Sunday, September 16, 2012

Enjoy Tea-time

The word Teahouse stemmed from Ming Dynasty and became common after Qing Dynasty. Except for that, there are also other names like tea building, tea mill, tea shop, tea garden, tea room, etc. It is a special location for people to drink tea, relax and have fun. It is also an epitome of two kinds of tea cultures of China, one upscale and the other folksy.

The predecessor of teahouse is tea stand. A myth novel has it that an old lady in Western Jin (265-316) sold tea in the market every day. Buyers came and went nonstop from dawn to dusk, but the lady's tea never decreased. Teahouse in its real sense was bom in Tang Dynasty and blossomed in Song Dynasty and continued developing in Ming and Qing dynasties. This developing journey of teahouse is quite similar to that of tea itself. After 1960's, teahouse almost disappeared. It met its renaissance only till the reform and opening up policy of 1978. Now in many cities of China teahouse runs neck and neck with cafes. It is an appealing place for the young and indicates a fashionable lifestyle.
During its long history of development, Chinese tea culture develops different characteristics and contains two sides of connotations—the upscale and the folksy. For the upscale side, men of letters or several close friends got together. They either cooked tea near a lovely well or on a rock, or lasted tea in a dense forest or among straight bamboos, reciting poems and verses at the same time. As to the folksy side, tea held a different meaning for common plebeians. Men of letters thought sip was the essence of tea drinking while large gulp spoiled the charm of it. However, for the plebeians tea was the best thirst reliever. The "Big Bowl Tea" in Beijing in late Ming Dynasty was a good example of the folksy culture of tea drinking. The tea stand consisted of only a table and several stools, very simple. The bowls were made of crude porcelain and leaves were cheap too. Workers after a hard day or travelers after a long trip took a rest at the stand. They would finish a big bowl of tea in one mouthful and then wiped away the tea drops in mouth end with the back of their hands. In comparison to scholars' leisurely tasting and little sips, this had its own appeal of generosity and heroism. The history of teahouse can best display the collision, merging, integration and division of the two kinds of tea culture in China.
Song Dynasty was the golden time for Chinese culture of tea, when teahouse existed everywhere in city and even carried its way to village, almost the same quantity as restaurants. To beat others, every teahouse beat its brains to attract customers. First, it put great efforts in decoration. Teahouses of Song Dynasty were almost all decorated golden, lacquered, elegant and tidy, with flowers and calligraphic works or paintings of celebrities within. Some teahouses set up shelves to put rare plants to draw customers' attention. After Qing Dynasty, with the introduction of western culture, teahouses took on some new features as well. Some luxurious western-styled teahouse also came into being. Some teahouses were situated in picturesque suburb, under a melon pavilion or bean shed, in a grape garden or near a pool. So they could meet customers' needs in different seasons. Customers could take a walk in the countryside in spring, avoid the heat in summer, watch maple leaves in autumn, and appreciate snow and plum blossoms in winter. Because of their special function, these teahouses were much welcomed. In order to gain a larger market, many teahouses even used carts and shoulder poles to take tea to the market at night. Sellers had to cry out loudly and even put flowers on head to appeal customers. Some other teahouses also functioned as hotels and bathrooms.

The primary function of teahouse was for tea drinking, so it went to great lengths to better itself in this aspect, inventing new varieties all the time. In winter, teahouse owners added cold- resisting tonics in tea. In summer, they added heat-dispelling medicines and sold sweetened bean paste, coconut wine, bittern plum water, pawpaw juice, and other beverages. The choice of tea apparatus was more and more particular too. New varieties invented by various teahouses were kept in exquisite porcelain bottles, set on red-lacquer plates, and placed in the most eye-catching spot in the teahouse, becoming a second signboard. Some teahouses used little pretty stainless steel teapots, red-day oven and charcoal fire to stew rain water, and cooked West Lake Longjing and other fame tea. Teahouses also employed professionals to take charge of cooking tea, who were called "tea doctor."

