Tea Ceremony in China

Tea Ceremony in China

The Chinese love drinking tea. They drink tea to relieve thirst when thirsty, to sober up when drunken, to help digest after a meal, and to stay awake and fresh when staying up at night. Men of literature and writing take tea not only as a material enjoyment, but also as a spiritual pleasure. They refine the ceremony of tea drinking and are particular about water, apparatus, occasion, time, and people that are involved in tea drinking. This activity summarizes the essence of Chinese culture and implies the affection and pursuit of Chinese people.

Good tea requires good water, because only in that way can tea have good taste, so tea lovers from ancient time to the present have always taken water as a key point in tea drinking, "Water of Yangtze River and tea of Mount Mengshan top" has been said for thousands of years. The world-known tiger-running spring of Hangzhou of Zhejiang Province can best match Longjing tea. Lu Yu wrote in his The Book of Tea that "water in mountains is best, in rivers is ok, and in wells is second rate. Water is valuable for being the active water at the source of rivers. Lu Yu held that mountain water that flowed from white rock cracks was the best while spouting or dropping water usually caused diseases in peopled necks. The stale water in valleys was inedible but river water from those less inhabited sections was better because it was less polluted. Well water from the deep wells with waves was preferred, Lu Yu even divided the water of all China into 20 grades, Liu Bochu - another man of letters - chose the Nanling water of Yangtze river the best in the world and the well water from Huishan Mount of Wuxi, Jiangsu as the second best. Nanling water was situated in the vicinities of Jinshan, Jiangsu. Only the water fetched in copper bottles tied to long ropes front deep down the water from 0 a.m. to 2 a.m. and from 12 a.m. to 2 p.m. could be called Nanling water. Since it was so hard to get, the second best - Huishan Mount well water - became the coveted target of all. Chancellor Li Deyu of Tang Dynaty used his power to establish a special water-passing organization, just in order to have constant access to Huishan Mount well water, The well water would be transported all the way from Wuxi to Xi'an for his enjoyment. The Song Dynasty still held Huishan Mount well water in a high position, To keep the freshness of water during the long journey, Song people invented fresh-keeping methods like sprinkling through fine sand and impurity-ridding. In Ming Dynasty, it was common to put white stones in water to better water's quality.

Drinking apparatus are another important part of Chinese tea ceremony. Different times have different sets of tea apparatus in fashion. Lu Yu, in his The Book of Tea, recorded 24 kinds of apparatus and making methods, including wind stove for frying water, clips for dipping coal, bamboo dips for stirring water, etc. Tea apparatus can not only fully exhibit the fragrance of tea, but its visual aesthetic beauty as well. Lu Yu held. that the color of white, yellow and brown were not suitable for for apparatus because they were too similar to the color of tea. This is for the same reason why we use glass tea set to drink green tea, with a view of observing the floating and sinking of leaves in the glass.

Chinese tea ceremony also has stipulations as to the time and locations of tea drinking. Since tea tree is "good wood of the south," tea is also considered as the result of integrating the marrow of sky, earth, and nature. The hills, mist, bright moon and cool breeze bring about the special characters and appearances of tea. That's why the Chinese emphasize the harmony between humans and nature in tea drinking. Cha Shu (rough remarks on tea) of Ming Dynasty has made detailed definitions as to what time, location and environment is or is not good for tea drinking. For example, it is good to drink tea when you are in leisure time, but not so when you are busy, as you don't have time to fully appreciate it, which is a waste of good tea. It is also good to drink tea on moderately sunny or rainy days, on bridges or boats, in forests or among high and straight bamboos, in shaded pavilions surrounded by lotus, or in a little censed yard, while damp room, kitchens, public streets and places with many children playing and crying are not suitable for tea drinking. Another book Analysis of Tea also mentioned that if you cook tea at night in remote mountains, the mixture of the sound of water boiling inside and of pines whispering outside and the vague tea fragrance flowing in the room combine to create an atmosphere where both the inner world of human heart and outer world of nature are forgotten-In short, tea drinking should avoid boisterous and untidy occasions. That's why it's fit to drink tea while listening to melody but not while watching opera, because melody seems seems remote and relaxing, whereas opera is too clamorous.

