Coloured lithograph depicting a tea plantation in Qing China: workers tread down congou tea into chests.

Congou (Chinese: 工夫紅茶; pinyin: gōngfu hóngchá) is a description of a black Chinese tea variety used by 19th-century tea importers in America and Europe. It was the base of the 19th-century English Breakfast tea blend.[1]


The etymology of the tea is the same as kung fu, from the Chinese for "skill" (工夫 gongfu),[2] via the Hokkien pronunciation kang-hu.[3] This is the same word as in the Gongfu tea ceremony (工夫茶, sometimes 功夫茶), and congou is locally drunk in this style.

The popular variety Panyang Congou (or Panyong Congou) is a corruption of Tanyang (Chinese: 坦洋; pinyin: tǎnyáng), the name of a small village in Fu'an, Fujian that popularized the style.[4] Once the most expensive style of black tea in the West, with exports to over twenty countries and a gold medal at the Panama–Pacific International Exposition in 1915, a state-owned factory established in 1958 continues to produce small amounts.[5]


The source the importers called "Cangou" was Amoy Kanghu tea, or Teochew Kanghu tea, the 'espresso' of Chinese teas (Chaozhou Gongfu cha, 潮州工夫茶 or 潮汕工夫茶), or Keemun Gongfu or Congou (祁門功夫) made with careful skill ("gongfu") to produce thin, tight strips without breaking the leaves.[6][7]


  1. ^ Daily Life in 18th-Century England - Page 238 Kirstin Olsen - 1999 "Strong types, like green "gunpowder tea" or black pekoe, were blended with hyson or "bloom tea," which were generally weaker. Congou was the most popular type; bohea, the cheapest and least fashionable, was drunk on its own mostly ..."
  2. ^ The Penny magazine of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge - Volume 9 - Page 75 Charles Knight, Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (Great Britain) - 1840 "Congou, the next in quality to Souchong, is called by the Chinese Koong-foo (" labour — assiduity"), and consists of a careful selection of the ... Thus, Canton Bohea is a mixture of the commonest Congou with the inferior tea of the province."
  3. ^ "Language Log » Kung-fu (Gongfu) Tea".
  4. ^ "Panyang Congou Reviews".
  5. ^ [bare URL PDF]
  6. ^ Shyam Narain Singh, Amarendra Narain, Purendu Kumar Socio-Economic and Political Problems of Tea Garden Workers Page 75 2006 "The smallest leaf forms orange-pekoe, the second leaf, the pekoe, the third leaf pekoe-souchong, the fourth leaf souchong and the fifth congou grade of tea."
  7. ^ Kit Boey Chow, Ione Kramer - All Teas in China - Page 179 1990 "for promotion purposes, many non-Chinese companies borrow names from Chinese teas, such as Bohea, Congou, Hyson, Souchong, Chunmee, Sowmee, Pekoe, Keemun, etc. Such labels may contain little or no tea of ..."