Essential Teaware for Gong Fu Cha: Part 3 - The teacup
For gong fu cha, everything is on a smaller scale. The cups are smaller as well and for good reason. The cup can usually hold between three to seven sips of tea. There are ultra small cups that are more like one sippers and there are bigger ones that are about seven sips. But usually about three to five sips per cup is normal. I usually prefer three to seven sippers, but it depends on the type of tea and the setting. One awesome thing about this size is that you can serve or receive extremely hot tea. Because the volume of liquid is small, in just a few moments, the tea is an ideal temperature for sipping. One tea expert said, “Drinking tea from a large mug is not great. The tea starts out very hot and by the time you finish drinking it, it is cool. From a Chinese medicine perspective, this is not ideal.” One thing I can tell you is that by using the small cups, you can drink a lot of tea in a pretty short amount of time. I know that might not sound very zen and slightly counterintuitive, but we’ve tested the theory here at the tea house and that is what we have found to be true.
Now here is another thing about these little cups. There is a huge difference in price between the less expensive ones and the expensive ones. It took me a number of years to discover the expensive ones, and when I did, I wasn’t about to spend my money on them. I devoted the majority of my tea budget to some very nice teapots and high quality tea. What could be more important than this? The cups, well, you can drink out of almost anything and it is about the same. But then I got spoiled. A tea master made some tea from me and had me try the tea from two different cups. One “normal” cup and a “high quality” cup. Dang! From that moment, I was ruined. The “high quality” cup had a thick bottom and a thin top. The weight was substantial, yet comfortable. The rim felt very comfortable on the lips. And it had a slight curve in just the right place, so as to deliver the tea so smoothly. The overall sipping experience was better by an order of magnitude. And as I spent time with my new cup, I really found the value in it. Not only did it elevate the tea drinking experience, I saw just how important it is. Let’s say that for each infusion from the pot you get five cups of tea. And then let’s say for each cup you get three sips. So that means for each infusion you are lifting the cup to your mouth fifteen times. There is also the degree of intimacy. Raising a cup to your lips is much more intimate than pouring from a teapot. And the way the high quality porcelain feels is so nice.
The cups are an essential part of gong fu brewing because, not only do they facilitate the sipping, they help you share your favorite teas with your friends and family. There is something so special about brewing infusion after infusion and sharing each one with a small group of people that you care about. It is a cool way to indoctrinate people into the gong fu cha experience. Sharing tea in this way facilitates conversation and brings people together.