Tea tastes thin and distant, embodying a spiritual state of serenity and indifference to fame and fortune, and epitomizing the Chinese social philosophy of "remaining tranquil in favor or humiliation" and "contentment brings happiness." Unlike wine drinking, which demands a lot of people to show excitement, tea drinking exactly needs to avoid excitement. Ancient people believed that it was better to involve few people when drinking tea, because as long as there was communication with nature, even drinking alone can be cheerful. Drinking tea alone accentuates spiritual comprehension and enjoyment, for content with poverty and keen on morality" is the utmost spirit of tea. Drinking tea with another accentuates fun, for to appreciate tea with good friends at night is the best illustration of the old saying - friendship between noble figures is pure like water. Drinking tea among three people accentuates taste. The Chinese character for "taste" is "品," which Is a combination of three "口," meaning mouth. It vividly symbolizes the scene of three people sitting around a stove. "One person drinking means serenity; two means goodness, three or four means fun, five or six means generality, and seven or eight means charity. The noise occasion of two many human voices will strip tea drinking of its elegant charm and vitality.

Chinese tea culture reached its height of fame and splendor in Song Dynasty, and tea ceremony also climbed to its peak at that time. From emperor and ministers to common citizens, almost everyone had the habit of drinking tea. There even appeared a "Contest of Tea" for people to compete in their skills of making tea.

Contest of tea is also known as War of Ming, which stemmed from Tang Dynasty, At that time Jianzhou of Fujian Province was a famous tea area producing tribute tea, When new leaves came out, local tea farmers would gather together to grade the leaves and compete in their tea cooking skills. Contestants, lookers-on, and evaluators were all there. It was like a major sport event, In Song Dynasty, contest of tea became popular all over the country. Even rulers and men of letters participated in it, like Su Shi and Cai Xiang, the contest between whom has been told by many. In the contest, Cai Xiang brought high-quality tea and chose the well known Huishan Mount well water. He was expected to win. But to everyone's surprise, Su Shi used water boiled in burned bamboo (a kind of Chinese traditional medicine) and won the contest at last. That has been a household for quite a while.

The contest of tea emphasized three points: tea leaves, water, and apparatus. The leaves should be picked in the same year, with Dragon & Phoenix Cake being the most precious. Spring water, rain or snow was preferred. As to apparatus, black porcelain from Jianzhou of Fujian Province was best known. The contest was pretty complex. First, warm the cups; then start boiling water which was also called "soup waiting" Song people usually used tea vase to boil water, so they could not observe the "Three Boil" process in Fu as Tang people did. They could only rely on their listening ability- Books about tea of Song Dynasty recorded the ways of differentiating water by their sound. If the water in vase sounded like cicada or insect singing, it was "First Boil." If it sounded like cars driving in a distance, it was "Second Boil." When it sounded like pines waving in the wind, "Three Boil" was achieved. Tea cakes should be first pounded to pieces and then ground, the smaller the pieces, the better. Leaf pieces should be cooked immediately after grinding without delay. Song people drank the tea water and ate the leaves, which was different from what we do today, Because of that, the water temperature became extremely important If the temperature was too low, the pieces would float on the water surface; if it was too high, they would sink to the bottom. Both of these two situations should be avoided, and people therefore said "soup waiting" was most difficult. Some claimed that water should be put aside for a while after boiling, to wait for the right temperature tor tea cooking.

Afterwards, put the triturated tea powder in cups, add little boiling water and mix them into paste. This was called "paste making. Then came the step of "Diantang" (water adding). Pour water from vase into cup. The wrist holding the vase should turn deftly while pouring, so that water would burst out like a stable water spout, which couldn't be off and on or thick at one time and thin at another but should be even and straight When the cup was about 60% full of water, stop pouring. The water spout too, had to stop suddenly without any loose drops. When "Diantang" was going on, "Jifu" (incessantly stir water with tea chopstick) was performed at the same time to produce pure white froth in the cup. While stirring, fingers were brought to move by wrist at an even speed and with even power, otherwise you couldn't attain the best effect The simultaneous performance of "Diantang'' and "Jifu" required excellent cooperation of both hands. Any carelessness or neglect might result in losing the contest. General Remarks on Tea by Emperor Huizong of Song Dynasty divided the contest into seven phases from paste making to Diantang and Jifu, each phase involving different techniques.

