The Preparation of Tea

Chiu Jau Kung Fu Cha (High Skill Tea)
Types of tea used: Te Kuan Yin, Wu Lung and Pu Er (Bo Lei) red and black teas
Very high quality medium to fully fermented teas are used to create a rich, full-bodied, complex beverage, often taken with an excellent gourmet dinner. In fine Chiu Jau restaurants, many varieties of teas are used and matched to the flavors of the dishes ordered much like the matching of fine wine to excellent food in France. Here are some general guidelines for matching food and tea, Chiu Jau style:

  • Pair a strong slightly bitter tea to rich fatty foods like Goose, duck or pork belly.
  • Pair a soft, smooth, fully fermented tea to savory, pungent, roasted or fried dishes.
  • Pair a medium fermented, dry, clean tea to subtle, delicate dishes such as soup, bean curd, squash, clear stir-fried dishes.

What you need:

  • The highest quality red tea you can obtain
  • A large ceramic flat bowl known as a cha Hai (Tea Ocean)
  • Very fine quality small Yixing Ji Sa (Purple sand) teapot
  • Small shallow cups with white porcelain interior glaze
  • A tea scoop
  • A tea pot scraper/pick
  • Small trays for the cups
  • A ceramic or glass tea kettle to heat the water
  • Good quality spring water (Artesian spring is the best)

The Environment
Have a clean, tidy place to serve the tea and dishes. The table setting should be spare and only contain what is necessary: bowls and chopsticks, the teacups on their trays, the Cha Hai, the small Yixing teapots, one for each tea you will serve, the dry tea, the tea implements - (tea scraper and scoop). Have some fine art within sight, calligraphy, paintings, or objects d’art. Flowers are fine if they do not have a strong fragrance.

The Host and Guests
I suggest a minimum of two and a maximum of eight persons including yourself. More is possible but the concentrated, intimate feeling of the experience decreases with more people. Choose pots that can just fill the number of cups that you have for your guests; (one cup per guest). Tell your guests in advance to not wear perfume or any body fragrance to enable them to have a pure experience. If they choose to wear fragrance anyway, their tea fragrance experience will be combined with their body scent.

The Mood
At its best, the Gung fu Cha experience is a lesson in discerning tastes and fragrance. The mood is concentrated and meditative. Use this concept as the basis of the general atmosphere. Savor the flavors, textures, and observe the beauty of the surroundings, the art, the dishes, the guests, and host. Talk about what you observe, wax poetic and create a verse or two of poetry about the moment. Experience pure pleasure and find pleasure in everything. This is the lesson of Gung fu Cha!

