When we brew gong fu cha, there is a lot happening at once, though it is the job of the brewer to make it seem as though almost nothing is happening, or that just one thing is happening. When the tea is brewing you are going to pour it into the pot, you need a place to pour it your tea broth into, a receptacle. You might say, pour it into the cups, and you are not wrong. But the tool I am suggesting to you as the fourth essential Gong Fu Cha tea tool is the Gong Dao Bei, or the sharing pitcher. Sometimes it's referred to as the fairness sharing pitcher. It is a useful tool indeed.
First, there are some challenges when you are pouring from the small gong fu pot directly into the small cups. If you were to fill the cups one after the other, the first cup that you filled will be a different color and strength than the last cup you filled. That is because the tea is actually still brewing in the pot, increasing in strength, until the very last drop is poured from the pot. How would you decide about who got what shade of tea? And in a world of tea exploration where the tasting of tea is seen as one of the essential aspects of the tea brewing process, how would we know which hue is best? In the presentation and serving of the tea, this would be considered less than appropriate. How would you decide who got what? So when you pour the entire infusion into the sharing pitcher, it creates a consistent color and strength. Then when you fill the cups everyone gets the same tea in color, consistency, and flavor.
So the difficult aspect here is first to know how many cups are the right amount of cups that the pot will need. So if it is six, then you will have the right set up if you have five guests. Then six of you can drink tea together. To fill the cups you can put them in a row or in a circle, touching or spaced apart. Fill the first cup ⅙ full, the second cup 2/6 full, the third cup 3/6 full, and so on… the sixth cup is filled and the you reverse the order, putting the last sixth in the fifth cup, all the way down to ⅚ into the first cup. I was once told that to master this, you had to practice pouring into six cups for a couple hours every day for three months. To which I replied, “great, I’ll pour for twenty minutes per day for a year.” To which I was informed, this would not work.
And then the part that has baffled me is the part of getting the cups back. People in these parts are not used to drinking tea in this way, so when you give them the little cup of tea, they really are not sure what to do with it and usually become a bit self conscious, almost wanting to hide the cup away. This will not do. The brewer needs the cup to be returned or else they will not be able to continue. If there is no gong dao bei, there is nowhere to put the, now extra, tea.
And though the venerable tea master He Lao will not allow a gong dao bei in his “yi bao wan” 1,000,000 nt cash prize gong fu cha competition, they are an essential part of the gong fu cha process, practical if nothing else. Many tea hosts that are tea masters use them. He Lao may have already decided on the gong fu cha rules for his competition, he still doesn’t have the cash prize. So if you know anyone that would be willing to donate roughly $40,000 to make an old tea master’s dream come true, please send them my way, so we can facilitate a tea brewing competition of epic proportions.