I recently realized that I’ve never done a proper side by side comparison of gong fu brewing vs western brewing. There’s no better time than the present. I used a tieguanyin gift tea that I have a good amount of and used the brewing parameters from the Mei Leaf website for ball rolled oolongs to see what the difference was between the two brewing methods.
I used boiling filtered tap water for both styles. 25 seconds plus 5 for gong fu and two minutes plus 30 seconds additional for western. 6 grams for gong fu and 1 gram for western. Each infusion was 100 ml of water.
You can see right away there is a big difference in the color of the liquor. The gong fu is a more deep yellow where the western is more pale and light. I will say these didn’t change much throughout the session so I will just note the general differences between the two.
The western brew was not bad by itself. The texture was thin and the body was there but it was just lacking depth. It didn’t have any punch to it.
The gong fu on the other hand, packed a very thick and almost meaty punch. It was a gut punch of tea goodness compared to the western brew. The floral aroma was definitely more pronounced in the gong fu brew as well.
If you had given me the western brew tea a year ago, I would not have thought it needed or lacked anything. It is an acceptable tea on its own. But now that I have been brewing gong fu for almost a year, I like to think I could notice the weak body on this tea. (maybe that’s true, maybe it isn’t). I definitely noticed while doing this side by side comparison, though.
As the above pictures show, the western brew did not last past three infusions. The 4th infusion tasted like hot water with a subtle hint of tea, so I called it done for after three infusions.
The gong fu, however, was still going strong and had a lot more to give. I went to 8 infusions with it and it could have gone more, but I couldn’t go any more. That was 1,200 ml of tea for me and I had to call it a night!
I think the gong fu tea had more body, more texture, a stronger aroma, a stronger punch and was just overall better. That being said, the western wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t a good as it could be.
Gong fu roughly translates to with great care and effort, and that is what’s required to get the most out of tea leaves. It takes a lot of time and practice to learn, and you never stop learning for that matter. I have a whole heck of a lot to learn about tea and I hope I never stop doing so. Western brewing is a lot easier and requires very little effort. If you are doing something else that requires your attention (like work) and you just want to have some tea to drink, then by all means, brew up some tea western style and sip on it while you work (That’s what I do at work). But if you have time and really want to explore everything that tea has to offer, please do try to brew gong fu style.
Now, for the price difference between the two methods. This particular tea was a gift, so I don’t know the price, but let’s use the price of the last tieguanyin I had. That tea was $.15 a gram. Gong fu was 6 grams, so $.90 per session. Western was 1 gram so $.15 per session. You can get at least 9 infusions gong fu style and only 3 western style. That makes the gong fu tea $.10 a cup and the western tea $.05 a cup. The gong fu is double the price. Is it worth it? If you really want to take time to learn and get the most out of it, then yes absolutely it is. $.10 a cup is still a great price for good tea!
If you have done a similar experiment with a different tea, please let me know about it. Experiments are a great way to learn about tea, and if you can use someone else’s experiment, then all the better. Cheers!
The Mei Leaf brewing guide can be found here.