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Traditional Oolong Tea Ceremony

The Classic of Tea (Chinese: 茶經 or 茶经; pinyin: Chá jīng), a Chinese book written in the 8th century by Lu Yu (Chinese: traditional 陸羽, simplified 陆羽; pinyin: Lù Yǔ; 733–804), contains the first known treatise on the subject of the gongfu style tea ceremony. This style of tea consumption has remained consistently popular since the Qing dynasty, and remains one of the primary ceremonial methods of tea consumption in china.

Ancient Chinese believed drinking tea was a way of connecting one’s body and soul to nature. It was a divine process that became a formal ritual.

Chinese oolong tea culture developed to a climax during the Ming and Qing dynasties, and it was at this time that “Changzhou Gong Fu Cha,” the traditional tea ceremony for oolong tea, originated and spread across China.

Oolong tea is a special variety of Chinese tea with unique, complex character that combines the nuances of both green tea and black tea. It is generally believed the only an elaborate Changzhou Gong Fu Cha tea ceremony can fully bring out the best qualities of this tea.

Preparation

Utensils

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Utensils

-A small Yixing clay teapot (ZiSha), around 150 ml in volume.

-Small tea cups

-Aroma appreciation cups (snifter cup)

-A kettle (preferably made of clay or glass, in order to determine the temperature of the boiling water.)

-Water-catching tray

-Teaspoon

-Tea serving pitcher used to ensure the consistency of the flavor of the tea.

-Tea strainer

-Pair of tweezers for removing tea leaves

Water

Good water is key to brewing an excellent pot of oolong tea and will greatly affect the outcome. According to most tea masters, spring water or bottled water should be used. Distilled water or tap water should be avoided.

Surroundings

As a communion with nature, oolong tea ceremonies are best carried out in a quiet, beautiful environment. Soft, traditional Chinese music is usually played, and sandalwood incense is burned to give a relaxing fragrance.

Performing the Ceremony

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Burn

Before Brewing:

1. Burn incense and tranquilize the mind(焚香静气) – The first stage of Changzhou Gong Fu Cha is meant to create a peaceful environment and relax the participants by burning incense.

2. Show the guests the excellent tea leaves(叶嘉酬宾) – All of the guests will take a close look at the oolong tea leaves to appreciate the appearance and smell.

3. Boil the mountain spring with fire (火煮山泉) – Water is boiled using a kettle and then brought down to a temperature between 80 – 95°C.

The temperature of the water can be determined by timing, as well as the size and the sizzling sound made by the air bubbles in the kettle.

At 75-85°C, the bubbles formed are known as "crab eyes" and are about 3 mm in diameter. They are accompanied by loud, rapid sizzling sounds.

At 90-95°C, the bubbles, which are now around 8 mm in diameter and accompanied by less frequent sizzling sounds and a lower sizzling pitch, are dubbed "fish eyes".

When the water is boiling, neither the formation of air bubbles nor sizzling sounds occurs.

At high altitudes water boils at lower temperatures, so the above rules cannot be applied.

4. Rinse Meng Cheng’s Yixing teapot (孟臣淋漓) –Boiled water is used to wash and warm up the teapot. Meng Cheng refers to a famous teapot master.

5. The black dragon (oolong tea) enters the palace (乌龙入宫) – Oolong tea is transferred to the teapot with a wooden teaspoon. The teapot is usually filled 1/3 or 2/3 full.

6. Rinse the leaves from an elevated pot (悬壶高冲) – The teapot is placed on a water-catching tray, and hot water is poured from high above. This is to rinse the tea leaves; this infusion is not for drinking.

7. A spring wind brushes the surface (春风拂面) – Bubbles and broken tea leaves floating in the water are brushed away with the lid of the teapot.

8. Wash the immortal’s face twice (重洗仙颜) – The teapot is once again rinsed with hot water to ensure that the temperature is the same on the inside and outside. Immediately after rinsing, the water in the teapot is discarded.

9.Ruo Chen plays the melody (若琛出韵) – Tea cups will be washed with hot water at this point. Ruo Chen is a famous tea cup maker from the Qing dynasty.

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Before

Brewing:

10. Jade fluid returns to the teapot (玉液回壶) – Now it’s time to brew the first batch of oolong tea. Fresh hot water is poured into the teapot, filling it to the mouth. The tea is allowed to infuse for 1-2 minutes before it’s served, and some oolong tea masters will repeat this step several times to prepare tea for all the guests before serving anyone. These masters pour the tea from each infusion into a large tea Serving Pitcher until enough oolong tea has been brewed.

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Brewing

Serving:

11. Take a tour of the mountain and river (游山玩水) – The teapot is shaken lightly to remove the water on the bottom so it won’t flow into the tea cups.

12. Guan Gong patrols the city (关公巡城) – Tea is poured for each guest. To the Chinese, pouring the tea evenly into cups placed in a row conjures up the image of Guan Gong, a famous general from the Three Kingdoms period.

13. Han Xin calls the soldiers (韩信点兵) – The last drops are poured out in one graceful movement. This motion is likened to Han Xin, a famous Han dynasty general, ordering his soldiers to fight.

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Drinking

Drinking:

14. Three dragons support the vessel (三龙护鼎) – This phrase vividly demonstrates how a oolong tea drinker should hold his/her tea cup – hold the sides with your thumb and index finger, and use your middle finger to support the bottom.

15. Happily smell the elegant fragrance (喜闻幽香) – Before drinking, the special fragrance of oolong tea should first be appreciated. Here “aroma appreciation cups” are usually used. They are placed upside-down on the drinking cups to capture all of the smells.

16. Appreciate the three colors (鉴赏三色) – After brewing, oolong tea often exhibits slightly different colors at the top, middle, and bottom. By looking at these colors, tea experts can tell the quality of the tea.

17. Tasting the marvelous tea (初品奇茗) – Oolong tea is finally drank at this point, and the tea ceremony is approaching an end.

18. Empty the cups and express gratitude for the tea (尽杯谢茶) –

The ceremony ends with the used tea leaves being put into a clean bowl for the guests to appreciate the tea in its used form. Good etiquette dictates that the guests should make appropriate compliments regarding the choice of tea.

Cleaning up:
Cleaning up is an important step in the ritual.

Brewed tea and tea leaves should not remain in the teapot after the ritual. The pot must be cleaned up thoroughly and rinsed with hot tea.

Utensils must be sterilized with boiling water.

The teapot should be rinsed with hot tea and the outside should be rubbed and polished with a good linen cloth.

A teapot should never be rinsed with water, nor washed with detergents or soaps.

The tea pot must be allowed to dry naturally.

The utensils and serving cups should be allowed to air dry on a tea tray.