Monday, August 04, 2008

Chaoshan style tea

Yesterday's tea party at the Taipei Story House was about Chaoshan style tea (also known as Chaozhou gung fu tea). I couldn't attend the party, but could take pictures and notes from the rehearsal with Teaparker.

Above and below are the 2 Cha Xi setups that were used to show the spirit of Chaoshan tea. This brewing style is the closest inspiration of modern gongfu cha and dates from over 200 years ago.

The important accessories of Chaoshan tea are:
- small (cups, teapot, kettle),
- a (red) Nilu for the fire and a heat resistant clay kettle (Yu Su Wei),
- a ceramic tray for the cups and/of for the teapot,
- Tea: roasted Wuyi Oolong. (Nowadays, you could also use old Taiwan Oolong or heavily roasted Luanze Oolong or Tie Guan Yin.)
This rehearsal has inspired me to make my own Chaoshan style tea (all the other pictures).
What is the spirit of Chaoshan tea?
For instance, why are the tea cups so small? The logical explanation would be the size of the teapot. Why is the teapot small? Well, the water kettle is small! Why is the kettle small? Did you see the size of the tiny Nilu? It would take hours to heat a big kettle with such a small Nilu!!!

The small size of Chaoshan accessories is very important, so please forgive me if I insisted about it with my attempt at humour in the previous paragraph. People in Chaoshan had to pay small fortunes for their Wuyi Oolongs from Fujian. These Oolongs were strongly roasted so that they would retain their flavors during the long transportation to Chaoshan. So, with tea so precious and expensive, the solution to enjoy it often was to brew it in small quantities.

For this purpose, they would use small Yixing teapots (preferably made with high quality zhuni) or locally made teapots made of Shantou red clay. This clay is very porous and is also well suited for highly roasted teas. (See also Tea Escapade's article to differentiate between Yixing and Shantou teapots).

The small cups also show that tea was not drunk to quench thirst, but to appreciate its taste and smell. In Chinese, this tasting is written '品' (pin) with 3 mouths. That's why it was a tradition to use only 3 cups to drink Chaoshan tea, independently of the number of guests. One teapot would be just right for 3 cups.

Tea was one of life's top pleasures for people in Chaoshan. Everything about it could be enjoyed: the beautiful accessories, the color in the cup, the fragrance of the brew, the initial taste, the aftertaste, the fragrance in the empty cup...

The brewing technique of Chaoshan style tea is very attentive to details. That's why they preferred to cook the water in a small Nilu. Such water improves the tea and it's easier to control the heating, the freshness of the water in a small kettle.

Chaoshan style tea continues to teach us many lessons: the quest for top quality, the enjoyment of the beauty of the setup, the attention to details, making the most out of small tea quanities... No wonder even this Chinese Lion (puppet) loves roasted Oolong!


Soïwatter said...

Voici une belle philosophie du thé, rechercher à tirer son maximum d'un thé rare et d'une petite théière... Je comprends que c'était un de leur grand plaisir.

Pour la première fois (enfin la seconde fois), tu nous parle d'une théière qui n'est pas faite en terre de Yixing. Pourtant, il doit y avoir d'autres grandes terres, d'autres grands potiers qui doivent faire des théières remarquables, non?

TeaMasters said...

Bien sûr! Mais je dirai qu'Yixing reste incontournable. Puis viendrais Shantou. Mais si l'on fait du thé frais, sans torrefaction, alors l'argent est aussi un matériau superbe!

Tomla said...

Bonjour Stéphane, pourrais-tu me procurer un petit Ni Lu comme celui sur ces photos ?
Bravo pour ces nouvelles compositions, tu nous étonneras toujours !

TeaMasters said...

Bruno, non, pas pour l'instant, mais je ne manquerai pas d'en parler si j'en trouvais un jour.

Anonymous said...

Great article! I am learning more about different brewing techniques and appreciate any information I can get my hands on.

I will add your blog to my list of Tea Blogs.

geneviève meylan said...

je craque pour la marionnette-lion !
.....les créatures "étranges et fantastiques ", féériques, décalées, hautes en couleurs,douces et mignonnes aiment le thé !....c'est réjouissant !

Soïwatter said...

Comme quoi, au pays des dragons noirs, les lions boivent du thé...

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed the posting very much.

My wife's family is Chinese, and now, after years of drinking crappy tea, I'm so obsessed with learning more and more about REAL tea. Tea leaves.

All the best,

Anonymous said...

Can you tell me more about the tecnique and the moviments of this kind of brewing? It has the same moviments of Gongfu Cha or something is different? What is the usually setting of the tea instruments on the surface where you do the brewing? Thank you very much.

TeaMasters said...

Chaoshan style is the most direct ancestor of the current gongfu cha. So, it is very similar.

The setting is usually 3 cups on a ceramic or wooden tray and 1 small teapot

Anonymous said...

I love this style very much!

Anonymous said...

These are very beautiful arrangements. I especially enjoy the empahsis on using small accessories in the spirit of savoring the tea as well as the experience.

If I may ask, how might I learn more about the nilu? It seems to be almost an essential element of brewing tea in the east but remains all but completely unkown here in the west.

By any chance do you sell them?


TeaMasters said...


Thanks for your comment. I'm looking for a nilu for my selection, but haven't found one yet.