To gain customers, teahouses usually introduced some entertainments. Some teahouses hired geishas and musical band to play music or sing songs; some acted as a school and taught music fans how to play and sing; some provided chess, Chinese chess, and conundrums, functioning like an arena of intelligence. The most common was to hire storytellers to tell historical anecdotes, myths and legends, and love stories between a bright boy and a beautiful girl. Storytellers were very eloquent and their stories were vivid and real, full of humor and wit. One story could last two or three months. Storytellers always stopped at the key moment so that the audience would come the next day to follow the story. In this way many people became big fans of the storyteller and regular customers in the teahouse as well. Story listening and tea drinking had separate bills. The storyteller borrowed the teahouse's place and teahouse sold more tea because of the story, so it was a two-win situation. Audience paid storyteller for the story and storyteller paid 30% of his income to the teahouse owner. This form of tea plus story exerted big influence on Chinese literature. Early novels about knights originated from these teahouse stories. But novelists transformed oral language into written language, with some modification and rearrangement.

Teahouse also played an indelible role for opera. Some even say that "opera is an art irrigated by tea juice." Teahouse was not only a place for storyteller to show his talent, but also a stage for opera performance. At the end of 19th century, Zha Family Teahouse and Guanghe Teahouse of Beijing, Dan Gui Tea Garden and Tian Xian Tea Garden of Shanghai were well known locations for opera performance. Teahouse owner paid the troupe at first. Audience entered without tickets, only paying for the tea. Even theatres for opera alone often offered tea to audience. Some even were named as Teahouse. Opera had a special costume called “Tea Clothes," featured in blue blouse, big collar, and half length. This kind of clothes was first known as teahouse work garment, but later it became symbol of the whole working class. Most playwrights in the past loved drinking tea, of whom the famous playwright Tang Xianzu (1550-1616) of Ming Dynasty was a representative. He named his house "Jade Tea Hair and the dramatic school he started was consequently called School of Jade Tea Hall. The spirit of tea has been rooted in opera. In south China, an opera is directly named after tea as "Tea Picking Opera." telling stories through songs and dances. This opera has its earliest embryo in the folksongs and dances performed in tea picking activities.
Teahouse plays an irreplaceable role in interpersonal communication. In ancient China, people sent tea in funeral as well as in wedding. But many people were often too busy to remember certain occasions and unintentionally offended others. With teahouse, this kind of situation was avoided. Teahouses introduced the service of "order and send" to solve this problem in particular. "Order and Send" means that customers entrusted teahouse to send certain tea to certain houses on special occasions to show good wish and blessing. This is similar to today's ordering flowers for people in florist shops.

Teahouse was not always noisy. Some "Simple Tea House" was featured in its simplicity and quietness. Some teahouses set special private rooms or sanctums to satisfy customers’ different requirements. For this reason, businessmen and officials used to take teahouses as places for discussion or negotiation, and many trades and policies were decided this way. In some regions of Sichuan Province, there used to be a custom of "drink talking tea." In times of civil disputation on house, land or marriage, plebeians would not take the trouble to appeal to local authorities, but preferred to ask someone to mediate. This was called "drink talking tea." During that period, parties involved in the disputation invited prestigious and strong minded elders to mediate. Entering the teahouse, the parties first served tea to everyone present, and then stated the ins and outs of the affair and lodged their own claims. The involved parties finished, mediators (called arbitrator) sitting at the two tables near the door judged according to what they said. Generally speaking, once a decision was reached, disputing parties should unconditionally observe it. The losing party had to pay for the tea during the mediation as legal cost. "Drink talking tea" is a folk way of settling disputation. Yet once the mediation failed and disputation didn't get solved, there would be even more problems and disturbances. Therefore, at the end of Qing Dynasty and beginning of the Republic of China (early 20th century), many teahouses had notices like 'Talking tea not allowed" posted, which was a peculiar phenomenon at a peculiar historical time just like "State-affair discussion banned."

The disappearance of teahouse in ancient China was the result of developed commodity economy In Song Dynasty—the time of teahouse's prosperity, the population of capital Bianliang (today's Kaifeng of He'nan Province) reached 260,000 at one time. Afterwards, people of Nurchen nationality occupied Bianliang and Song had to transfer its capital to Lin'an (today's Hangzhou of Zhejiang Province). Lin'an was even bigger, with mongers and underlings in every avenue and alleyway and nonnative people several times more than native people. In such a big metropolis where the pace of life was so quick, a great many people didn’t have time to cook, so they bought ready-made food in nearby shops. Teahouses supplied lea-accompanying snacks for customers, so if busy, many people just had some tea and snacks or ate tea- soaked rice in teahouses, just to temporarily alleviate hunger and thirst Thus teahouses got a function of noshery, which could be considered the earliest form of Chinese fast food. When Qing Dynasty came and urbanization quickened its pace, teahouses also increased. In Beijing alone there were as many as over 30 famous teahouses, while there were above 800 in Hangzhou, big and small. In Shanghai, teahouses stood in numbers near the old Town God's Temple, forming a peculiar sight of tea market. People could bring tea to teahouses to cook and only had to pay for the water. The variety of tea-accompanying snacks was large, including local specialties like dried catsup, melon seeds, tiny plates of fruit, crisp cakes with sesame, spring roll, sugar-oil steamed bread, and so on.

