Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Ming Dynasty Cha Xi at Taipei Story House

After several weeks of practice and rehearsals, the Cha Ren Ya Xin Association held a Ming Dynasty inspiration green tea Cha Xi at the Taipei Story House last Sunday afternoon.
This is the main table of this event. You will notice that the setup includes a grayish turquoise Cha Bu (tea cloth). There are also 3 rectangles of old brown Japanese fabric that stress the length of the table. These colors try to remain true to the subject (green tea), while conveying an antique feeling (Ming dynasty). The tea brewed at this table was a 5 year old Xihu Lung Jing.

Teaparker suggested to decorate this Cha Xi with a bamboo plant. The Ming dynasty came after the Yuan (Mongol) dynasty and was still a period of unrest in China. People would drink tea to find a sense of calm and harmony. Bamboo, a symbol of integrity and strength, had similar effects and was very popular during the Ming dynasty. (Just have a look at a bamboo forest to see if it is making your mind calm or not.)
For the other tables, we decided to use the wooden benches that were in this room. We put the teapot on a bamboo tablet with a Cha Bu in the same colors as above . The other accessories (cups, kettle, tea plate, tea jar...) were placed on this bench turned into a tea table.

Here, my friend brewed a Lung Jing from San Hsia, Taiwan, from this spring. She used a big zisha teapot to improve the taste of this tea and make it less astringent.

A quick reminder: Ming dynasty teapots were big, which explains the size of ours. Besides, loose green tea is brewed best when it has a lot of space to expand.
This friend used this big ceramic teapot to brew her (well stored) top grade 2006 Jiangsu Bi Luo Chun.

For this event, there were no seats for the guests. We changed the process: each guest kept his cup and could go to each table to try the different green teas that we brewed. We received good feedback about it: people were amazed at how different (and good) each green tea tasted and smelled.

They also found interesting that an old tasting Lungjing would be so enjoyable. It still has the full and clean taste.
For my set up, you will recognize the big duanni teapot (from the 1980s) on a bamboo tray, the Ming cup imitations and my tetsubin kettle.

Another reason we chose green tea is that it's generally meant to be drunk fresh, in the months after its spring harvest. Green tea has a cooling effect on the body, so it is also a good fit for this hot day of June.
Here are the leaves of this 2nd place competition Bi Luo Chun from San Hsia. Like the Jiangsu Bi Luo Chun, it is very hairy. The main difference is that, in China, Bi Luo Chun is dried in a pan, while they use an oven in Taiwan.

Below is my Cha Xi as it would have looked like if we had used a normal table. (Picture taken during the last practice, a few hours before the event).
But I think that we made the right decision to use the benches instead. It freed up a lot of space (in this rather small room) and allowed more interactions with the visitors. And you can that Teaparker looked quite pleased when the event finished. To thank us, he brewed an excellent Wuyi Yan Cha for all the remaining guests (see all the cups!). And after all these teas, we were all hungry for some cookies!

8 comments:

tieguanyin said...

Hello Stephane,

Thank you for sharing these wonderful pictures. The event appeared to be quite successful. Well worth all the practice :). The sharing of your tea experiences is much appreciated. The possibilites of tea look endless :)!

Have a great rest of the week!

Alex

Salsero said...

Stéphane,
Thanks for the guidance you provided at Phyll's blog about differentiating the effects of oxidation vs roasting in determining the color of tea liquor. I'm not so sure I will be able to pinpoint where the red axis and the brown axis intersect for a specific tea, but that's the closest to a hard answer I have found so far. Do the dry leaves provide more hints about oxidation and roasting? Actually, the topic seems big enough that maybe you could do a whole lesson on it someday.

This post today is lovely. Thank you. I was wondering if those coasters under your teacups are Japanese chataku. Are they metal? They really show off the cups beautifully.

Stephane said...

Salsero,

The difference between roasting and oxidation is not obvious from the dry leaves' color. The smell is a better indication. Actually, to make it clear, nothing would beat drinking the same tea with different levels of oxidation and roasting. It would be clearer than a 1000 words.
Actually, I already made this post about roasting of the same tea:
http://teamasters.blogspot.com/2007/10/wenshan-baozhong-roasting-and-aging.html
As for oxidation, you can have a look at the red teas I have presented lately and compare them with greener Oolongs.

I'm glad that you and Tieguanyin (!) liked today's post. Yes, these are metal Cha Tuo (in Chinese)/chataku under the cups. Most were lent by Teaparker. They are either old Chinese or Japanese.
We did spent time to pair the Cha Tuo with the cups, depending mostly on the size and then on the shape of the cup. Thanks for noticing!

Anonymous said...

Hi Stephane,

I would just like to point out that every time you try to imitate how tea was brewed during a specific dynasty, all you do is change the color of the table cloth, the position of the (same) tea cups, the position of the (same) tetsubin, and place some 'authentic' extraneous item on the table.

In this case it is bamboo, which you say was popular during the Ming dynasty. As bamboo is just as much an icon of China as tea itself, its presence does not lend authenticity any more than the presence of tea.

Please correct me if it is merely the spirit of a given dynasty you are trying to produce rather than using brewing methods concurrent with those of the dynasty.

Stephane said...

Hi,

Yes, you are right. This is much more about the 'spirit' (I used the word 'inspiration') of a dynasty than an exact reproduction of brewing methods. Teaparker has enough old tea accessories and he could also do that, but we felt it would be too show off and not enough practical for the normal tea drinker. So, the idea was to borrow the spirit of (here) Ming dynasty to make tea differently as usual.

For Ming dynasty, you missed a main point: the BIG teapot. Teapots were big then and it impacts the way the tea is made and tastes. The ratio of leaves to volume is low. Leaves float more freely. The brew is lighter (but still tasty). And by 'diluting' the green tea (a tea that was available back then), its cooling effect is reduced.

And since we are using a large teapot, our cups are bigger than for Chaozhou gungfu style (and different from Sung dynasty Jian Yao bowls). For instance, the cups I use are imitations of Ming dynasty cups.

As for the bamboo, you are right to point out that this plant has continued to be a Chinese symbol during Qing dynasty and nowadays. According to the link to the Met museum, the symbolic presence of bamboo on paintings is very important during Ming dynasty.

Bamboo is also present as a tea tray in our setups. The ornament of real bamboo on the main tea setup was to stress this symbol. This real bamboo brings a lively touch and closeness to nature. This is indeed the univeral spirit of Chinese tea, using a Ming dynasty symbol!

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to go more in depth on this subject.

Anonymous said...

Stephane,

I respectfully ask that you would accept my sincere apology. My previous post merely highlighted my own ignorance.

Thank you for such a thoughtful reply; I gleaned a great deal of knowledge from it!

The event looked to have been a very lovely occasion!

Stephane said...

I gladly accept your apology! Your answer already shows a great deal of character to admit your mistake. Thank you.

Actually, I think your comment helped to clarify and stress some points that were not so obvious in my post.

~ Phyll said...

I repeat my thanks for your explanation re: tea color due to oxidation and roasting. I didn't think of drawing a parallel with Hong Cha, which is exactly on target. Maybe because I rarely drink Hong Cha. :)

Good to be back.