I remember my introduction to Gongfu Cha quite well. My friend and I happened into a smallish shop in the Chinese section of the International District in Seattle called “New Century Tea House & Chinese Classical Furniture,” not knowing much about what we were after, but always interested in new tea experiences. It was a tea-infused Saturday as we had launched the day with a lovely pot of jasmine pearls a few blocks away at the Panama Hotel Tea House. Upon entering the tea shop, we were convinced by the proprietress to sit down and let her serve us tea. I was suspicious of the hard sell, but was quickly won over as she began to talk to us about the tea and how best to prepare it. We were captivated by the process – so unlike the strictly formal and minimalist Japanese Tea Ceremony – but so specific in the ways of preparation and of service. She served us a very nice Pu-ehr, which we bought 4 oz. of. This initial experience, not unexpectedly, led to the purchase and frequent implementation of the traditional tools used in Gongfu Cha and an ongoing search for wonderful teas to use them on.
Introducing other people to Gongfu Cha by serving them tea can be a very rewarding experience. I have had the opportunity to do this a number of times over the past few months, and with the exception of a brother-in-law who did not have the attention span to remain at the table through the final infusion, the guests have been quite interested in the experience and have enjoyed it. The format of the ceremony lends itself nicely to a casual, yet highly formalized, environment. Conversation is fluid and encouraged – There can be be talk about the tea itself and talk about the tools of the service – The guests can gain information and caffeine simultaneously, tiny cups and tidbits of information at a time.
Serving tea in the Gongfu style to people unfamiliar with it does feel a little like prosletizing, particularly with all of the focus on the specifics of accoutrements and protocols and the reverence for the tea itself. But if people find themseves underhandedly indoctrinated into the world of Chinese oolongs and pu-erhs, that’s probably not such a bad thing.