Tea can not be fully enjoyed without a nice tea set to serve it with, and this is especially important when drinking tea Gongfu style, or as part of a Chinese Gongfu Tea Ceremony. Part of the Gongfu tea ceremony is entirely about the aesthetic appearances and the display of the tea itself. Using a Gongfu tea set, you can fully experience your tea in all ways possible, delighting the senses.
Therefore it is important to not only know what a Gongfu tea set is, but what it is comprised of and how to use each tool, because drinking tea Gongfu style is as much about the appearance and enjoyment of the brewing of the tea as it is about the actual drinking of the tea.
Gongfu tea traces its roots to the Song Dynasty, then became widely popular during the subsequent Ming Dynasty, spreading to many areas of China, most especially in Fujian, Guangdong. If you would like more information on Gongfu tea, please read our article Gongfu Tea. If you are interested in Gongfu tea, but aren't sure where to begin or aren't familiar with the terminology, read on to discover what a traditional Gongfu tea set entails!
The Tea Tray: Tea trays are usually very beautiful, showing off the beauty of the tea set and displaying all of your tools in a pleasing manner. Tea trays are shallow and can be of various sizes and shapes. The function of the tea tray is to hold your tea pots and cups and can be filled with any overflow of water or water discarded in the process of brewing. Some of the more common shapes of a tea tray are square, round and fan-shaped.
The Tea Pot: Tea pots are used to brew and pour tea, and you may use a tea pot to brew your tea, or a more traditional gaiwan. There are many different tea pots available, including porcelain pots, glass tea pots, and intricately designed pots, however tea enthusiasts tend to enjoy the more traditional Yixing clay teapot or sand-fired tea pots.
The Gaiwan: The Gaiwan is used traditionally to actually brew your tea leaves in, and pour the brewed tea from when brewing tea Gongfu style. People use a gaiwan to gaze up the unfurling tea leaves and to smell the aroma of the brewing tea. Gaiwans can come in a variety of colors and styles. The gaiwan is also called the “sancai bowl”, which loosely translates into the synchronicity of man, earth and the sky as the cover of the gaiwan represents the sky, the bowl itself representing humankind, and the saucer below as earth.
The Tea Holder: The tea holder is known also as the “enjoy tea holder.” The purpose of your tea holder is to hold the dried tea leaves which will be brewed, after removing them from the canister they have been stored in. Tea holders can be made from many materials including bamboo and wood, however the most common type of tea holder is made from a simple white porcelain.
The Tea Pitcher: The tea pitcher, which is also named fair cup and cha hai, is used to hold the brewed liquor of the tea leaves which you actually brew in your gaiwan. Once your tea leaves are brewed correctly, the tea is then poured into the fair cup, which is similar to a small pitcher. The fair cup is used to hold the tea and make it the same density and taste throughout before serving the tea to your guests in the Pinming cups, hence why it is called a “fair cup”.
The Pinming Cup: Pinming cups are what you pour the brewed tea into from your fair cup to actually drink the brewed tea from, the western equivalent would be the teacup, although Pinming cups are much smaller, shallow and thin. Remember, brewing tea Gongfu style is about fully enjoying every aspect of the tea to the fullest.
The Fragrance Smelling Cup: The fragrance smelling cup is used for the purpose of smelling the aroma that remains at the bottom of the used brewed tea. The fragrance smelling cup is intended to capture the aroma and essence of the brewed tea, and is matched with the Pinming cups.
The Filter and Filter shelf: The tea filter is used to filter tea leaves after brewing so that you may pour the tea into the fair cup and Pinming cups without having tea leaves in them. The tea filter is traditionally stored on the filter shelf when it is not being utilized.
The Tea Ceremony Sets - They are Useful when Brewing Tea
Tea ceremony sets are an additional set of tools to allow you to have a Gongfu (and other) tea ceremonies. Tea ceremony sets in China are also known as Junzi Liujiantao and normally contain a tea container, a set of tea tongs, a tea funnel, tea spoon, tea scoop and a tea pin.
The Tea Scoop: Your tea scoop is a scoop used to scoop out dry tea from your tea canister to place into your tea holder.
The Tea Spoon and The Tea Funnel: Your tea spoon is a utensil used to transfer dry tea from your tea holder to your tea pot or your gaiwan.
The tea funnel is a cylindrical funnel used to direct the flow of tea into the pot, and also used to prevent the tea from overflowing. The tea funnel utensil makes it much more convenient to add tea to your tea pot.
The Tea Pin: Tea pins are small utensils which look like a needle and are used to clear any blocked tea from the spout of the tea pot if needed.
Tea Tongs: Tea tongs are beautiful utensils used in the Gongfu tea ceremony to carry cups while warming them or bringing them to others.
The Tea Container: The tea container is matched to the tea set and is made to hold your utensils such as your tea tongs, tea pin, tea funnel, tea spoon and tea scoop.
The Tea Towel: The tea towel is a small but very necessary part of the tea ceremony as it is used to clean up any spills, and water or tea stains, and is usually made from either cotton or linen cloth. Often the tea towel will match the tea set, however you may use your own cloth as a tea towel if you prefer.
These are the traditional items with which to brew Gongfu tea properly or ceremonially, and have been used to prepare and enjoy tea for hundreds of years. You can brew almost any tea in Gongfu style, however Gongfu teas such as Oolong teas are much more popular. However when you are brewing Pu-erh tea such as Puer bingcha, zhuancha, toucha and other compressed tea, you will also need to use a Pu-erh tea pin or tea knife to loosen your tea. Please read our exclusive Teavivre article on How to Loosen and Pry Pu-erh Tea for complete information on preparing Pu-erh tea for brewing.