Chinese Traditional Tea and the meaning of the Kung Fu tea

Chinese Traditional Tea brewed in a small teapot is called gongfu tea or Kung Fu tea. Although most people associate Kung Fu with martial arts, the terminology does not refer solely to martial arts. In Chinese culture, the word Kung Fu is used to describe anything done exceptionally well. 

Tea brewed in a small pot has the name of Kung Fu tea because Chinese Traditional Tea drinkers universally agree that this is the best way to do it. Preparing tea this way is time-consuming and requires some effort, but the results are well worth the trouble. Some people refer to it as an older person’s tea because drinking tea from a small pot is a common pastime among the Chinese pensioners who have the free time to brew their tea the best way possible. Instead of seeing this particular preparation method as a hindrance, one should look at it as a positive addition to life.

How many times have you seen someone oblivious sipping takeout coffee from a paper cup while rushing to an appointment? Does this sort of drinking experience add anything constructive to life?

Chinese refer to people like that as headless flies – the sort of people who go buzzing through life without ever noticing what is around them. In contrast, patiently sitting and waiting for tea to brew is the perfect excuse to put aside your multi-tasking and relax for a change. Because Kung Fu tea forces you to slow down and smell the roses, it is a welcome remedy to the stresses of modern life. 

Unlike the ideal Chinese teapot, a bigger Western-style pot is fantastically wasteful. It requires a large number of leaves to produce watery third-rate tea. A small pot concentrates flavor in a confined space, gives the drinker maximum control over the brewing process, and requires very few leaves. Without question, the small teapots from Yixing, Yellow River area, are the world’s finest. Although each of these vessels is precisely handcrafted by a master potter, a simple Yixing pot only costs a few dollars, considering the superb design and craftsmanship. 

Anyone who gets used to drinking tea from and Yixing pot will inevitably start to despise outsized Western teapots as wasteful and awkward behemoths. Any water and tea dribbled on the pot’s surface are quickly absorbed into the pot’s walls. The pot will eventually absorb a fair amount of tea oil and develop a shiny patina if used regularly. At that point, just adding hot water to an empty seasoned pot will yield a very weak tea produced from the accumulated oil. When choosing a teapot, utility is paramount. However, practicality does not preclude beauty as the most functional handmade Yixing teapots are almost always beautiful. It is essential to select a small pot. The body of a standard Yixing pot is about the size of a fist. When making tea for one or two people, it is best to use an even smaller pot if you are in any hurry. A miniature pot with a body about two inches in diameter gives maximum control over the leaves. When buying a pot, check its interior walls. If they are slightly rough, the pot has been done by hand, and you will know that the pot has more character than replicas. The lid must fit snugly in the teapot. A good teapot feels comfortable and well balanced when pouring even water. The liquid must exit the spout in a smooth arc without any dribbling. Not every teapot pours well, and few things in life are more exasperating than a teapot that dribbles.

Dr. Rhea Du

Dr. Rhea Du

International Shaolin Cultural Exchange Ambassador of Shaolin Temple Yunnan