How to Drink Tea the Gong Fu Way, at Wai’s Tea House in Atlanta

Gong Fu Tea at Wai's Tea House in Atlanta, GA

Special thanks to Ari Fenimore (@teamogul) for the introduction to Sifu Wayne Belonoha, owner of Wai’s Tea House in Atlanta, and head instructor of Wai’s Kung Fu martial arts school. “Sifu” (pronounced “see-foo” or “she-foo”) means “teacher,” and we were eager students at Sifu Wayne’s tea table, where he served a traditional 21-step Gong Fu Cha (tea). Thank you for having us, Sifu Wayne!

teasets at Gong Fu Tea at Wai's Tea House in Atlanta, GA
We dare you to visit here and not find something you need to take home. A variety of teapots, teacups, tea tables, glass tea bottles with infusers and imported teas are displayed in the front.
teapots at Gong Fu Tea at Wai's Tea House in Atlanta, GA
A beautiful array of teapots. The famous Yixing (“Yee-shing”) clay teapots, because they are unglazed, become seasoned by absorbing the essential oils of the tea leaves, and so each Yixing teapot in your collection is dedicated to serving a particular tea. Wai’s Tea House also sells renowned, handmade Jian Zhan teasets (pictured at the top of this photo). BONUS for folks who come for a tea tasting: Sifu Wayne will invite you to select your Jian Zhan teacup for the tasting, which you may take home for $20. More about these later.
jade tea room at Gong Fu Tea at Wai's Tea House in Atlanta, GA
In the Jade Room, Wai’s Tea House features an imported 900-pound jade tea table.
moon door and Sifu Wayne at Gong Fu Tea at Wai's Tea House in Atlanta, GA
A moon door leads to the Bamboo Tea Room where Sifu Wayne will host us. Hello Valerie of The Cheeky Teacup!

Gong Fu vs. Western Brewing Methods

The biggest takeaway for Destination Tea readers is that the Chinese method of brewing tea uses four times the amount of tea leaves as the Western method (see our math below). This obviously creates a much stronger brew. How will your experience of the tea be different in the Gong Fu style?

Gong Fu vs. Western brewing tea to water ratio
  1. Tea leaves are steeped for seconds, not minutes, preventing an astringent brew.
  2. The first brew is discarded, thought of as a rinsing of the leaves, so that the first tea served is made with leaves that have begun opening, imparting maximum flavor.
  3. Tea leaves are always steeped free-floating in the vessel, so that they may completely open and infuse full flavor into each brew.
  4. Tea leaves are resteeped an average of 5 to 10 times, each brew slightly different but still flavorful.
  5. Smaller tea cups are constantly refilled with hot tea so there’s no need to keep a teapot warm, but there is a repeated need for freshly boiled water for resteeps throughout the teatime.
  6. Sugar and milk are nowhere to be found, as we are appreciating the delicious essence of the pure tea.
bamboo tea room at Gong Fu Tea at Wai's Tea House in Atlanta, GA
Welcome to the Bamboo Tea Room, which features a stunning camphor tree root wood table. Also imported, this table (and throne) were made from a root taken from the river and carved as a collaboration between a feng shui master, a tea master and a master wood carver.
imported root tea table at Gong Fu Tea at Wai's Tea House in Atlanta, GA
Part of the wonder is taking in all the things happening on this tea table: water boiling station, teaset, tea pets, fountain. Ready to get started!
fish carved into the tea table at Gong Fu Tea at Wai's Tea House in Atlanta, GA
Appreciating the beautiful craftsmanship of this carved table
Sifu Wayne at Gong Fu Tea at Wai's Tea House in Atlanta, GA

As he prepares and serves tea, Sifu Wayne patiently answers our barrage of questions. He explains that “gong fu” is a uniquely Chinese word that refers to any “artful skill developed through patient investment.” Regarding tea preparation, it indicates that “special effort and dedication is made by your host to maximize the taste, aroma and appearance” of the tea served. But here’s the best part:

Gong fu tea is used to self-cultivate, meditate and provide an experience that heals a special guest’s body and mind.”