Teahouse was a micro world where people of all walks gathered. In addition, teahouse didn't have a time limit, so the advantage of longtime sitting naturally made it the center of information collection and distribution. Tea doctor in a teahouse was the most informative man. Had one had anything to ask, he was the right guy to go to. A noblewoman in Song Dynasty lost her cat, so she had hundreds of pictures of the cat painted and posted in all major teahouses, like today's notice of "Lost" in newspaper. The tea-loving Chinese writer Laoshe wrote a famous play Teahouse. Based on the ups and downs of a teahouse, the play demonstrated a half-century social turbulence from 1898 to 1945, vividly depicting a picture of all kinds of people living in a troubled time. Teahouse is written in 1956. With less than 50,000 words, it covers rich social contents, covering more than 70 characters, 50 of whom have names or nicknames. These characters include figures of high positions, underdogs at the bottom of social ladder, boss and lads in teahouses, favored eunuchs, despicable pimps and scourings, entrepreneurs who believe in saving China through industry, old and new secret agents and hatchet men, storytellers, physiognomists, deserters, and kind-hearted workmen, embracing almost all levels of the society. Teahouse is divided into three scenes, each taking place at a different time. The play doesn't utilize massive historic scenes, but uses different characters' fortune to refract the vicissitude of the entire society. All activities are confined within the teahouse too, which, like a mirror, displays one by one the diverse human beings. In view of this, Laoshe took much pain to describe the teahouse, through which he delineated the peculiar teahouse culture of China. For instance, at that time people could buy snacks like "mixed meat noodle"; teahouse was not merely for tea drinking, either, but was a public place for intercommunication; customers could bring tea leaf themselves and frequenters could buy on credit; storyteller and teahouse were in an interdependent relation, and so forth.
Though teahouse reflects the two sides of tea culture, it more often than not appears as a representative of the folksy side. Though it was in high fashion for a period, it was still low and cheap in the eyes of scholars and bureaucrats. Moreover, the trend of pure tea advocated by scholars went against the general practice of teahouse's adding condiments in tea. After Ming Dynasty, with teahouse's getting more and more elegant, it was gradually accepted by scholars, and some well known tea experts resorted there. A lot of senior officials liked going to teahouse, and the idle youngsters of the Eight Banners (an establishment of army in early Qing Dynasty) took teahouse as the best place for killing time. Emperor Qianlong built a royal teahouse—"Mutual Joy Garden" —in the Garden of Perfection and Light meaning to enjoy with all civilians. In times of New Year, Mutual Joy Garden opened trade streets which resembled commercial streets of common people, with shops, restaurants, teahouses and the like on each side. Even the peddling shout was imitated quite true to life. The regal family of Qing Dynasty enjoyed folk fun here, and in this way teahouse climbed its way from public streets to palaces.

Walking in street in China today, you will find all kinds of teahouse everywhere. They either take the form of south China gardens with bridge and pool, kiosk and pavilion, meandering path and flowers, and arch and corridor, or they imitate country taverns to pursue pastoral rustic charm, or take up a modem style designed and decorated to be vigorous and fashionable. Teahouse today has become a symbol of taste and is considered as part of fashion. Entering these teahouses, you can hear melodious and relaxing music and smell distant tea fragrance. Teahouse provides chess, poker, and other entertainments. You can also order snacks or fast food when hungry. Teahouse continues to play an important role in the life of Chinese people. Nowadays Chinese teahouse is often called "Tea Art House" where ladies perform different styles of Chinese tea ceremony for customers, so teahouse serves to revive the traditional culture of China.

