I’m at a month studying tea! I’ll probably update this as I learn more, but here’s what I know so far about the “Gongfu” style of tea making that really encapsulates what I’ve learned, and how I can now make this kind of tea at home to enrich my daily experiences. I’m about to get super busy with summer school, so I may not be able to make it to the teahouse, where I had a membership for a month. It was pretty low cost, and I was able to explore a new tea every day, and at one point three different kinds of tea in one setting (I cut myself off because apparently I had too much caffeine lol), and small samples of the teas that didn’t sound so good.
It wasn’t ever really spelled out, but my first day in the teahouse, one of the staff told me that anything you study or work hard at is Kung Fu. There’s the enjoyment of tea, but it can also be an investigation. When I’m really dedicating myself to tea, there is a mindful quality about the entire experience. It’s absolutely like meditation. You pay so much attention to the subtle processes of making the tea through measuring temperature and steeping times, and then the final process of having the actual tea! When you prepare tea this way, the cup of tea becomes something that completely transcends. Treating tea this way is so powerful, and it opened up so many possibilities for my life. I was so mindful about tea for a month, that I started examining where I could be mindful about everything in my life. Kung Fu Tea really changes your experiences, and connected me to just be more aware of the joy in my life.
From my initial research, what I really learned at the Teahouse is literally derived from the Chinese concept of gongfu tea, which can be really formal. It’s not symbolic like the Japanese tea ceremony, because it literally is just really giving tea your all. Every aspect is taken into consideration. What I learned though could be termed West Berkeley Kung Fu Tea. And to help find a way to experience this form of tea making anywhere, I’m including what ended up being my specific way of making tea anytime, for mindfulness.
The tools for making Kung Fu Tea are basic. There are five of them and they can all be assembled for around $130. I found them all over the East Bay.
To make Kung Fu Tea you can get a Bamboo Tea Service Box from Asha for $35. This is to catch the water from the steeping process if it gets spilled. It’s great and once I make the tea I can carry it anywhere in the apartment to enjoy, whether it’s at my desk, looking out a window, at the kitchen table, anywhere.
Second is the electric kettle. It was $40. The important thing was I could slide a thermometer into one of three holes on the top. The one I got was a meat thermometer from a grocery store, $22. It can go up to 220 degrees. This is what’s needed to measure exact temperatures in different kinds of teas. Sometimes the tea requires low temperature, sometimes high, and often subtle variations between these two extremes.
Next is the tea pot. There are so many kinds of pots, but this is my go to. For the Kung Fu tea expert, a clay pot might be used for one kind of tea, to seep the flavor of the tea into the chemical makeup of the pot itself. There are other teas where a glass teapot is used. Sometimes, ceramic. All have their place within the world of tea. Mine is a compact, everyday single use pot. I love it. I may not ever have the same kinds of tools tea experts use, but it’s awesome. It was $40. I got it from Far Leaves, and it’s a sturdy ceramic pot/cup scenario that is super reasonable and perfect for everyday use.
And finally, the Tea! This entire blog is about exploring tea. My recommended place to start is one that was recommended to me by the teahouse staff experts, and it was amazing. It’s my daily go-to tea. I love it. It’s from Far Leaves. Any tea could be a great place to start. I mean, who was anyone’s favorite band growing up? Did anyone stop at just that artist? For me it was Led Zeppelin. I barely listen to them anymore, though, and I listened to tons of stuff for short periods of time on Spotify. I didn’t stop there. Tea is the same way, you can focus for short periods of time, enjoy an old favorite, explore new things, and just learn! Once I heard one of the staff say to no one in particular, “Man I love learning!” I replied “It’s art and science, I love it.” He then said, “AND LEARNING”.
This is my go-to:
One more tea secret though. The recommended amount to brew tea is inaccurate. When I asked the staff how much they actually use, they told me it was more like a table spoon. It’s something probably preference could be used. Maybe more or less, but it’s not an exact thing. Honestly I think they should change their label. One teaspoon is never enough, even for a small pot.
And finally, I came up with a personal system for how many cups to drink, even when there’s a lot of steepings that could be made. For my cup, which is fairly large considering how small many of the cups are in the gongfu tradition, I make three steepings. That’s essentially the equivalent of a western mug of tea. I keep this so I don’t get too overextended and caffeinated. It’s a system that works for me.
To time my experiences with tea, I use a mindfulness application called Insight Timer, which allows you to have a set time of meditation. I normally use this for deep breathing and zen meditation, but it absolutely works for enjoying the tea. It really makes the experience fantastic.
Tea is a gateway into enjoying your experiences more. My life has transformed over the last month. If I can care this much about tea, what other things can I care about and pay attention to more? Everything. Sharing with a friend, finding solace in peaceful solitude, so many things that connect us. Even your daily work! I’m sharing all my experiences on this blog, but maybe try your own!