March 26, 2010

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Taiwanese tea ceremony: 工夫茶道

The way of making tea with great skill

I've had the pleasure to see and experience the Taiwanese tea ceremony two times, the first time in Taichung with Cherry and second time in Jiufen with Lily. The name of the the tea ceremony in Chinese is 工夫茶道 (pronounced as Gōngfu chádào). I will show you how the ceremony is held, teach you all the steps, so you can try and do it yourself, if you're interested in the tradition. But first let me explain the meaning of some words, because they may not be familiar to you:

  1. 工夫: gōng fu or commonly kung fu means "skill" (composed of words 工: work and 夫: man)1. You may know the word, because is commonly used for Chinese martial arts, usually written as 功夫2. But in Chinese kung fu means skill of any kind, in this case a skill of making great tea. [1][2]

  2. 茶: chá means "tea". Even the Slovenian word for tea - čaj (pronounced chai) derives from this word. Tea originated in China and with the it's popularity all over the world, the Chinese name spread all over the world as well. But in two versions, either as (from Hokkien dialect) or as chá (from Cantonese dialect)3.

    a) From tê: English tea, German Tee, Swedish te, French thé, Malay teh...
    b) From chá: Slovenian čaj, Russian chai, Greek tsái, Thai tsaa, Kor/Jap cha...
    The j at the end of čaj probably comes from 茶葉 (chá yè) meaning "tea leaves."[3]

  3. 道: dào has many meanings like "direction; way; road; path; principle; truth; morality; reason; skill; method."4 It's also commonly known as the root word of Daoism (or Taoism), the well known East Asian philosophy and religion. [4]
Exuisite Taiwanese tea goes well together with some tea pastry.

So 工夫茶道 or kung fu cha dao would be literally translated as "skilled tea method", but to rephrase it, "the way of making tea with great skill" would be more apporpriate. The Taiwanese call this ceremony also 老人茶 lao ren cha and use some unique wooden tools and the way the tea is prepared is slightly different, but I won't go into that here. I will show you how the tea was made in a traditional tea house in Jiufen. The skilled person, who made the tea below was my lovely girlfriend (and I assisted her a little). Please take note, that we're not very experienced in making the tea the right traditional way. The waitress gave us a brief demonstration and later we tried to follow her steps. We may not did it exactly as she, but the tea was still very tasty.

Here's how it's done (or how we've done it):

Step 1: Warming the pot and heating the cups (溫壺燙杯)

Basically you just pour the water over the clay pot that contains the tea leaves inside, that's all. You have to pour from a higher position when cleaning (but later, when you brew the tea, you have to pour from a lower position). The water runs off into the big water catching tray below, which is called 茶盤 (chá pán) in Chinese. This is just for cleaning the clay pot.

1 A Taiwanese tea kettle for boiling water, placed on the floor under the table.
2 The tea digger, where the right amount of tea leaves is placed.
3 Putting the leaves in the clay tea pot named 茶壺 in Chinese.
4 Using the hot water to clean the clay pot by pouring the water over it.

Step 2: Appreciating the excellent tea (鑒賞佳茗)

The tea is now in the two snifter coups and you can take them and appreciate the tea's appearance and smell, but you don't drink the tea, you pour it away.

5 Pouring the water in the clay pot and then out
6 Poured the water in again and left it inside
7 How long you brew the tea depends on your preference, for me 30secs is enough
8 Pouring the tea in the snifter cups named 聞香杯 (wén xiāng bēi) in Chinese.

Step 3: Respectfully receive the fragrant tea (敬奉香茗)

Finally you can drink the tea. The proper way is to drink the tea in three sips. Later you don't need to repeat the initial 3 steps, you just pour water in the clay tea pot and then you pour the tea into the container with the fine sieve and then in your drinking cups. That's it. And you can repeat that for hours, if you want, because the tea is really excellent.

9 The tea is poured in the snifter cups again
10 Place the drinking cups over the snifter cups, this is named 龍鳳呈祥 in Chinese.
11 Holding both cups
12 and inverting them. This is called 鯉魚翻身 in Chinese.

From left to right: A snifter cup, a drinking cup and the Jin Shuang Oolong Tea.

The name Oolong tea (烏龍茶) in Chinese means Black dragon tea. The name is given, because the leaves are darker and the way of preparing is different.

Taiwan really has some of the best teas in the world. And the people are just crazy about drinking tea. You have all kinds of teas everywhere and people buy it and drink it on the way. But sometimes it's good to take a break and enjoy some high quality tea, because it's an unforgettable experience and a moment you won't forget so fast.

How do you like your tea?

[My TAIWAN page][Links: Gongfu Tea Ceremony][All pics by MKL, 2010]


  1. This is a very very interesting & informative post. One of the reasons why I enjoy blogging is because I get to learn stuff from other bloggers' experiences. Awesome!
    3 sips, I won't forget that.
    Have a great weekend!