Elegance In Tea Cup

Men of letters in the past all had indissoluble relation with tea. Every year, when tea picking time came, they would send the newly picked leaves to their relatives or friends living far away, showing that they missed them. When men of letters gathered for a party, tea and wine were the best accompaniment for poems and couplets, tea being particularly esteemed. In the latter half of Tang Dynasty, men of letters emulated monks to hold tea parties. Also in Tang Dynasty, Purple Bamboo Shoot Tea and Sun Admiring Tea produced from Mount Guzhu were tribute tea, known far and near. In the time of tea selection every spring, local officials supervised in person, and held an annual tea party where scholars and celebrities assembled. This was a much-told story then. Tea party got even more popular in Song Dynasty, spreading all over the country. Congenial scholars took turns to hold tea parties. He who provided low-quality tea or cooked tea badly would be punished.

Tea is the object of past scholars' praise and description. In all ages there are numerous poems, paintings, and calligraphic works about tea. For scholars, tea is noble and leaves much room for reflection, embodying high morality. A dialogue between Su Shi and Sima Guang in Song Dynasty well demonstrated this. Sima Guang asked Su Shi," Tea and Chinese ink are quite opposite in nature because tea needs to be white while Chinese ink needs to be black, tea tends to be strong while Chinese ink tends to be light and tea is better new while Chinese ink is better old. How come you like them both so much?" Su Shi answered the question very cleverly.

"Tea and ink have things in common, too. Rare tea and good ink both emit nice smell and both have hard shell, so they are quite similar in virtue. They are like two men of honor. In appearance one is black and ugly while the other is white and beautiful, but they are actually equally lofty at heart." What Su Shi said was approved of by Sima Guang.

Tea embodies the moral ideal of Chinese scholars. For this reason, tea as tea gift sets has become an important way of nurturing friendship and sentiment between them. Ouyang Xiu of Song Dynasty had spent 18 years writing a book. He cherished it very much and especially asked the calligrapher Cai Xiang to write the prefatory stone inscription for him. In return for the favor, Ouyang Xiu gave Cai Xiang the most valuable Huishan well water and Dragon & Phoenix Cake, which greatly pleased Cai Xiang, for he thought this gift was "refined and unconventional."

Not only friends and acquaintances used tea to improve relationship, even strangers became best friends for their mutual fondness of tea. The famous essayist Zhang Dai (1597-1679) wrote such a story. He often heard from friends that an old man whose surname was Min was very good at cooking tea, so he went to visit him. Seeing Zhang Dai, old man Min suddenly remembered that he had forgot his walking stick, so he hurried back while Zhang Dai waited patiently. Returning with his walking stick, the old man was fairly surprised to see Zhang Dai still there. Zhang Dai told the old man his purpose and refused to leave until he drank a cup of tea cooked by him. Pleased with this, old man Min invited Zhang Dai to a special tea room and got the tea ready very soon. Already a master of tea, Zhang Dai accurately told the history of the apparatus, the leaves and the water. Old man Min was so rejoiced to meet a man so proficient in tea for the first time in 70 years that they two sympathized with each other and became close friends since then.

People like Zhang Dai—loving tea, understanding tea, and enjoying tea—are not few. One of them is the great poet Bai Juyi (772-846), who is perhaps the most mass-friendly poet in old China. Every time he finished a poem, he would read it to an old lady. If she didn't understand it, he would modify the poem until she did. Bai’s poems were highly popular among the contemporaries. Even geishas prided themselves on being able to sing his Ode on Lute. Bai Juyi was addicted to tea, often took tea with local monks during his tenure in Hangzhou and delighted therein. He had written over 20 poems on tea and even wrote biography for tea, comparing it to a noble and capable minister. Many people copied Bai's poems to trade for tea in the market. For Bai, who was devoted to tea his whole life, this must have been a big comfort.

