Appreciator of Tea, Lover of Life




茶 (chá) is a drink worthy of appreciation; tea drinking, therefore, is an art. In France, the pastime is known as tea ceremony 茶仪式 (chá yí shì ). In China it is known both as tea ceremony 茶道 (chá dào) and tea art, 茶艺 (chá yì). Despite these formal appellations, Chinese tea drinkers treat both tea art 茶艺 (chá yì) and tea ceremony 茶道 (chá dào) simply as modes of tea appreciation.

For Chinese people, the so-called tea ceremony 茶道 (chá dào) is not a rigid ritual but a form of relaxation 放松 (fàng sōng). It is a way of savoring life 品味人生 (pǐn wèi rén shēng).

Tea drinking has its roots in ancient China. Lu Yu (733-804) was a celebrated tea connoisseur popularly known as the Tea Saint 茶圣 (chá shèng) in the Tang Dynasty (618-907). He is often portrayed in literary works as a long-robed scholar leisurely sipping tea. The book he wrote on tea 茶经 (Chá Jīng) specifies the types of water and tea set 茶具 (chá jù) for optimum appreciation, as well as the best methods of boiling water 煮水 (zhǔ shuǐ) and of brewing tea 泡茶 (pào chá) – the two most important aspects of tea art 茶艺 (chá yì).

Westerners in the habit of brewing up with tea bags balk at the comparatively complicated tea-drinking ritual in China. It entails several tea-making utensils, namely the tea pot 茶壶 (chá hú), tureen 盖碗杯 (gài wǎn bēi) and big bowl 大碗 (dà wǎn) as featured in Lao She’s drama Teahouse. Convinced that materials used in the manufacture of these utensils affect the taste of tea served in them, the Chinese invented the porcelain pot 瓷壶 (cí hú) and purple clay pot 紫砂壶 (zǐ shā hú). The steel pot that French people often use is uncommon in China, although often used in neighboring Japan to brew tea dust.

In Chinese teahouses you may see tea masters serving tea on a table 茶几 (chá jī) or tea tray made of tree roots. This type of carved wooden furniture, known as the sea of tea 茶海 (chá hǎi), adds an aesthetic touch to the brewing and serving of tea. Warming both cups and tea pot is also prerequisite to enjoyment of tea aroma.

The sea of tea 茶海 (chá hǎi) carries tea utensils 茶具 (chá jù) such as tea cups 茶杯 (chá bēi) or smaller vessels 茶盅 (chá zhōng), and sometimes an auspicious ceramic toy 茶宠 (chá chǒng) that is sprinkled with surplus tea water.

Now that the tea cups and utensils are ready, you can make the tea. For maximum appreciation, it is best to relax 静下心来 (jìng xià xīn lái) as you imbibe. The light conversation 闲谈 (xián tán) while drinking the cup that cheers in China contrasts with discussions in France aimed at putting the world to rights. From the Chinese perspective, tea is a symbol of nature. Talking while drinking tea is hence a way of enhancing harmony between man and nature and not a time for discussing serious topics. The Chinese idiom 清和淡雅 (qīng hé dàn yǎ) defines the ideally tranquil atmosphere of elegant relaxation while drinking tea.

Such an ambience is considered essential for true tea appreciation. You first observe the color 茶色 (chá sè), sometimes transparent, sometimes green like a creek in autumn. You next savor the aroma 闻香 (wén xiāng) reminiscent of freshly mown grass. Only then do you taste the tea 品茶 (pǐn chá). The Chinese character 品 comprises three 口 (kǒu) – mouth. A cup of tea should indeed be imbibed and appreciated in three sips. 品 (pǐn) also appears in the phrase 品味人生 (pǐn wèi rén shēng), savoring life, in the sense of a life gourmet. The last stage of the tea drinking ritual is still to come. The sweet aroma that enters the throat as an aftertaste 回味 (huí wèi) is the pinnacle of tea drinking pleasure.

Drinking liquor while eating is also common in China, but if you find the local spirit too heady it is permissible to drink tea instead 以茶代酒 (yǐ chá dài jiǔ). As drinking tea is infinitely more elegant than swigging liquor, no host would deny you your fill of this beloved beverage.