Drink Magazine

Tips of the Pros: High Pouring

By Dchew78 @peonyts

One thing you might have noticed about traditional Chinese tea lovers is that some of us pour water from a height, otherwise known as gao chong (高冲) or “high pouring” for simplicity.

While in a ceremonial or tea arts performance (茶艺表演) setting, it might be viewed as purely ornamental it actually serves a purpose in helping us brew tea better.

Cools the Water Temperature

Isn’t it fun how people quibble over brewing parameters- i.e. temperature, quantity and infusion time?

To the extent you are ready to go to war over your beliefs which is almost what happens on some forums.

While it is true that it makes a whole world of difference as I have talked about before here and here, sometimes we tea addicts split hair over a “mere” 5⁰C difference.

“How can you use boiling water? Don’t you know it scalds the tea leaves?”

“Oolong needs high temperature to unleash the fragrance! Don’t you know that?”

Here is the thing- HOW you pour the water makes a difference.


Tips of the Pros: High Pouring
This is the experiment I conducted- I poured hot water into 2 gaiwan, less than a minute apart to avoid any changes in ambient temperature which may affect the results and took the temperature 10 seconds after pouring the water.

In gaiwan A, I poured water “normally”- i.e. with the kettle resting almost on the tea tray and poured along one side of the gaiwan.

Tips of the Pros: High Pouring
In gaiwan B, I poured water from shoulder height and rotated around the gaiwan in a circular manner as I poured. 悬壶高冲 (xuan hu gao chong) or “rotating pot, high pouring” (crude translation, I know) to use its proper name.

Performed 3 times, keeping all variables constant, the water temperature in gaiwan A was approximately 5-6⁰C higher than that in gaiwan B.


This glass is approximately 250 cc.

It is about 9.8 cm to my gaiwan height of circa 4.5 cm.

Tips of the Pros: High Pouring
This height emboldened me to pour from a higher distance- about forehead level- while preventing water from spluttering all about.

The result- again keeping all other variables as constant as I could- is that glass A (“normal pouring”) is approximately 9⁰C higher than glass B (high pouring).

Tips of the Pros: High Pouring
This is conducted in Singapore, tropical climate and prevailing ambient temperature when experiments were conducted is circa 28⁰C.

I wouldn’t exactly be going out on a limb if I say if the experiment is repeated in Beijing during winter- where ambient temperature hovers about 0⁰C- the differential might be even more significant since the cooler would logically reduce water temperature even further.

So I reckon arguments with someone in the far north (or far south) are counterproductive since their experience might be quite different from us near the equator and vice-versa.

Swirls the Leaves

The second reason is that high pouring swirls the leaves and causes it to come into contact with water more evenly. This in turn ensures more of the substances in tea leaves are infused completely.

Again let us compare:


Using the same nomenclature, gaiwan A & B, we performed the following comparison:

Tea leaves- Jade Oolong- 5 g each

Infusion time- 1 minute & add 10 seconds for subsequent infusions

Water temperature- 95⁰C

Gaiwan A & B are infused less than 1 minute apart to keep ambient temperature as constant as possible.

Tips of the Pros: High Pouring

Gaiwan A- brewed with "normal pouring"

Gaiwan A: “Normal pouring”

Gaiwan B: Xuan Hu Gao Chong

Tips of the Pros: High Pouring

Gaiwan B- brewed with high pouring

After 5 infusions, we compare the 2 pile of wet leaves.

For Gaiwan A, there are still leaves that have not unfurled completely whereas Gaiwan B the leaves have opened up more completely.


Glass A on the left is poured “normally” while Glass B is poured from a height.

3 grams of green tea leaves infused at 80⁰C.

Tips of the Pros: High Pouring
However, to better capture the difference, we shot it side by side.

Water was poured first into Glass A, then approximately 15 seconds later, poured into Glass B.

Despite the head start, you can see that the liquor is darker in Glass B as the water velocity allows more of the leaves to come into contact with the hot water and a more complete infusion.

Zisha Pot (Yixing)

This experiment is not repeated with a Zisha pot simply because I don’t have 2 identical Zisha pots. Unlike glass and gaiwans, the higher price makes it prohibitive for me to buy 2 at one go and there is no real reason to- among other factors I don’t want to mix up my Puer pot with my Tieguanyin pot for example, when they are too ‘young’ to be discerned by smell.

Tips of the Pros: High Pouring
However Zisha pots there is another factor to note, namely pouring onto the leaves directly.

In Chaozhou gongfucha especially, there is a step known as 纳茶 nacha where the big leaves sandwich the smaller ones. This is to avoid the smaller leaves from clogging up the spout of the pot. The segregated leaves are then poured into the pot to form what is known as a cha dan (茶胆).

If you pour water directly on it, especially from a height and hence increased velocity, your earlier efforts would be in vain, all the leaves will be scattered helter skelter.

That is not to say you don’t use xuan hu gao chong for zisha pots. Instead, try to pour on the opening of the pot, close to the edge so it doesn’t hit the cha dan directly.

The circular motion coupled with the velocity will also cause a swirling motion to the leaves but with the bigger leaves sandwiching the smaller ones, it is less likely to clog the spout.

Practice, practice, practice

It is not easy to pour from a height without hot water splashing all about, especially in a circular motion but this is part of the allure of tea- easy to pick up, hard to master.

That’s why gongfucha is about effort.

Some teas respond better to xuan hu gao chong, some may need a more direct impact during rinsing. We will talk more about it later or you might discover on your own.

Maybe this will give you more motivation to drink all you can from a type of tea than to search out all the types of teas in the world.

See more articles related to brewing tea

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