Li Qingzhao (1084-c.l 151) of Song Dynasty is a most eminent female poet in Chinese history. She also stands for the tea-loving females. Li and her husband had a lot in common, both loving reading and tea. U was very knowledgeable and could trace the origin of a quotation to the exact row of an exact page in an exact book. She often betted with her husband and the winner got to drink tea first. Li Qingzhao won the bet more often and would laugh heartily with a tea cup in hand. But the tea often spilled out because of her laughing and she ended up drinking none, Later. Song Dynasty was threatened by ethnic groups and lost the territory in the north of Yangtze River. Li Qingzhao's husband was killed in the wartime chaos. Losing both a family and a country, Li's poems were filled with sadness and bitterness. The once pastoral life of tea, poem, and music could only come back in memory.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Interesting Tea Drinking Customs

China has a vast territory. Over the centuries, a wide variety of tea drinking methods have emerged in different regions. Traditionally, the Hakka people in Hunan, Jiangxi, Fujian and Guangdong have enjoyed "mashed tea, and the skills of tea mashing are even regarded as a yardstick of the competence of a housewife". Hakka girls who don't know how to mash tea will have a lot of trouble finding their Mr. Right.

A typical Hakka household is armed with a set of devices for masking tea: a pottery mortar, a wooden pestle, and a bamboo sieve for filtering out dregs. Tea leaves, soybeans, peanuts, can, sesames and gingers are placed in the mortar and mixed with a small amount of cool boiled water. These ingredients are then crushed with the pestle, and the bamboo sieve is used to filter out the dregs, resulting in a "mashed mixture" like syeast or fruit concentrate. The "mashed mixture" is kept in a pottery jar. A few scoops of the mixture infused in boiling water will make a cup of mashed tea which will leave a long aftertaste and lingering aroma.

Guangdong people are famous for their passion for "morning tea". Despite its name, the morning tea is not necessarily consumed in the morning. It can begin in the early morning and last until two or three o' dock in the afternoon. Teahouses typically offer a wide array of teas, such as oolong tea, green tea, black tea, and flower tea, for customers to choose from. They also provide a varied range of small dishes for the tea, such as roast pork buns, shrimp dumpling pork and mushroom dumplings, and wontons. Morning tea customers often chat with each other or read newspapers while sipping the tea and nibbling on the snacks. Morning tea occasions give people the opportunity to socialize and enjoy one another's company.

Sichuan is the birthplace of Chinese tea and the cradle of the Chinese tea culture. Streets in cities around Sichuan are lined by teahouses of every description. Sichuan people are fond of "bowl tea". Ceramic tea sets of bowls, consisting of a "tea vessel", a tea cover, and a tea bowl, is typically used. The "tea vessel" holds the tea bowl for insulation purposes. The tea cover is perhaps the greatest invention of Sichuan people in tea tasting. It serves various purposes. It can be placed on top of the tea bowl to form a tight space in which the flavor of the tea leaves can be extracted at a faster rate. It can also be used to scrape off the tea leaves floating on the top of the bowl. People who cannot wait to savor the tea can simplely pour the hot tea onto the overturned tea cover so that it will cool down faster. A customer may also place the tea cover upside down on the bowl as a gesture for the waiter to get a refill. Sichuan people believe that the water boiled by iron ware or aluminum ware may undermine the flavor of the tea, and therefore they usually boil water in copper kettle with a long nozzle. Tea is poured from the copper kettle by a skilled waiter. He just aims the nozzle of the kettle at the bowl and raises his arm, and the water will shoot into the bowl. As the water fills to the brim, he will just lower his elbow, and the water shooting will immediately stop without spilling a drop. The bowl is then covered, ready to serve.

Tibetans don't infuse tea; they decoct it with salt in the way of the people of the Tang Dynasty in Lu Yu's time. A Tibetan saying goes, "Tea without salt is as tasteless as water; a man without money is as terrible as a ghost." Tibetans not only add salt to tea; they also put other ingredients in their tea. Tibetans are particularly fond of buttered tea. Most Tibetan households keep a special bucket for preparing buttered tea. They pour water-decocted tea leaves into the bucket and add butter, salt, egg, and walnut kernels. They then vigorously press and stir the mixture with a wooden stick whose lower end is fitted with a round disc unless the tea soup and the butter are fully integrated, resulting in a buttered tea which will leave a pleasant lingering taste. Tibetans, who live in high-altitude frigid regions, drink buttered tea to fend off cold, replenish their energy and prevent chapped lips, and therefore the buttered tea is immensely popular among the Tibetans.

