Scent Cup (聞香杯) and Tea Cup (品茗杯) on a Saucer (茶托); Background: Clay Teapot (紫砂壺) in a Basin (茶盂)

Chinese Tea Ceremony

There are numerous ways to enjoy tea and the Southern Chinese Gongfu Tea is the most sophisticated of them. It’s not only a way of preparing the beverage but a whole ceremony with numerous distinct steps, each of them described by a different and often metaphorical four-character phrase.

Gongfu Tea Ceremony 工夫茶 /gōng fū chá/ (also 功夫茶) originated in Canton and Fujian provinces of Southern China but has since become popular in other places. The process utilizes special teaware and utensils, described here and consists of five parts: appreciation, preparation, brewing, drinking, and cleaning. The choice of tea is most often oolong or one of its variants such as tieguanyin or baozhong.

The translations below are generally word-for-character, trying to retain the order of the original phrase. This means you need to allow some leeway with the grammar but I believe this more closely approximates the “feeling” of the Chinese phrase in its brevity. The pronunciation follows Hanyu Pinyin.

Tea Set (茶具) with Tea Tins (茶罐)
Tea Set (茶具) with Tea Tins (茶罐)

Tea Appreciation 賞茶 /shǎng chá/

‘Appreciate Excellent Tea’ 鑒賞佳茗 /jiàn shǎng jiā míng/
Put dry tea leaves in the tea holder and pass the holder among guests to appreciate the fragrance.

Tea Preparation 洗茶 /xǐ chá/

‘Warm Pot, Heat Cups’ 溫壺燙杯 /wēn hú tàng bēi/
In the basin, pour hot water on the teapot and tea cups. Use tongs to rotate cups when washing.
‘Black Dragon Enters Palace’ 烏龍入宮 /wū lóng rù gōng/
Put tea leaves into the teapot. Fill ⅓ — ⅔ of teapot, with at least 15 g of leaves for every 150 mL of water.
‘Suspended Kettle High Rinse’ 懸壺高沖 /xuán hú gāo chōng/
Pour hot water from an elevated kettle, filling teapot with water.
‘Spring Wind Brushes Surface’ 春風拂面 /chūn fēng fú miàn/
Remove any debris on surface using the lid of the teapot. Put the lid on top of the teapot.
‘Double Wash Immortal Color’ 重洗仙顏 /chóng xǐ xiān yán/
Pour hot water over the covered teapot. You may let the tea steep for 10-30 seconds, or immediately afterwards pour the tea into the pitcher.
‘Moving Clouds, Running Water’ 行雲流水 /xíng yún líu shǔi/
Pour the tea from the pitcher to the scent cups. Use the first brew to wash tea cups only, do not drink it. More elaborately, tea can be first poured into scent cups as for drinking but it is still not supposed to be drank.
Tea Pitcher (茶海) with Strainer (漏斗) and Tea Cups (茶杯) on a Tray (茶盤)
Tea Pitcher (茶海) with Strainer (漏斗) and Tea Cups (茶杯) on a Tray (茶盤)

Brewing Tea 泡茶 /pào chá/

‘Repeatedly Cycle Low Pour’ 回旋低斟 /húi xuán dī zhēn/
Pour hot water again to teapot, this time from low height.
‘High Wash, Low Pour’ 高沖低斟 /gāo chōng dī zhēn/
This is not a step but a rule that says the kettle is placed high when rinsing the tea, and low when water is poured for brewing.
‘Shave Off Foam, Drench the Lid’ 刮沫淋蓋 /guā mò lín gài/
Remove any surface bubbles with the lid. Wash the teapot outside with the tea from the first brew, or hot water.

As a rule of thumb for the “typical” oolong, brew the tea at ~85°C, 20-50 seconds, 4-8 times.

Drinking Tea 喝茶 /hē chá/

‘Hit the Cup to Bathe and Drench’ 毆杯沐淋 /ōu bēi mù lín/
Pour the tea into the pitcher.
General Guan Patrols City’ 關公巡城 /guān gōng xún chéng/
Tea is poured from the pitcher into scent cups placed in a row.
Han Xin Inspects Soldiers’ 韓信點兵 /hán xìn diǎn bīng/
Pour the last drops of tea from the pitcher to scent cups in an elegant movement.
‘Tour Mountains, Trifle with Water’ 游山玩水 /yóu shān wán shuǐ/
Contents of the teapot are emptied into the basin or tray.
‘Dragon and Phoenix Assume Auspiciousness’ 龍鳳呈祥 /lóng fèng chéng xiáng/
Place each tea cup upside down on scent cup.
‘The Carp Releases Itself’ 鯉魚翻身 /lǐ yú fān shēn/
Invert the cups: each scent cup is now upside down on the tea cup.
‘Respectfully Present Fragrant Tea’ 敬奉香茗 /jìng fèng xiāng míng/
Remove the scent cup and enjoy the fragrance. Drink tea from the tea cup in at least 3 sips: initial, principal, and after-taste.


  • Remove used leaves from teapot and put them in the basin for everyone to appreciate.
  • Wash teapot and other teaware with boiling water. Rinse teapot with hot tea.
  • Polish the outside of the teapot with cloth. Otherwise, let dry naturally.
Scent Cup (聞香杯) and Tea Cup (品茗杯) on a Saucer (茶托); Background: Clay Teapot (紫砂壺) in a Basin (茶盂)
Scent Cup (聞香杯) and Tea Cup (品茗杯) on a Saucer (茶托); Background: Clay Teapot (紫砂壺) in a Basin (茶盂)

Reave a Leply

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