Friday, February 01, 2008

Sung dynasty style tea

Before his book Cha Xi - Mandala was published, Teaparker suggested to us (his students) that we set up our tea sets with a particular dynasty in mind. This would make brewing tea more interesting, because it links our current tea experience with the past. In my previous post, I took my inspiration from the Tang dynasty. I didn't brew tea the way it was brewed back then, but I used colors and objects that relate to Lu Yu's time and his Cha Jing.

This time, I'm not just using a display inspired by the Sung dynasty, I'm also brewing tea in Sung dynasty fashion (or, at least, as close as possible with today's limitations).

A black fabric serves as background for my tea set. It matches the white Qingbai plates and the black Jian Yao bowls. I add a flower in a Qingbai vase to add some color and better let you imagine the fine fragrances that flow from the tea bowl.

I'm again displaying an ewer for hot water, since this accessory continued to be used during the Sung dynasty. The spout grew longer and finer during this period.

And these ewers will continue to evolve in later dynasties to become our current teapots! They started as a simple, big accessory and became the centerpiece of modern gongfu cha as they grew smaller! It's a nice paradox!

Jian Yao bowls (Tenmoku) were made in the kilns of the city of Jianyang in Fujian. The Jian Yao clay contains a lot of iron, and the glazing is very thick. This helps the bowls retain heat longer. Also, during firing, color alterations appeared on the surface of the bowl. Sung dynasty tea drinkers would love to watch these natural color patterns. Here, an example of "hare's fur" bowl.

In my setup, I'm using 1 modern Jian Yao bowl to make the tea and 3 ancient smaller Jian Yao bowls as decoration items.

The first step is to preheat the bowl.

Then, with a thin bamboo spoon, I put the grinded green tea in the center of the bowl. I'm using high grade Japanese matcha (kept in my freezer), because the Japanese are still using (and have further refined) Chinese techniques from the Sung dynasty to preserve the freshness of this kind of tea. Its green color is very vivid and strong.

In the next step, we add a little bit of water and start mixing the tea and the boiling water with a bamboo whisk. Below, you see me at an intermediate level. The water hasn't reached its max yet.

We repeat this step several times: adding water and whisking the tea and hot water to obtain a smooth mix. (In theory, water should be added 7 times). Thanks to regular and controlled whisking, small bubbles appear and cover the whole surface of the bowl. The color of the tea becomes paler.

It takes several minutes to complete the process. That means that your hand's movements will have a profound impact on the tea and its taste. In modern gongfu cha, we find this impact in the way that water is poured on the leaves. Here, the interaction is much longer and difficult to master. The same tea whisked by 2 different persons will taste very differently. This probably also explains why this tea has continued to fascinate the Japanese until today.
I now pause a little to relax my arm and admire the new light green color in my black Jian Yao bowl. Indeed, it's beautiful. It's time to drink the delicate tea froth and the rich tea soup. Smooth.

A sucessful tea doesn't just have a lot of froth, but is also well mixed below the surface. The first and the last drop of tea should taste the same. If the tea is not well whisked, then you would realize that there are still big bits of tea paste at the bottom of the bowl as you finish drinking. This actually happened to my second bowl on that day!

I'm not drinking this tea often enough to really master it. But after drinking it in this beautiful setting, I feel like drinking it much more often. My Mandala really added a new dimension to my tea!


toki said...

"...the Jian Yao clay contains a lot of iron..." And Lead also? I always have a question of the content of such glaze. I guess if you are not putting vinegar or boiling liquid in them, we should be fine....? -T

Anonymous said...


TeaMasters said...

Real Jian Yao ware doesn't contain lead. I had leadchecked the glaze of a similar bowl before. Besides, Jian Yao bowls are fired at very high temperature, but lead is mostly used when there are fragile color embelishments and the ware is then fired at low temperature. Here, the colors are obtained naturally, ie without lead. It matters, since I do put boiling water in the bowl to make this tea!

Anonymous said...

Beautiful and almost perfect froth !
In japanese chanoyu we use a fine mesh for sifting the very fine ground tea to get rid of all big lumps before making tea - this really helps.

Anonymous said...

Superbe !!
Il faut que je prenne le temps de lire l'article en anglais ... pour apprécier pleinement ce set, plutôt ce tableau que tu nous fait découvrir ! Le vert magnifique du thé apporte un très belle touche "contrastante" au noir du tissu.
Hum : ce breuvage a du être particulièrement appréciable !
Le jour où j'ai découvert ton précédent article, une amie, 1/2 h après que je l'avoir lu, m'offrait une magnifique branche de fleur de lys ... son parfum délicat entrait fortement en résonance avec ta belle présentation. Beau clin d'oeil sensoriel.

TeaMasters said...

Thanks, Fortunato also told me that before. I don't have a mesh, but I try to softly break the lumps with the back of my spoon when I see them. And I see that if I whisk well enough, there are no bits left.

Jolie coincidence. Content de te savoir en phase avec le bolg!

Anonymous said...

You've inspired me to whip up a bowl of matcha (I have some nice koicha grade that's sweet enough to eat out of the can).
I also sift because even though I've never had lumps, I find it somehow improves the flavor. I also preheat the bowl but was taught to dry it as well prior to adding the matcha (I seem to recall that this also helps to eliminate lumps and ensures a smooth serving). Would including this step interfere with your tribute to the Sung dynasty method?

Anonymous said...

Stéphane, The roasted concubine is delicious! I will order another serving soon. I hope the coming year is wonderful for you. Thank you for all that you do. Sincerely, Reid and Joanne

Radical Tapestries said...

This looks much more like Tang dynasty tea drinking. By Song they would have been using the Jun Kiln in yuzhou and already using tea pots and Gaiwan.
I'm interested to hear your take on this.

TeaMasters said...

Dear Kong Jie,

Jun bowls already exist, but there are no teapots yet. The evers that resemble teapots are only used to heat the water to be poured in the bowl with green tea powder and then whisked.
During Tang, the tea powder is put in a kind of stove that is heated over fire and there is no whisking.