Tea And Marriage

In chapter 25 of Red Mansion Dream, Wang Xifeng sends Lin Daiyu two bottles of tea leaves and joked, "You've drunk the tea of our family, how come you are still not the daughter-in-law of our family?" What brought tea and marriage together? Ancient Chinese considered marriage as the origin of all ceremonies. Zhou Yi—the classic book of Confucianism-said, "sky and earth give birth to all beings, all beings give rise to couples, couples give rise to fathers and sons, fathers and sons give rise to kings and ministers, kings and ministers give rise to the order of high and low, and high and low give rise to mistakes in ceremony." Marriage is regarded as the footstone of the entire moral system, so the durability and stability of marriage has been considerably stressed, as is said in "the principle of marriage is eternity as opposed to ephemerality." From courtship to wedding, certain rules and formalities have to be observed and certain gifts have to be presented. This not only shows respect to marriage, but implies people's good wish to the future married life.
In ancient China, a boy going to a girl's family had to bring a wild goose as gift, called "goose foundation." Wild goose is migratory bird that migrates to the south in winter, so ancient people took them as “sun bird." The Chinese character for sun is called Yang. Since men belong to Yang, they expect their future wives to follow them as wild goose following sun. This obedience is called "husband sings and wife follows," suggesting a perfect domestic harmony. Besides, wild goose is loyal. It doesn't live on alone after its partner dies. People expect couples to be that loyal too and can live and die together. Later, it gets harder and harder to catch wild goose, so people substitute them with home-raised chicken, duck, and goose. With the popularization of tea, it superseded these poultries to be the best gifts for proposing. In a very long time, Chinese people planted tea trees by sowing seeds because they thought tea trees could not be transplanted for fear of dying of drying up. Ancient people expressed through tea their nice wish that their daughter would take root in her husband's family and be loyal all her life, just like a tea tree. If a woman re-married, that was "drinking the tea of two families." That woman was sure to be despised.

In Tang Dynasty, custom went so that tea was treated as betrothal gift or tea gift set. Since Song Dynasty, tea was even more closely related to wedding. Betrothal gift was also "tea gift," and to present betrothal gift was commonly called to "present tea." If a girl accepted the gift, that was "drink tea." To return the gift, fruits were usually chosen, sometimes together with tea, called "order tea." Even today, in the countryside in many parts of China, engagement is still called "accept tea" and the cash gift in engagement is called "tea cash." If both the boy and girl were willing, they appointed a time to get married. Many guests were invited to attend the wedding, during which tea, wine, music and opera were four necessary ingredients. In Qing Dynasty, the wedding ceremony developed to the systemized ceremony of "Three Tea," namely "present tea" when proposing, "settle tea" in wedding, and "join tea" on the first night of marriage. According to Lu You's Notes from Hut of Old Knowledge, in some southern regions at Lu You's time, single boys and girls got together to sing. Boys started with a song with "girls are flowers, come for tea sometimes." So tea was a good excuse for a date. In Hunan Province of mid-south China, tea was also the best tool for boys and girls to communicate. When a boy went to a girl's home on a blind date, the girl would serve him tea in person if she was satisfied with him. And the boy would accept the tea if he was also satisfied. The story didn't stop at this. Match making, blind date and bridal night were all accompanied by tea to add some fun. The custom of using tea as a matchmaker was not limited among common folks, either. It even influenced the aristocrats. When a royal man got married in Song Dynasty, he had to present 50 kilos of tea leaves as betrothal gift. The connection between tea and marriage was so intimate that it's almost "no marriage without tea." Emperor Kangxi (1654-1722) of Qing Dynasty used to send ministers to south China (south of Yangtze river) to choose wives for him. Girls there all hurried to get married to avoid the widow-like life in the imperial palace. Nevertheless, however poor they the boys were and however hurried they were, tea was by no means dispensable.

Even after marriage, tea could not be done without. It played a role of stabilizing family and promoting conjugal emotion. In Ningbo of Zhejiang Province, there was a custom of "tea of new son-in-law." When the son-in-law went to his wife's home for the first time after marriage, his parents-in-law would lavishly entertain him with many dishes. Moderate family generally presented tea two or three times, and rich family could present as many as seven or eight times. The girl's family put their expectation for the son-in-law in the tea. Local people believed that even though discords occurred between the couple, as long as the husband remembered how well his parents-in-law once treated him, he would treat his wife kindly.