  2. @r u s s: Thank you. That was what I've intended. I know not everyone will read all the details, but I get many people on my blog, who google info and that's for them :)

    Have a great weekend, too :)

  3. cant believe they actually call it a kung-fu. that word is pretty sacred u know hhahah!

    did you try it yourself? if you did, then you can say you know kung fu! wooaah! hahaha...

  4. @zewt: I didn't make the tea according to the traditional ceremony, my girlfriend did :) Ah, but I heard kungfu just means skill, it's a regular word, or so I thought :)

  5. Very interesting post, thanks for sharing! ^^ what's the symbolism behind the 3 sips though?

  6. Very interesting... I am very sorry to say I haven't tried 'authentic' tea before, only iced tea which I don't think gives 'real' tea justice :(

  7. This is a great post - I love how I can learn stuff from your blog :)
    I didn't know you have to throw out the first round of tea you make. And I also didn't know you should drink tea in three sips at a time. Interesting!
    I haven't been to a traditional tea house although I would love to and learn the proper etiquette in person.
    I do drink green tea (loose tea leaves). The only thing I do differently than most others is that when the tea is steeped, I will pour 1/2-1 cupfull of tea into a tea cup and I will pour all of it back into the tea pot which is suppose to help infuse the tea or mix it up better in the pot. Then I pour the tea for drinking ;) I was taught to do that by an Asian person but I can't remember who LOL
    Awww, and what miracle are you wishing for in Taiwan? I hope it works out for you!

  8. I think that's one of the reasons the Chinese culture fascinates me. The dexterity and art (and skill) of doing things, and the way they live - relaxed and yet productive -, completely got me hooked.

    It's all about Zen I guess huh?

    Thanks for the insight you provide us with...and a smack on the head because I'm so jealous of you! ;p

  9. @Kit: No idea about the 3 sips. :)

    @Karen: Glad to see you learn something from my scribblings, hehe. Wow, never heard of the tea being poured back in the tea pot. Will ask about that, hehe.

    @Johana: Chinese culture really is fascinating. Of course I don't like every aspect of it, every culture has its good and bad sides. But I focus on the good ones and there's a lot to explore :)

  10. @Krissy: Iced tea can be good, too. But well, this kind of tea is really a special one, it's premium and you don't drink that every day, but it's great to try one time :)

  11. Everything is so interesting starting from the origin of the name... and the tea ceremony is so intriguing... is that your girlfriend??? Lovely hands!

  12. good observation!!! next you will go to china to see how they serve the tea in loooooong nose teapot... waiting for this blog from you.

  13. @Daisy: Yes, it's her hand, she has beautiful hands :) Thank you.

    @Lily Riani: I don't know, if I will go to China, but in case I do, I'll try their tea for sure :)

  14. It is a Taiwanese interesting guide.Tea looks delicious.

    I thank for your always admiring my calligraphy.
    I am glad that I was able to meet a good understanding person.

    Happy weekend.

    From the Far East.
    Best regards.

  15. The colour of the tea is about right for me, I think. 30 secs would definitely be my preference. At home, if I don't have leaf tea, (made in a pre-warmed pot, just one pouring out of hot water) the tea bag is just waved over the top of the steaming hot water in the cup, definitely not dunked. If more than a corner of the tea bag makes contact with the water, someone else will be allowed to enjoy the drink!

    Interesting pictures. The tea pots are the same style as the ones used in South America, for matte. They can be expensive to buy.

  16. Wow! So many steps in preparing tea. Do they taste any different than those brewed in the normal way?

  17. Dude I saw Japanese Tea Ceremony once and it looks super complicated with all the seat switches and everything, I can imagine the Taiwanese one might be complicated too. But it's so fascinating! Cultural orgasm explodes.

  18. here you just pic your cup and sip all up. will that qualify for a ceremony?

  19. @Ruma: You're welcome. I always learn from your blog :)

    @ZACL: Interesting. You really don't like strong teas, I see. Well, I also prefer the mild ones. I do dunk the tea bag fully, but only for like 10 seconds :)

    @Ai Shiang: Oh yes, they taste different. Quality is excellent here.

    @Envoy: You're a tough guy :)

    @Andhari: Yes, both ceremonies are complicated in their own way :)

    @Amogh: Will do :P

  20. Your post is very informtive, I'm only surprised that you don't know that "chá" is the Portuguese word for tea. You speak of other nations using the word, forgetting that in fact the Portuguese were the first western people to get in touch with China. For a further information, for example, the "so-British" 5 o'clock tea was in fact introduced in England by the Portuguese princess Catarina de Bragança, the wife of Charles II.
    Best regards.
    Dulce Rodrigues


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