Going Gong-Fu: It’s All About The Pour!


The key to Gong-Fu style tea is based on two factors: water/leaf ratio and time.

In the traditional Western style, you have small amounts of tea with large quantities of water and steeped over minutes. This tradition arose from the monopoly China had on tea when first discovered by the West. Being hard to acquire and expensive to transport, the need to stretch those precious leaves as far as possible made this type of brewing the smart choice. It also leads to more of the bitter components of tea being released and the addition of milk and sweeteners.

With Gong-Fu it’s just the opposite. Tea is plentiful in China and this style of brewing developed to maximize the more desired flavors and less bitterness. Quick flash-infusions with large quantities of tea and less water were the result.

Know Your Pots: Timing Is Key

As most tea lovers know, each type of tea has a threshold for how long it can remain in hot water before it becomes bitter. To accommodate for this it is essential that you know your teapots as each will have a different “pour time.”

These are my best pouring teapots & I adjust how much water/tea I use to make sure I don’t’ over steep brew the tea and get a bitter cup.

For example, suppose a pot takes 20 seconds to fully decant. If you’re making a green tea that you only want to steep for 10 seconds that’s not going to be the right pot. By waiting for ten seconds before you decant the tea, it will have remained in the hot water for a total of 30 seconds. Even if you poured it straight off, it still would have over steeped for 10 whole seconds more than it needs.

It’s All About The Pour

When shopping for pots one of the first things you should look for is pouring time. A few vendors will include this and if they do its the most critical bit of information you can have about that pot. If no pour time is listed, the next factor to look at is the pots maximum volume. The closer to 100 milliliters the faster that teapots total decant time will be.

Because the strainer along with the spout size and placement can also affect how long it takes for the tea fully decant, it’s almost impossible to know exactly until you get a teapot home. The first thing you should do with every new teapot after cleaning is to measure its capacity and pour time.

The Art of the Tea

A slow pouring pot, however, is not the end of the world. This is where the art of tea comes into play. If you have a pot that you love but pours too slowly, you might want to try and reduce the quantity of tea and water you’re using. This is especially easy. There is no rule that says you have to fill them up to the brim and I often brew only 100ml in pots that have a larger capacity and slower pour time.

These are my slowest pouring pots & I always take that into consideration when selecting which tea to use with them. Longer steeping Japanese Green Teas & tightly rolled Oolong & Black teas return the best results from these three pots.

I’ve recently been struggling with a Palace Pu’erh. While I love the taste and aroma I can’t drink more than one small cup before it upsets my stomach. This tea brews tar black and I’ve decided that the problem I’m having is my pot. I had dedicated this one to ripe pu’erh and for most, its worked fine. But for this particular unpressed pu’erh I know I’m over brewing it and will try it in my gaiwan next.

Which brings me to my next post in this series: Gaiwans. Unfortunately, I only have one and its a bit too large for me (bad wrists) and all I make is a mess. I’m going to be shopping for a 100ml gaiwan next month so it could be a while before you see another post in this series, but I promise to get to it as soon as I can.

Until then, don’t be afraid of Gong-Fu. While it can be intimidating, if you find the right vendor (I recommend Tangpin & receive no compensation for my endorsement). For around a $100 you can set yourself up with a few pots, a tray, some cups, and experience for yourself this ancient method of brewing tea.

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