Not only did people associate the planting of tea trees with loyalty, but poets of past time liked to compare tea to girls as well. Su Shi had a sentence "good tea is always like beautiful woman." Poet Chen Yuyi of Song Dynasty also wrote a sentence "your black skirt and beautiful face look familiar and camellia blooms are all around in September." Because of tea's symbolic as well as practical value in the married life of Chinese people, it has been given enormous recognition and praise. In old China, when you went to another house as a guest, you could not bring tea leaves as gift if the host had a single daughter, because that would cause misunderstanding. However, now the Chinese don't need "order of parents and words of matchmaker," but prefer free low, so this function of tea has gradually gone to oblivion.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Tea With Friends

Western people are accustomed to treating guests with coffee while Chinese people prefer tea. "Present tea as wine to a guest arriving on a cold night while water is boiling in the bamboo stove on reddening fire." Host presents a cup of fragrant tea to show his hospitality. Generally, apparatus for guests to drink tea should be dean, and the rule of "tea 50% full and wine 100% full" should be observed when serving tea. Because hot tea tastes better, and it will get cooler if the guest cannot finish a full cup of tea. When there is only 1/3 of water left in the cup, host should re-fill the cup. As tea can help people digest, it is bad for the stomach if one drinks it with an empty belly. So when treating guests with tea, host usually serves some delicious snacks as accompaniment.

Because of the differences in grade, quality and price of tea leaves, the Chinese usually keep the best leaves for good friends or honored guests. According to legend, the poet of Song Dynasty—Su Shi—once visited the chief monk of a temple. At first, the chief monk didn't know who Su Shi was and didn't take him seriously, simply asking him to sit. Talking for a while, he found out that Su Shi was not a common man, so he said "pleas take a seat" and asked his monks to "bring tea." At last he realized the man in front of him was the celebrated Sir Dong Po. The chief monk deeply regretted his not knowing better and repeated. "Please take a good seat" and ordered his men to "bring good tea." What kind of tea the host serves the guest well illustrates what kind of position the guest takes in the eyes of the host. When Mr. Nixon—the president of America—visited China in 1972, Prime Minister Zhou Enlai personally invited him to Hangzhou—the heaven on earth—to have a taste of the typical Chinese good tea—West Lake Longjing.

To treat guests with tea is not a custom confined to Han nationality. Ethnic groups do so, too. For the Bai nationality of Yunnan, the most respectful way of treating a guest is to serve "Three-Course Tea," which has a parlance of "firstly bitter, secondly sweet, and lastly aftertaste," implying the vicissitude of life. When honored guest arrives, the hospitable Bai people lead him in to sit in front of a fire. After the water boils, host takes out the special grit jar for tea making, puts it on the fire, and adds leaves into it. Host will shake the jar to evenly warm the leaves, and add boiling water later. When the water enters the heated grit jar, the steam will make an enormous thunder-like sound. So this tea is also called "Thunder-sound Tea." When the tea is ready, it is served to each guest. This is the first course-bitter tea. The first course has the color of amber and tastes bitter and acerbic, but leaves a mouthful of after fragrance, totally dispelling the journey exhaustion. Right after this the second course is presented. Based on the first course, it has brown sugar, honey, walnut powder, pine nut, and other condiments, so it is called "sweet course," tasting sweet and mellow. The last course—"aftertaste course" contains even more condiments such as ginger, Chinese prickly ash, cassia bark, sesame, peanut powder, etc., tasting peppery and hot. In the language of Bai nationality, the sound for "peppery" is the same as that of "rich," "hot,” and "intimate." The peppery and hot third course is to show that host treats the guest as relative. Meanwhile, it expresses the good wish to get rich as soon as possible. When drinking "aftertaste course," Bai people invite guests to dance. Both host and guest sing and dance together, enjoying themselves to their hearts' content. The leaves, tea cups and plates for “Three- Course Tea" are all specially made, and the decorum of serving tea involves 18 steps. Each course is served by two girls or boys, one of whom holds the plate and the other takes a "tea serving" bow to the guest first and then holds the cup with both hands to the height his or her eyebrows, to show his or her respect for the guest. Tea is not only to show welcome but refusal as well. In the world of officials in Qing Dynasty, there was a custom of 'serving tea and showing the door." When a guest came to an official's home, he was generally treated with tea. But tea drinking was different from wine drinking. Host might persuade guests to take tea, but he wouldn't raise the cup for a toast like in wine drinking. If the host didn't like the visitor, or he had urgent affairs in hand, he would raise his own cup and asked the visitor to drink, hoping that he would leave as soon as the tea was finished. The guest normally understood and took his leave, without actually drinking up the tea.