– Wai’s Tea House, Atlanta

When you watch the quick tutorial on Gong Fu tea preparation below (thank you Jesse’s Teahouse), you’ll see that experiencing Gong Fu Cha at Wai’s Tea House adds a level of beauty and ceremony to the tasting.


Replying to @trisite haven’t made a how-to video in a while, enjoy! #tea #chinese #asian #gongfutea #jessesteahouse #gongfucha #teaset

♬ Chill Vibes – Tollan Kim

Gong Fu Tea at Wai’s Tea House

Sifu Wayne hosts tea tastings from 8 am to 10 pm daily, 15 minutes to 1-hour+ duration, priced from $15 to $60 per person, walk-ins and reservations welcome.


#gongfucha at Wai’s Tea House in Atlanta. The best way to experience and learn about #goodtea Check out our write-up on how Gong Fu steeping uses four times more tea leaves than Western methods, and join the brainstorming for how best to serve excellent tea at an #afternoontea #tea #tealovers #teahouse #chinesetea #atlfoodies #gongfu #jianzhan #jianzhanteacup

♬ Asian Music-Chinese tea – DN.FACTORY

We spent about two hours at the tea table, trying multiple infusions of a buttery oolong and a rock tea puerh (“poo-ahr”), which I had to take home. During our time together, he described the different processing methods that create the various tea varieties. He taught us how to “give face” to others and show your own humility throughout the tea tasting, using the secret language of tea table etiquette. He introduced us to the special properties of Jian Zhan teacups, handmade from high-iron clay, each one uniquely glazed. Their high-iron content and firing at a high temperature make these teacups retain your tea’s warmth longer, and can smooth the texture and sweeten the taste of your tea.

On the martial arts side of the house, a Wing Chun Sword Experience is offered, reminding us that Sifu Wayne began his tea education while living in China for kung fu training.

Can We Ever Steep the Same Again?

We cannot ignore the beautiful and changing tastes of our teas at Wai’s Tea House, as we sampled infusion after infusion of the very same tea leaves. The Western method of brewing a much smaller amount of tea leaves in a big teapot clearly does not deliver the full flavor profile of the tea. Likely, this method was originally developed in non-tea-producing countries because imported teas from China were so expensive. You know, trying to make a little go a long way. Then they added milk and sugar to improve the taste. Anyone having tasted a Gong Fu Cha (tea) knows how delicious a quality tea is, without these condiments.

brewing tea the Western way with milk

However, at afternoon tea, the serving custom is different. A hostess prepares the three courses of food and aims to serve these with a hot pot of tea upon guests’ arrival. Then it’s time to luxuriate and enjoy the meal and conversation. She does not continually resteep tea throughout the afternoon. Tea cosies and teapot warmers are used to keep beautiful teapots warm. Larger bone china teacups, though delicate and lovely in their design, hold more tea than Gong Fu tasting cups, allowing tea to begin to cool before a guest can empty her cup.

The Gong Fu style of brewing is very doable for oneself at home. Though you may go through your tea supply more quickly using the Gong Fu tea to water ratio, also consider that you can resteep that loose leaf tea all day long, rather than going through 2 or 3 teabags every day.

But what about at a traditional afternoon tea? We might just splurge on the larger quantity of good tea so that our guests get the full pleasure of the tea brewed with the Gong Fu tea to water ratio. To get your money’s worth, you could steep and decant three or four infusions ahead of time (remember to toss the first one, which is only meant to bloom the tea leaves, not to drink). Then just keep the brewed tea to temperature on warmers or on the stove, and you have multiple pots of a rich brew ready to serve. You could take your remaining tea leaves and cold brew them overnight to get even more delicious tea from your purchase. How would you do it, to make excellent tea a feature of your afternoon tea experience?

tea is your body's engine oil
Tea Voyageuse, discovering the world of afternoon tea, based in Atlanta, Georgia.

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