Below are the steps in a typical Gongfu tea ceremony. Each step has a traditional four character name.
*Take note that the teapot’s spout should not be pointing at anyone at all times as this is considered rude.
1. 温壶烫杯 (wēn hú tàng bēi) – “warm the pot and heat the cups”
Boiling water is poured into the teapot and then poured into the teacups. This is to ensure that the utensils are warmed and prepped for the tea savouring process, which enhances the tea’s fragrance.
2. 鉴赏佳茗 (jiàn shǎng jiā míng) – “Appreciate excellent tea”
The tea is placed in the茶荷 (chá hé) and passed around guests for it to be appreciated. The guests should complement the appearance and fragrance of the tea.
3. 乌龙入宫 (wū lóng rù gōng) – “The black dragon enters the palace”
The “black dragon” refers to the colour of Oolong tea, which is normally a dark burnt brown with subtle hues of other colours depending on the type of tea. The amount of tea needed depends on many factors such as type of tea and the size of the teapot but the amount of tea leaves used typically fills ½ to 2/3 of the pot. Put the leaves in the tea strainer if your pot does not have an inbuilt strainer.
4. 悬壶高冲 (xuán hú gāo chōng) – “rinsing from an elevated pot”
Water heated in a kettle to the suitable brewing temperature for the tea is poured at roughly the height of the pourer’s shoulder to a slight overflow in the teapot to rinse the tea leaves.
The Chinese determine the right brewing temperature is determined by the size of the bubbles formed while boiling. They use creatures’ eyes as a guide; bubbles the size of fish eyes for black tea, crab eyes for oolong and prawn eyes for green tea. (Though green tea is not used in a Gongfu tea ceremony)
5. 春风拂面 (chūn fēng fú miàn) – “The spring wind brushes the surface”
Any froth or floating tea leaves are gently brushed away with the tea pot’s cover. This helps create a clear tea.
6. 重洗仙颜 (chóng xǐ xiān yán) – “Bathing the immortal twice”
To ensure the temperature on the outside and inside of the pot remains the same, hot water is poured onto the covered teapot. This also helps to cure the clay in addition to creating a seal that ensures all the tea flavour remains in the pot. At this point, some will steep the tea for a short while (roughly 10-30 seconds) or pour out the tea immediately to the tea pitcher.
7. 行云流水 (háng yún líu shǔi) – “A row of clouds, running water”
This means that the first brew is not meant to be drunk. The tea is poured from the pitcher into the teacups.
8. 龍鳳呈祥 (lóng fěng chéng xiáng) – “the dragon and phoenix in auspicious union”
The tea cups are placed upside down on top of the snifters and offered to the guests, a symbol of prosperity and happiness the host wishes upon the guests.
9. 鯉魚翻身 (lǐ yú fān shēn) – ‘the carp turns over’
The guest accepts both the cups and turns them 180°.
10. 敬奉香茗 (jǐng fěng xiāng míng) – “Worship the fragrance”
The snifter is lifted from the tea cup. This tea is then emptied into a bowl or into the tea tray.
11. 回旋低斟 (húi xuán dī zhēn) – “pouring again from a low height” /再注清泉 (zài zhù qīng xuán) – ‘direct again the pure spring’
Hot water is poured at a lower height from step 4, usually at a slightly higher height than the rim of the teapot. It follows a principle called高冲低斟 (gāo chōng dī zhēn) – “high to rinse, low to pour”. Previously, pouring from a height creates a force to cleanse the leaves but water is now poured from a low height so that the flavour can be released slowly.
12. 刮沫淋蓋 (guā mò lín gài)
The leaves are steeped at this point. Depending on the type of tea and preference of the tea ceremony master, it takes anywhere between 30 seconds to 10 minutes.
13. 关公巡城 (guān gōng xún chéng) – “Guan Gong patrols the city”
The teacups are arranged in a row and poured into the tea snifters. This is done while moving the hand left and right gracefully. Guan Gong is a famous military general in the Three Kingdoms period. This move is akin to him marching up and down to guard the city.
14. 韩信点兵 (hán xìn diǎn bīng) – “Han Xin calls the soldiers”
The last drops are poured in an elegant movement. This move is likened to Han Xin, a famous Han general commanding his soldiers to fight.
15. 殴杯沐淋 (ōu bēi mù lìn) – “bathing the snifter cup”
The entire contents of the teapot is poured into the tea pitcher and poured into the snifters. A teacup is placed upside down on top like step 7.
16. 游山玩水 (yóu shān wán shǔi) “walk in the mountains and play in the river”
Any remaining water in the teapot is emptied into the basin or tea tray.
17. 龍鳳呈祥 (lóng fěng chéng xiáng) – “The dragon and phoenix in auspicious union”
Another prayer for the guests’ happiness and health is offered with the offering of the snifter cup with an inverted teacup on top of it. This is the same as step 8.
18. 鯉魚翻身 (lǐ yú fān shēn) – “the carp turns over”
The guest accepts both the cups and turns those 180°.
19. 敬奉香茗 (jǐng fěng xiāng míng) – “respecfully receive the fragrant tea”
At this point, the guest will lift up the snifter cup and let the tea flow into the teacup. The lingering aroma of the tea in the snifter is to be smelt and savoured by the guest before drinking the tea.
20. This step involves the etiquette to drink the tea. The teacup is either picked up with the finger pads of both hands or with the thumb and index finger using the middle finger to support the teacup. The latter method is used as well when a茶托 (chá tuō) is involved. The tea should be drunk in 3 sips; the first sip is for taste; letting it settle on your tongue and to appreciate the complexity of the tea flavour, reminiscent of a wine tasting technique; the second sip, is a bigger sip, also known as the main sip and the final sip is to empty the cup and to take in the aftertaste.
21. The same tea leaves can be brewed for a few times until they no longer yield the same flavour. With each subsequent brew, the tea should be left to steep for a longer time. The leaves will be taken out of the teapot with tongs and put into a basin to be shown to the guests. The guests should complement the tea’s quality. With this, the tea ceremony is done.