Tea Ceremonies

A Chinese proverb goes like this—the first seven things a day are firewood, rice, oil salt catsup, vinegar and tea. Tea is an indispensable part in the life of Chinese people. The first six of the seven things are used either as fuel or condiment for cooking, having something to do with feeding people. Tea is the only drink. Although it ranks last in the first seven things, it occupies a special position.

For the Chinese, tea is far more than just a kind of drink. The spirit and verve of tea is deeply branded in the national character of the Chinese people. When we look back to the developing journey of Chinese nation, we discover that, since the time of Shen Nong, every historical phase reflects the impact of tea; every ideological trend renovates the connotation of tea; every regional group has its specific understanding of tea; and every detail in life is wrapped with the thin aroma of tea. From picking, making, cooking to drinking, every step conveys profound cultural implication. The Chinese discover and make tea, and tea slowly changes the life of the Chinese.

Stemming from remote mountains, tea absorbs the essence of natural molding. Going through manual work, tea condenses human intelligence and talent. Tea, in which nature and nurture co-exist in harmony and simplicity and sophistication combine in perfection, best symbolizes the unique Chinese culture of "integration of nature and man."

Confucius—founder of Confucianism who lived more than 2.000 years ago—said, "the bygone is like this, day and night without stop," regretting that time was like flowing water, endlessly going ahead. A Chinese folk say also has it "a piece of time is like a piece of gold, but this piece of gold is not enough to buy this piece of time." Ancient Chinese accentuated the value of time and advised people to seize every chance because lost chance never came back. This is well reflected in tea picking. Time plays an essential role in tea picking. Picked several days earlier, the leaves are peerless treasures. But if puked several days later, they are no better than common. What tea-picking requires is accurate grasp of chance.

Fame teas are mostly from famous mountains. Since "water and soil in a certain place raise certain kind of people." the development of humans is closely bound up with natural environment. Northern people are generous and straightforward while southern people are reserved and mild. Tea leaves produced from different regions also take on strong local characteristics, in response to the characteristics of local people.

Lu Yu said that good tea leaves didn't rely on producing places and that making techniques and tea sets were the real key factor to decide the quality of tea leaves. Tea leaves should be deprived of their "green," like crude jade should be carved and refined. People also became tranquil and philosophical after a life of tempering. The ancients believed in "similar in nature but far apart in culture," saying that the power that shaped our personality and quality was postnatal experience and effort. Tea frying demands the right degree of heating. Tea cooking asks for the right water temperature. The Chinese stress the right degree in everything. "For those walking 100 Li (a Chinese measurement in length about 500 meters), 90 Li is only half the distance." If tea is not heated enough or water isn't hot enough, tea fragrance can't be fully exerted. "Better lack than shoddiness." "Excess is worse than inadequacy." If tea is heated too much or water is too hot the original taste of tea will be spoiled and thus affecting the taste of tea.

While cooking tea, water should be absolutely dean and apparatus should be repeatedly waited as well. This is in accordance with Confucius' theory of "three times of self-reflection a day," unremittingly striving for moral purification.

Tea ceremony, which agglomerates the marrow of Chinese culture, is not a complicated ritual but an enjoyment pleasant to both body and mind. All Chinese people, male and female, old and young, have a special affection for tea. Various kinds of tea can respond to various phases of life.

In adolescence, people are like green tea, immature and simple. They don't know much but start to understand. They are still natural and this naturalness is displayed in every movement. Although not so strong in flavor, they are pure and lovely upon careful savoring.
In youth, people are like flower tea, in their flowery years with flowery scent and flowery dreams. Countless possibilities are in store for them. Whatever we add in the tea-jasmine, sweet- scented osmanthus or rose, this cup of tea is always redolent, admirable and appealing.

In middle age, people are like black tea, salmon in color and full of aroma. They are not as dear and fresh as green tea, but they have a mature charm of their own.

In old age, people are like Pu'er Tea, the older the better. Filled with all kinds of stories, elder people minutely represent traces of age. Though dry, old and thin in appearances, they are very intense and mellow in taste, able to stand up to repeated appreciation.