Wednesday, 6 July 2011

accesible Gong Fu

When I think about who I write this blog for, other than for myself, I imagine people who're curious about tea and want to know more. There are certainly some rather knowledgeable people who come here, but there are so many beautiful and knowledgeable blogs about tea. I want to try and help demystify tea drinking a bit, and so I purposely write with the tea newcomer in mind.

Because I'm passionate about it in my daily life, I get a lot of earnest questions. I'm sure some of the more direct inquiries never get made. Along the lines of, 'Wow, this guy's a bit obsessive, isn't he?' But instead, people ask me a variety of questions both general and specific. And I figure such curiosity is the perfect sort of thing to write about here.

So my friend Gaby was over the other evening, and I offered her a glass of wine or some sort of sparkly fruit beverage. She knew I'd be drinking tea, so she insisted that sharing tea with me would be just perfect. I have a new Gaiwan that she hadn't seen, so I decided to go the way of Oolong. It wasn't immediately clear if I'd made the right choice.

Recently, I read something Alex Zorach said about not doing Gong Fu in a traditional way. Essentially his idea was, and I hope I'm paraphrasing it correctly, that he did a sort of a modified Gong Fu that might look a bit strange to a purist. Those are really my words, but the point was that he brewed in a way that worked best for him.

I think it's applicable if my above-mentioned goal was to make tea drinking a bit more approachable. As I poured the first infusion of the Milky Oolong for Gaby, she looked at the curious little snifter cup. 'Where did you learn about all of this?' It's a funny question. I've watched plenty of videos, been to tea ceremonies, peppered tea shop owners with a myriad of questions.

She didn't particularly like the smell of the first infusions of the Milky Oolong, so I didn't make such a big deal of sniffing every infusion. She did like the taste. She said it smelled like a flower you can get at the Viktualienmarkt, which is an open-air market in downtown Munich. Maybe it was called the Joshua flower, but she wasn't sure.

The nice thing was that she was so curious and so eager to try each new infusion. Although she preferred the taste of the tea to the smell, she continued to use the snifter cup. She liked the tea as it got weaker and lighter. As we continued through cup after cup, I tasted less 'milky' and more Oolong, but it wasn't the most complex tea.

What's my point here? Do I really think I can proselytise and convince everyone I know to not only drink tea, but go the way of Gong Fu brewing? No way. But it was a pleasure to see how accessible it was for a tea newcomer. It was nearly a foregone conclusion that I'd have a good time with all of this, but I was very pleased that Gaby did.


  1. This sounds like a really good experience!

    I think traditional gong fu brewing is really awesome and beautiful if you can do it well. But this requires a lot of experience, and I'm pretty clumsy with it.

    But I find it's easy to replicate the basic core mechanical premise, of using more leaf, less water, and making many briefer infusions, and serving them in small cups. I've found people often really love using the little cups and brief brewings, and most people are fascinated as (a) the tea remains flavorful through numerous infusions and (b) they are able to taste how the tea changes.

    I think this gets one closer to the spirit of the Chinese tea ceremony, which involves viewing the brewing of the tea as an art, and then appreciating the tea to its fullest as you drink it, instead of looking at the tea as a consumer product that you just scarf down.

  2. That is one of my most favorite parts of sharing tea with others. Even if they don't particularly care for the tea, they all have a genuine interest and curiosity about it. I'm glad your friend liked the milk oolong. Sadly my boyfriend hated it, but then he has always been a coffee drinker.