ceremonial and social than the Western method. It is commonly practiced in Asia as a way to slow down and appreciate the tea as well as an opportunity to contemplate. The term "Gongfu" basically expresses the value of patience. There are many variations to the Gongfu process, but they all share a common approach to preparing and drinking tea.
The Gongfu method uses a large quantity of tea leaves, typically 5-6 times as much as the Western method, but uses very short infusion times, typically 10-20 seconds, and the tea is infused multiple times. Each infusion is quite small, typically 2-3 ounces per person. The first infusion serves only to cleanse and "wake up" the tea leaves, and is discarded. Each additional infusion is savored to appreciate the nuance of the tea and variations between each infusion. The tea is infused in a Gaiwan (a small, lidded bowl often made of porcelain) or a small teapot with a very narrow spout. After each infusion, the tea is poured into small cups or into a serving container and then into cups for drinking. The Gongfu method is intended for unflavored teas, particularly Greens and Oolongs, but also works perfectly well with unflavored black teas.
The Western Method of Tea PreparationThe "Western" method, which is the most common way of preparing tea outside Asia, uses a small quantity of tea leaves and a large quantity of water. It is then steeped for 2-5 minutes, depending on the tea being prepared. The tea is usually steeped in a large teapot, with the tea leaves in an infuser that is removed once steeping is completed. The tea is then kept warm and poured from the teapot until it is gone. This is the best method for preparing flavored and herbal teas, but works equally well with all teas.
Good Water is Crucial
- For best results, use artesian water.
- Fill an empty kettle with fresh cold water.
- If using tap water, let the water run for 30 seconds so that it is fresh.
Warm the Teapot
- While the water is heating, fill your teapot with hot tap water to preheat it. Alternatively, you can briefly hold your teapot over the steaming kettle (don't get too close).
- Warming your teapot prevents cracking that can occur when boiling water is placed in a room temperature pot, and it helps the brewed tea maintain the proper temperature.
- Discard the water once the pot is warm.
Measure Your Tea
- For loose tea, place approximately one teaspoon of tea leaves per cup (or the amount indicated on the label) into the pot, or into an infuser to place in the pot. (The amount depends on the type of tea and personal preference.)
- The best way to measure loose leaf tea is with a scale. The scale needs to be accurate to .1 gram, and a good starting point is 2.5 grams of tea per cup, then adjust for taste. Oolongs frequently require 50% more tea (about 4 grams per cup), but are good for multiple infusions.
- If you don't have loose tea, use one tea bag per 1-2 cups, depending on the size of the bag and personal preference.
Boil the Water
- As soon as the water comes to a boil, remove it from the heat.
- Overheating the water reduces its oxygen content and causes the tea to taste flat.
- Let the water settle down for 10-20 seconds, then pour into the pot, cover, and let stand.
- If using green or white tea, allow the water to cool to the proper temperature before pouring onto the leaves.
- NOTE: At an altitude of 5000 feet, water boils at 202°F instead of 212°F, so you don't need to cool the water as much.
Steep Your Tea
- How long to steep depends on how strong you like your tea and the type of tea you're using.
- Do not judge by color because some teas brew light while others brew dark.
- Small leaves brew more quickly and are usually ready in two to three minutes; medium leaves in three to five minutes; large leaves in six.
- Most teas will taste bitter if you steep longer than six minutes.
- If you have used an infuser or tea bags, remove them from the pot when the tea has reached the desired strength.
- Tea bags steep more quickly because the leaves are finely cut, so don't let them steep too long. You may squeeze the bags gently before removing them from the pot to reduce drips (tea bag squeezers make this very easy).
- If you placed loose leaves directly into the pot, you may want to pour the tea into a second warmed pot through a strainer to separate the tea from the leaves. This will prevent the tea from becoming bitter. But if you plan to pour all the tea into cups soon, simply place a strainer over the cup and pour slowly from the original pot.
Keep Your Tea Hot
- If your teapot will be sitting for a while with tea in it, use a tea cozy to keep the tea at the proper temperature.
- There are two types of cozies: an "over the top" cozy sits over the pot and must be removed to pour tea; a serving cozy wraps around the pot, leaving the handle and spout exposed for pouring. Both keep tea hot for long periods, depending on the quality of the cozy.
- It is important, however, not to use a cozy if there are still tea leaves in the pot, since the excess heat will make the tea taste bitter. Only use a cozy if you have removed the tea leaves.
Adding Lemon, Sugar, or Milk
- If you add lemon and sugar to your tea, add the sugar first, since the citric acid from the lemon will prevent the sugar from dissolving.
- Milk is often used in full-bodied teas such as India and Ceylon teas.
- There is a debate over whether to add milk to the cup before or after the tea; according to the British Standards Institute, milk should be placed in the cup first.
- Don't use cream as it interferes with the taste of the tea.
Cleaning Your Teapot
- To wash your teapot, simply rinse with hot water and turn upside-down to dry.
- Never put it in the dishwasher or use soap.
- To remove stains, fill with a solution of two tablespoons of baking soda and boiling water and soak overnight. Then rinse thoroughly and let dry.