Makeshift Gong Fu
Beginning Gong Fu brewing might seem a little overwhelming given the different steps and necessary tools. However, if you apply the core ideas and principles of Gong Fu brewing, it can be done with almost any kind of materials that you have on hand.
The first step is to simply increase the amount of loose leaf and decrease the amount of water. By doing this, the tea becomes more concentrated and more flavorful, as it is with Gong Fu brewing. The next step is to shorten the steeping time of the tea. Unlike with the Western method of brewing, which normally has brewing times of at least 2 minutes, Gong Fu brewing only needs a few seconds. Typically, brews are around 15 seconds long, increasing in 5-second increments per infusion. Finally, having a vessel that acts as a tea pitcher to decant the tea into after infusing will help ensure that the brewed tea is not over-steeped and bitter, and is distributed evenly between the teacups.
In contrast to the traditional method of brewing tea with hot water, cold brewing is an equally viable method of brewing tea. With a traditional brew, flavors are extracted from the tea with heat, but with cold brewing, time is the key to extracting the flavors from the tea. Using cold water as opposed to hot water also extracts a different flavor profile from the tea. Since less tannins are extracted, the resulting brew is less bitter than the traditional hot extraction. This makes cold brewed tea a very refreshing, cooling beverage, perfect for hot days.
Cold brewing is closer to the Western style of brewing in terms of leaf to water ratio. Although it differs for each type of tea, the general ratio is about 1g of tea leaf for every 100ml of water. The duration of the extraction also differs: commonly between 8-16 hours. Both the water to leaf ratio and the extraction time can be adjusted based on personal taste and preference.
Grandpa-style brewing is a very common, casual way of brewing tea. While other methods rely on a certain set of parameters and processes, grandpa brewing simply entails putting tea leaves in hot water and letting it brew as you drink. This is commonly done in mugs, bowls, or tumblers.
To brew grandpa-style, you can use fewer leaves (1-3g, depending on the desired strength) and around 150-250ml of water. The necessary water temperature depends on the type of tea being brewed. Once the leaves and hot water are combined, they are left to brew until they have cooled down to drinking temperature. When the tea gets too strong or there is only about ⅓ of the original amount of tea left, the brewing vessel is refilled. Grandpa-style brewing requires no timing or precise measurements, simply refilling the tea with water as needed. Because of this, typically only some teas can be grandpa-brewed well, as this style relies on the tea being able to steep for long periods of time without getting bitter or unpleasant. We recommend trying this method with Crimson Roast, VELVET DUSK, and White Orchard!
Gong Fu Variants
Since Gong Fu is, in itself, quite flexible, there are a few variations of Gong Fu brewing which can involve different equipment or techniques.
At first glance, the Chaozhou method of brewing can look simplistic given that it only requires a gaiwan (or teapot) and teacups, and no tea pitcher. The process of brewing begins the usual way by heating up the teaware, however the leaf to water ratio will also increase from 1g of leaf to 50ml of water to 2g of loose leaf for every 25mL of water.
After putting the leaves into the brewing vessel, the infusion time of the tea will only be 1 to 2 seconds. Instead of the tea being decanted into a tea pitcher, it is poured directly into three (3) teacups in a cyclical motion, which represents the idea of Pin (pǐn, 品) or to savour. Chaozhou style of brewing will ultimately demand more attention compared to regular Gong Fu brewing as the pour of the tea must be distributed evenly among the teacups, that is, each teacup should yield a similar strength of brew and the same flavor.
Dry brewing is a more modern interpretation of Gong Fu brewing which emphasizes proper technique and minimal (but high-quality) tools. When dry brewing, the brewer focuses on minimizing dripping and spillage; a dry brewing setup typically does not use a tea tray, rather, it simply includes a tea cloth to absorb small drops. Dry brewing also typically calls for a waste-water bowl (shuǐ fāng 水方) to collect excess tea.
In dry brewing, the brewer must control his pours with skill so as to prevent spillage. Dry brewers may also occasionally include some theatricality into their pouring, especially when serving to guests. The simplicity of the dry brewing setup draws attention to the brewer’s skill and the quality of their instruments. Because of this, while dry brewing seems simpler and more convenient than a typical Gong Fu setup, it is actually more nuanced and requires more mastery of brewing than standard Gong Fu brewing.