Tea Cultivation and Preparation

Tea Cultivation and Preparation, engraving, 19th century, artist unknown

One tea variety popularly seen in mass market tea in the tins is “Congou”. The term is an early romanization of the Amoy ( i.e. Xiamen 廈門 ) dialect for gongfu, referring to gongfu hongcha ( Chinese: 工夫紅茶 ), the black tea subcategory. The group includes such famous names as Minhong Gongfu ( 閩紅工夫 ), Ninghong Gongfu ( 寧紅工夫 ), Dianhong Gongfu ( 滇紅工夫 ) etc. A gongfu black tea is always whole leaves, thoroughly rolled and twisted to very fine grains.

In antiquity, when all works were manual, such extensive demand on skills and labour was quite new from the other teas that those specific tea were used to produce. They therefore describe such teas required a lot of gongfu, i.e. work and dedication per se. That is why the Chinese expression of the term is 工夫 rather than the expression 功夫 ( i.e. gongfu, same pronunciation, but different characters ), the same as that for martial arts, which mean disciplined skills.

The expression Congou in the Western tea world first came about as a supreme quality black tea, and somehow through time and marketing needs, degenerated to a common grade. The use of the term is quite mixed now in mass market tea.

The term Gongfu for this tea subcategory is not to be confused with the expression Gongfu tea infusion ( 功夫茶 ), which original Chinese expression is 功夫, the same as that for martial arts, implying that proper preparation in the gongfu style requires disciplined skill and as in martial arts, speed, precision, and strength.

The term congou and gongfu hongcha appear in these articles:

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