Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Gongfu Tea: Drink This, Grasshopper!

Jackie Chan in his 2010 remake of The Karate Kid uttered a classic line.  It took place after endlessly drilling Jaden Smith on hanging up his coat.  Over and over he tells him, “Take coat off…put on ground…pick up…put coat on…”  Smith’s character finally loses it and starts yelling.  Then Jackie utters the memorable line, “Gongfu found in everything.”  That’s it.  Okay, so maybe you’re weren't as inspired by those words as I was but it made me think about tea.  Of course, just about everything that doesn't make me think about food makes me think about tea.  Since I haven’t heard of Gongfu Pork Chops, I guess we have to go with tea, here.    

Those of us from places like the U.S. think of gongfu as Chinese Martial Arts:  Twirling kicks, forceful punches, boards breaking, opponents being tossed across the room, defying the laws of physics you get the idea.  But once again you’re asking the question what does all this have to do with tea?  The term gongfu, as used in China and Taiwan, really refers to any skill that is achieved through hard work and practice.  Gongfu tea doesn't have anything to do with breaking the teapot or anything like that.

Gongfu tea is a method of serving tea in Taiwan.  It is something you do to show hospitality and care for guests in your home or business.  When we bought our car and were waiting for the paperwork to be completed the salesman/dealership owner served us tea, in the gongfu way.  If you have a company that does business with Taiwanese businessmen it would help your relationship with them to learn to perform gongfu tea.  It would also help to have a high-quality Taiwanese grown tea available.  Taiwanese tea is some of the finest tea available in the world.

Probably the finest aspect of the tea culture is Gongfu Tea.  Tea Masters understand how tea is grown, when it’s best to pick, what age of plant produces the best tea, how to brew each type of tea for the best result, brewing temperatures, brewing times and how to serve tea in a way that makes people feel good, and highlights the flavor of the tea.  All of these things and much more contribute to the Gongfu tea experience.

Being relaxed is helpful in experiencing the subtle differences between the tea flavors and fragrances.  A friend who took me to a tea shop for the first time is a somewhat high-energy person, who has kind of a nervous personality.  He constantly fidgets and talks fast.  His hands have to be doing something at all times.  As we were talking about the tea, with the owner, my friend remarked that he couldn't tell the difference between the different teas we were drinking.  The owner told him, “That’s because you’re heart beats too fast, you have to learn to relax to appreciate the tea.”  That, in essence is what the gongfu tea method is supposed to do, relax you so that you can enjoy the different teas.

The conversation centers on tea.  Talk flows around the growing location, altitude and temperature variations, all of which affect the flavor of the tea.  It can also touch on processes and oven temperatures, which are contributors to the color and flavor of the tea.

In short, the gongfu experience is all about the tea and relationships.  I have found those times when I have been treated to this type of experience to be interesting, informative and relaxing.  The end result, and really this is the primary goal of gongfu is the building of relationship.  Time is taken to understand tea, but time is taken with your guest as well.  It is to show the sincerity of your care for guests and desire to build your relationship with that person.  I recently had an American friend visit me in Taiwan and I served him tea in the gongfu style.  After his return to America, he sent me a brief note saying he was craving “sincere tea.”  I guess I did it the right way.