Brewing the Tea
Take the spring water and heat it in the kettle until it just starts to release bubbles, lower the flame or remove it from the heat. Place the pot and cups into the Cha Hai and pour the hot water over the open pot and into the cups. You may spill water into the Cha Hai. It is good to have some hot water in the bottom of the Cha Hai to keep things warm. Select the tea and remove it from the container by pouring some into the tea scoop. Smell the dry tea and offer the tea scoop to your guests to smell as well. Caution them to only touch the scoop and not the tea and to inhale only and exhale away from the tea. Tea has the property of absorbing fragrances around it, so it is best to have a neutral fragrance environment surrounding it. Use enough to fill the pot; generally about one third the dry leaf volume to total volume of cups. (With six cups, two cups of tea.) This is considerably less than the teaspoonful per cup used in brewing ordinary tea. In this process, the tea will be brewed many times, (up to 23) at times, depending on the tea. And, it will be brewed very fast, usually less than a minute. Use the scoop to pour the tea into the pot. Alternately, you may use an additional teacup as a measure to measure the tea and pour the tea into the pot from the cup. After the tea is in the pot, which should be moist, cover the pot and shake the leaves inside while being careful to hold the lid down in your hand. Open the lid and smell the tea leaves that have just been slightly hydrated by the moisture in the pot. Offer the pot to your guests to do the same. Take the cups from your guests and place them in the Cha Hai in a circle with the sides touching, When the pot is returned to you, place the pot into the Cha Hai and open the lid, if there is a lot of water in the Cha Hai, you may have to hold the pot to keep it from floating. Pour enough water to fill the pot. If bubbles form, tilt the pot slightly and let the bubbles overflow out of the pot. Cover the pot and immediately pour the water out into the Cha Hai. The first brew is the "Wash" for the leaves in order to open them and rinse them. Pour water again into the pot, close the lid and wait. Use your internal sense to time the brew. This is the most difficult skill to acquire and can ruin the tea if not timed well. Generally, red teas can steep ten to forty seconds and through experimenting over many, many times of brewing, you will develop the ability to time the brew well. An aromatic cup and a complex and substantially flavored broth that is not so strong as to irritate the palate is the goal you are striving for. This process will test the quality of the tea as well as your brewing skill. If the tea is good, it will have either a good, complex tasting broth or a pleasant fragrance. Excellent teas both smell wonderful and have a delicious complex flavor. In selecting teas, try to get both. They will be expensive, but well worth it, as there is nothing else like it. When you feel the tea is ready, pour them into the cups in a circular motion, filling each cup only partly in rotation. This process is called "General Kwan reviews his troops" Go around until the pot is completely emptied and then shake the pot over the cups until you are sure there is not more hot water in the pot. Residual water left in the pot will continue to brew and cause the next brew to be bitter. Give each guest their cups filled with tea and invite them to first smell the tea and try to discern and describe the aromas they can ascertain, and then drink the tea broth slowly and hold it in their mouth while exhaling through their nose to enhance their ability to taste, then swallow. Suggest that they try to discern and describe the flavors that they can taste. Ask them if the flavors remind them of anything they might have experienced in the past. Some fragrances are: The ocean, mushrooms, ferns, the forest, cream, milk, wood, bark, leather, and sugar cane. Some flavors are: dry, fresh, musty, rich, bitter, grassy, earthy. After everyone empties their cups, return the cups to the Cha Hai and open the lid of the pot. Smell the leaves, and then the pot lid. The fragrances should be different if the tea is natural and not adulterated, flavored, or false. The tea leaves should be pungent and harsh smelling, while the lid smells wonderful and quite pleasant. Pass the pot and lid for your guests to do the same. They will find that the leaves and pot lid smell different though related to the tea in their cups. This is one of the delightful surprises that Gung fu Cha offers. When the pot comes back to you, fill it again with water and this time give it a little more time to brew. In the first brew, the leaves did not quite open but the dry leaves are giving up their intense surface flavors. Now in the second brew the leaves have been rinsed, soaked and cleaned of surface flavors. You need to give slightly more time for the leaves to release the flavors from deeper within the crumpled leaves. Ten to twenty additional seconds is a good rule of thumb. Pour the tea into the cups again in the "General Kwan reviews his troops" method. Give your guests their cups, let them smell, savor and discuss the tea’s fragrance and flavor. Because tea has the property of absorbing the aromas and flavors around it, suggest that your guests hold out their cups for each other to smell. Caution them to be sure that others do not hold their cups or the fragrance and taste may change. Each person’s cup will have unique fragrances. This is another remarkable part of the Gung fu Cha experience. The tea is the same but is unique for each participant. As you serve tea to different people at different times, you will find that the teas you have will smell and taste different, making each tea drinking experience unique. After the cups are empty, once again return them to the Cha Hai and smell the leaves in the pot and the pot lid again. This time the leaves are more open, perhaps remove one for your guests to examine and discuss. Is it a complete whole leaf? Is it large? Small? What is its color? The leaves and pot lid should smell different than before. Offer your guests the pot and lid to smell once again. And allow them time to comment. When the pot returns, fill the pot again with water and brew the tea longer still. The leaves should be pretty open now so they will need more time to release their essence, maybe ten or twenty more seconds. When you feel it is time, fill the cups again and serve. Allow discussion again and then return the cups to the Cha Hai. You should be up to the fourth brew and is a good time to top up and heat the water in the kettle. While you are doing that, pass the pot and lid again for your guests to smell. When the pot returns, fill the pot with the very hot water and because the water temperature is high, reduce the brew time to the second brews timing. Fill the cups in the same circular motion and serve your guests. Let the guests savor and discuss the tea as before and return the cups to the Cha Hai. Now is as good time to serve the dishes. Your guests have had four rounds of complex and remarkable tea and are ready for rich food. Let the guests eat, savor and discuss the dishes and continue to brew and serve the tea increasing the brew time each round. Continue to brew and serve the tea in rounds until you can taste water show through the broth and the fragrance fades, no matter how long you allow the tea to brew, (no more that three minutes). If the tea is really good, you may get over twenty rounds of wonderful, fragrant and delicious tea. Certainly enough to accompany the meal all the way through to the end.