A tea ceremony is more like a ritual where culture meets degustation. It’s a specific set of processes done with the aim to unlock the maximum potential from the tea to taste it the way it was meant to be tasted. When you see someone doing a proper gongfu tea (or 工夫茶, gongfu cha) ceremony, it can all be a bit overwhelming to understand what they are doing and why or in what order. In this article, we want to have a look at the tools and utensils that are commonly used for doing gongfu tea ceremonies.
Utensils, tools, and equipment for the gongfu tea ceremony
Of course, there are many different ways to go about a tea ceremony, but knowing about the following tea tools might be a good starting point. This could be handy, especially when you’re looking to purchase utensils or already bought a set and don’t know what the tools are used for precisely.
There are two options that are dominant here for the tea vessel. One is the cháhú (茶壶) which is the teapot often made of Yixing. The other is the gaiwan (盖碗). Depending on what kind of tea you are going to brew, there might be different considerations, but ultimately it’s a matter of your personal preference.
Also known as gōngdàobēi (公道杯), the tea pitcher is used to distribute the tea evenly into the teacups. You pour from the teapot or gaiwan into the tea pitcher and then into the cups.
The zhǔshuǐqì (煮水器) is used to prepare your water. This can be as simple you need it to be or as luxurious as you want, but the primary function of this kettle is to cook water and heat it to the temperature you need for your particular type of tea.
The tea boat, alternatively known as chápán (茶盤), tea table or tea tray, is the platform on which you perform the gongfu tea ceremony. Since the ritual consists of steps in which water is poured on objects or discarded, this utensil should provide a sort of container or connect to an excess container under the table.
Pick your favorite towel for this. Just make sure it’s clean. The tea towel, or chájīn (茶巾), is used to dry up the utensils or clean up the surface of the tea boat or whatever mess might have happened accidentally. Mistakes happen, and that’s okay. Tea forgives.
The literal meaning of cháwǎn (茶碗) is tea bowl, but in English, the better translation might be teacup, even though the design resembles indeed more of a small bowl. It’s used to pour the tea into and drink from it.
The pǐnmǐngbēi (品茗杯) and the wénxiāngbēi (聞香杯) are vessels designed to help you achieve a better experience and sample the aroma and fragrance of the tea.
With the lòudŏu (漏斗), you can filter out solid particles from the tea leaves so that the drinking cups will only consist of pure liquid.
Not your regular teaspoon, though. The cháchí (茶匙) is used to transport the tea from the tea container or tea caddy to your brewing vessel.
With the xié (挾), you can safely grab the teacups and other items if they are hot or while pouring hot water on them for the cleaning and warming procedure. Don’t burn yourself, but also make sure you firmly hold the objects, so nothing falls and breaks.
Some teas, like pu’er, are pressed and don’t come ready to brew in loose leaves. Such pressed tea cakes can be “harvested” with a tea knife, or tea pick, also known as chádāo (茶刀).
Some people might want to use a timer or stopwatch if they have not yet developed a good feeling for the brew times and rely on written instructions to brew the tea. That’s okay, of course.
The tea holder, sometimes also tea lotus or cháhé (茶荷), is there for you to put the tea before you brew it. You can show it to your guests, let them smell it while you prepare the next steps of the ceremony.
The tea brush, or cháshuā (茶刷), can be used to create an even “paint” of the tea spill on the wooden surface of your tea boat. This is done to avoid spotty stains and making the color look more like a piece of art than an accidental spill.
A tea pet is a cute little companion that you can collect on travels or buy online if you find a nice one. It’s also a lovely gift to a fellow tea enthusiast. The tea pet, or cháchǒng (茶宠), is often made of clay and is supposed to bring a good fortune. They could depict animals, deities, mythical beings, or something cute. As you drink your tea, you can pour a bit of tea on top of your tea pets so that they would develop a patina over time and look even more appealing.
You don’t need all of these, but you now know what they can be used for if you encounter them. There is a specific process to follow and practice for the gongfu tea ceremony, but the most important thing here is to live, breathe, relax, and ultimately enjoy the tea. How you do that is up to you.
If you want, you can also check out the video below to see some gongfu tea ceremony utensils in action, as demonstrated by Master Wing Chi Ip, founder of LockCha.
YouTube: Traditional Gōng Fu Chá (功夫茶) Ceremony Led by Master Wing Chi Ip | SLICE