How did people decide the result of the contest? The first step was to observe the color of tea water and to compare the froth. Since tea cake lost its juice during the process, the tea took on a whitish color. Pure white indicated that leaves were fresh and tender and finely processed, so it was the best choice. In contrast, darkish color of the tea water suggested that the step of steaming green wasn't thoroughly done, yellowish color pointed out old leaves, and reddish color showed over-baking. All of these colors indicated low quality of tea. The evaluation of froth was even more demanding. Froth should be even, tiny and dense, like a few stars around a brilliant moon, or even taking on the shapes of birds, beasts, insects or fish. Froth was not supposed to disappear quickly, but should last a long time and stick to the sides of the cup. When froth dispersed, it left water trail on the cup wall. People then decided who won or who lost by whether the water trail appeared early or late. The later it came, the more likely it was to win. Since Song people attached so much importance to the white purity of waters color and the duration of froth, tea apparatus came to be a decisive factor in winning or losing the contest of tea. The best loved apparatus was the black-glazed rabbit-hair cup made in Jian kiln of Fujian. This cup received such a warm welcome because its oily blackness well foiled the whiteness of water, and its rabbit-hair-like veins on the inside wall kept the froth from dispersing. Also for the sake of the contest of tea, Song people took rare tea attached so much importance to the white purity of waters color and the duration of froth, tea apparatus came to be a decisive factor in winning or losing the contest of tea. The best loved apparatus was the black-glazed rabbit-hair cup made in Jian kiln of Fujian, This cup received such a warm welcome because its oily blackness well foiled the whiteness of water, and its rabbit-hair-like veins on the inside wall kept the froth from dispersing. Also for the sake of the contest of tea, Song people took rare tea trees with white leaves as a peerless treasure.

Tasting with tongue was after observing with eyes. The taste was considered better if it included four characters - fragrant, sweety heavy, and smooth. The smell was deemed better if it permeated quickly once the tea got in the cup. The winner could only be decided after a comprehensive evaluation.

With the complete substitution of loose tea for roll tea and cake tea, the once flourishing fashion of contest of tea in Song Dynasty died out, and Chinese tea ceremony took up various forms. Today, Kungfu tea, which is popular in Fujian, Guangdong, Taiwan and other places, is a representative of Chinese tea ceremony.

Kungfu means sophisticated and adept skills. Since Qing Dynasty, Kungfu tea has had its fixed formalities. The best apparatus for Kungfu tea is Kungfu tea set. The pot is as tiny as a fist, and the cup is just the size of half a table tennis ball. The apparatus are made small so that once the tea is made, you can finish it immediately, thus preserving the fresh taste of tea- The cooking-enduring oolong tea is normally cooked as Kungfu tea. Before cooking pot and cup are washed with hot water to raise their temperature. Then leaves are added to about 70% or 80% full, so that the teapot is just full after water is poured in. After that boiling water is poured in from high. This first round is not to be drunk but thrown away at once. The purpose of it is to wash tea to clear the leaves of the dust and impurities on them. Later boiling water is added again until it overflows the pot Remove the floating froth with pot lid, put on the lid, and drench the whole pot with boiling water. On the one hand, this can rid the pot of the remaining froth. On the other hand, it can raise the pot's temperature and send forth the tea fragrance quicker. In about a minute, this second round can be tasted. When you fill the cup, the pot should be held at a low height to keep the water temperature as well as prevent froth. The way of pouring Kungfu tea is very unusual. All cups are put together and the pot is moved quickly from one cup to another without stop. This is called "Guangong (a great general at the time of Three Kingdoms in Chinese history) Inspecting the City." Its aim is to make every cup of tea have the same even taste, thus showing equal respect to each person. When the pot is about empty, the remnant tea will be dropped into each cup evenly. With the last cup, the water is just over. This is called "Han Xin (a great army officer at Guangong,s time) Roll-calling Troops." The last step is to taste. First the color is observed. Second the fragrance is smelt. Last the tea is tasted. While taking, tea is retained in mouth and the tongue turns within to fully feel its profundity. After all these steps, tea is swallowed slowly, The worst thing is to wolf it all down in one mouthful, which totally spoils the mood and atmosphere.