The “Gongfu” of Thermos Tea

Dear Readers,

  For about a month now, I’ve been planning on writing a “how to” for brewing Gongfu Cha in the traditional method, using a Yixing teapot. I promise that this will happen, and SOON! For now, however, I feel inclined to discuss how most of China brews it’s tea… In a thermos!

In modern China, a busy working life leaves little free time to enjoy the traditional approaches to tea. Really, only a small (though growing) percentage of Chinese brew their tea using a Yixing teapot. More commonly used is the porcelain “Gaiwan” (literally “lidded bowl”), and even more common is just a plain old jar. However, there are many more who just opt to put their tea leaves straight into a thermos and carry their hot beverage wherever they go. Traditional? No? Effective?… Well, that’s where one’s Gongfu Cha skills come handy.

A good friend and tea buddy of mine, Ben, has been a long time advocate for thermos tea. Whenever he and I wander the fair city of San Francisco, we often opt to bring his old thermos filled with Pu-erh and piping-hot water. I’ve asked him on several occasions if he believes that this method of tea brewing is in anyway a form of Gongfu Cha. His most common reply is, “Indeed it is… So long as you know what you are doing and you know what flavors to expect, it’s pretty much still Gongfu Cha.”

Having known Ben for years, I can vouch for his tea-making skills, and when it comes to his thermos tea brewing it is no different. The key to Ben’s success was that he had dedicated his thermos (or thermoses) to a specific tea. On the particularly foggy San Francisco day we spent sitting at the Chinese pavilion out on Stowe Lake, Ben brought along his trusty Stanley thermos filled with an aged Pu-erh. There was nothing fancy about it… A simple tea can sometimes be the simplest of pleasure… But since he had been brewing the same type of tea in this particular vessel, the flavor it produced was sublime. The tea brewed strong. The mouthfeel was thick and intense. The combined woody and earthy flavors of the tea were surprisingly well-balanced. Although little effort was put into brewing this tea, the mindfullness involved and the use of a well-seasoned thermos for a modest Pu-erh was an ideal combination. Even in all it’s modernity casualness, this was still akin to traditional Gongfu Cha!

Read next time when I begin an ongoing series of post that will detail the how-to’s of using Yixing teaware. As always, I look forward to hearing your comments and learning more about your experiences with tea. I’d be particularly interested in learning about anyone else who makes thermos tea and what they have learned from it!

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