Chinese food during Lunar New Year can be a total disaster if you go to one of the few open and therefore overcrowded restaurant (we made that mistake last Saturday evening). But when skilled and loving family members cook a variety of tasty Chinese dishes at home, then it's as good as it gets for me in Taiwan.
Si, Xiang, Wei are the 3 basic principles for food. They are the first 3 words that a Chinese cook learns. And they also apply for tea:
- Si - color: a nice presentation, matching colors... are a feast for eye. It's the first impression we have of something or someone and we all know how difficult it is to change one's first impression. See, for instance, how pleasant it is to watch the picture of this teapot.
- Xiang - smell: the second impression comes as we smell the fragrance of the food/tea. Our nose can be trained to recognize thousands of different smells. This complexity and the many connections in the brain can create wonderful sensations: it can bring back memories or transport us to exotic places within seconds.
- Wei - taste: last, but not least, the food/tea enters the mouth. Here, we hope to confirm the first two impressions. Like in love, that's when 2 become 1, when food/tea becomes part of you. How pleasant is this fusion?
The 'Si Xiang Wei' saying conveys more than just an emphasis on 3 different senses. Spoken together, it shows that there must be a balance, a harmony between these 3 pleasures. If you brew your leaves to get the most out of them in terms of flavors and taste, that's also when you would want to organize your set as beautifully as possible. It's a way to celebrate and honor these wonderful leaves. Of course, beauty is a matter of taste and everybody has a different idea of what it looks like. It can be quite simple or very elaborate. It also depends on your mood and the time you can spend brewing tea.
A beautiful tea setting is raising expectations about the tea. Only a beautiful tea will fit such an occasion. A cheap tea or even a tea bag would ruin it the same way a cheap hamburger on a silver platter still only smells and tastes like a cheap hamburger! The disappointment would just be bigger. But if you can match or exceed those high expectations, then this will make this tea even more special, more complete.
I’ve got to make some tea now. My Valentine is waiting!