Drink Magazine

What is a Fairness Cup Or a Chahai and What Its Role in Gongfu Tea?

By Dchew78 @peonyts

The Fairness Cup (公道杯)- also known as chahai (茶海) in some parts of China- is a common part of a tea lover’s inventory, especially one who practices gongfu tea.

What is a Fairness Cup and what’s the advantage of adding it to your already bludgeoning collection of tea wares?

Let’s take a look this little treasure:

Distribute Fairly

What is a Fairness Cup or a Chahai and what its role in gongfu tea?
As its name suggest, the Fairness Cup is about equality.

When you pour out from the brewing vessel, the initial portion is less concentrated than that which is poured out towards the end.

For a clear illustration, try filling a few cups of Pu-er completely, one after another. You will realize the first cup you pour out is much lighter in color and taste compared to the last cup.

When you pour into a Fairness Cup before pouring into each individual drinking cup, you essentially even out the concentration and distribute fairly.

In Chaozhou gongfu tradition, they do without this and pour in small portions among the cups and go back and forth multiple times to achieve evenness, a goal that is harder to achieve than it looks for non-seasoned practitioners.

Using a Fairness Cup solves your problem.

Decant Completely

What is a Fairness Cup or a Chahai and what its role in gongfu tea?
If you have tried brewing loose leaves tea you would probably realize that over-steeping can cause your tea to be too strong and in certain cases bitter and astringent as well.

But what if the amount of tea in your brewing vessel exceeds the volume of your serving cups on hand? It would be a waste to pour out the excess liquid wouldn’t it?

That’s where a Fairness Cup comes in handy.

You decant completely from the brewing vessel into the serving pitcher, before pouring into your drinking cups.

Even if you are brewing for one or two people, you don’t have to worry about the residual liquid over-stewing your leaves.

In fact, for a well-made Fairness Cup, you can just leave your Yixing pot on it and allow it to decant completely.

Observe the Liquor

One thing about tea appreciation is that you ought to observe the liquor, check the clarity and color of liquor.

In wine tasting, they provide a piece of white cloth so you can check the color while observing the clarity from the clear glass directly.

For numerous reasons that will be discussed in a separate post, that idea doesn’t work for tea. (Just one of the several reasons appreciating tea should not be wine-ified)

One way is to use a clear serving pitcher, so you can observe the clarity, before pouring out in an opaque, preferably white cup, so you can see the color.

Best of both worlds.

Cool the Liquid and Ready it for Consumption

What is a Fairness Cup or a Chahai and what its role in gongfu tea?
From the moment you remove the lid, the aroma of the tea permeates the entire room and you can’t wait to drink it.

Beware of the scalding hot liquid though.

The act of pouring into a separate vessel before pouring into your drinking cup cools it down faster. Give it a good sniff and generally it should be about right for drinking.

Also, if you are using small cups- which you definitely should if you are drinking oolong and Pu-er- you would realize your tea cools down pretty fast in a small vessel.

Having the Fairness Cup retains the heat better than pouring into several small cups and drinking them separately. Besides, drinking tea that has cooled is frowned upon by Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners and serious tea drinkers would usually rather pour away cold tea liquid.

Final Thoughts

Though I am always an advocate of not spending too much on tea wares at the initial stages, the Fairness Cup does merit some consideration for inclusion for those who brew gongfu style.

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