We all could do with a little bit more ceremony in our lives. By taking the time out to do things properly, to mindfully enjoy the moment, and be truly present in every little task or experience, we can elevate even the most mundane act into something really wonderful.
There are few better examples of this concept than when it comes to tea drinking. Just think about it for a moment: when does a cup of tea taste the best? When does it really hit the spot, and provide you with that sense of calm and relaxation that you crave? For most of us, the answer to that question comes in the form of a treasured tea pot, with the tea brewed slowly and properly, served with some relaxing music and perhaps a couple of delicious snacks, in our favourite china cup. Unhurriedly sipped, with the warmth and flavour enveloping you in a sensory blanket of comfort. In essence, by adding a certain sense of ceremony - by doing things slowly, properly, and mindfully - something as simple as a cup of tea has the ability to be transformed and lifted into a moment of bliss.
A Sensory Link With Ancient China
This is, of course, nothing new. Chinese history and culture is peppered with examples of rituals and ceremonies, which have inspired the development of the country’s identity, and made the Chinese people the fascinating nation which they remain today. But look deep into the heart of Chinese daily life, and you’ll find tea at the very centre. For the Chinese - perhaps more so than for any other nation of earth - tea is so very much more than a drink. It’s an essential part of daily life. Tea drinking has always been revered in the east, and few teas have ever been celebrated, admired and given such importance as the divine and delicious teas of the Wuyi mountains.
Wuyi tea is a plant and a drink which commands enormous respect, and this respect has long since left its homeland, and found reverence in all corners of the world. This is no ordinary tea, after all; the finest examples of Wuyi are worth more than their weight in gold, and huge efforts go into protecting the varietals which grow in the dips and hollows of the Wuyi mountains. The tea was celebrated by the Song, the Tang, the Yuan and Ming dynasties, and gradually, the process for producing it became more elaborate, more ritualised and gradually more meticulous, until a perfect system was established which allowed the natural flavours of the tea - along with the added depth of flavour brought about by fermentation - to shine.
To drink Wuyi tea is said to be like having a conversation with the mountains themselves; these drinks are highly prized for their ability to express ‘terroir’, a French term usually used only for describing fine wine, which refers to the characteristics of the land present in the flavours and aromas of the product. As such, it comes as no surprise that along with the complicated, reverent and time-consuming process of making Wuyi and other Oolong teas, the Chinese were the first to come up with the etiquette and artistry of tea drinking.
Taking Part in Wuyi Tea Ceremonies
The tea making, pouring and drinking ceremonies of ancient China are something which has long since captured the imagination of the western world, and several books, films and even operas and television series have made reference to them. The rituals, known collectively as Gong Fu Cha, are designed to enhance the enjoyment and appreciation of tea - the great gift of the mountains, which keeps on giving. Wuyi tea is inextricably linked to Gong Fu Cha, as particular examples of Wuyi, such as Big Red Cape tea, are so special that the ceremony is adapted to suit this particular category of tea, and the tea itself is rarely drunk without some sense of ceremony attached.
Wuyi tea’s connection with Gong Fu Cha is particularly important. Because Wuyi was so precious, it was used as a tribute tea - essentially, a diplomatic gift and token of esteem given between royal courts, ambassadors and envoys - and thus involved in all manner of honourable rituals and displays of courtesy, etiquette, strength and political power. Should you wish to make a connection with ancient China through the medium of Wuyi tea, as well as enormously heightening your enjoyment and appreciation of this beautiful, historic, expressive drink, you can perform a simple Gong Fu Cha ceremony in your own home, by following these simple steps.
Before you begin, make sure that you are not going to be disturbed, and that you are in a comfortable place in which you can truly relax, and focus mindfully on the tea making process. This is all about being in the moment, and making the most of the tastes and smells you will encounter. As such, it’s a good idea to turn off electrical devices such as phones, which may interrupt you, and play some ambient music or natural soundscape which can help you relax. Birdsong is particularly traditional, or you could even seek out some traditional Chinese ceremonial music to enhance the atmosphere.
Step One - Preparation
Firstly, you need to warm up your teapot. Do this by filling your best china or ceramic pot with boiling water, and allowing it to sit awhile. Pour boiling water through your tea strainer, too, and also fill your teacups with boiling water before rinsing them. This both allows everything to reach an ambient temperature (stopping temperature changes happening in the tea, which can affect the flavour) and also sterilises and cleans the equipment - something which is not only good hygienic practice, but also an act of courtesy to yourself and your guests, should you have them.
Step Two - Moist Your Tea Leaves
Empty your teapot, and put your measured amount of tea inside. Next, fill the teapot with boiled water, and overfill it so the water flows from the top of the pot. You should do this until the bubbles disappear, and the water runs clearly. We do this to ready the leaves for brewing, as well as to wash away excess caffeine. Put the lid back on, and immediately pour away the water. Let the lid sit at a tilt, so the steam and heat can escape - you don’t want to ‘cook’ the leaves, and this allows the tea to retain all of its aroma.
Step Three - First Brew
Completely fill the teapot again with hot water, until it is overflowing. Place the lid on top, and slowly count to six, while gently pouring a little more hot water over the pot. This ensures an even temperature inside the pot, maintaining a steady brew. Once you’ve finished counting, pour your tea into a decanter or pitcher, place the lid on top of the pitcher, and tilt the lid of the teapot as to not cook the leaves inside. Serve the tea.
Step Four - Additional Brews
Repeat step three, but adjusting the brewing time (you can find out far more about additional brews by consulting a Wuyi tea specialist or by visiting a dedicated website).
Step Five - Finishing Off
Clean out the leaves (it would be nice to use them as compost or put them in your garden as a mark of respect) with hot water, and rinse the pot well. Then, leave it in the open air to dry, with the lid off. This allows the oils in the ceramic of the pot to dry, as damp clay can affect the quality of a Wuyi tea drinking experience. Wash your other pieces of paraphernalia and also allow them to dry in the open air.
Once you have mastered this beginner’s Gong Fu Cha Wuyi ceremony, you can explore more advanced ways of preparing and serving Wuyi tea, and discovering how this sense of ritual and ceremony can bring you the same pleasure it once brought to the princes and emissaries of ancient China.
And don't forget to serve the elders first ;)
Why not get some House tea and practice with Loved ones?
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