Friday, November 05, 2021

Tea in the Dream of the red Chamber

Spring 2018 roasted Wenshan Baozhong
My tea master, Teaparker, has a new tea book. This one deals with tea in the classic 'Dream of the red Chamber' by Cao Xueqin. It aims at clarifying what the author really meant when he wrote about tea and tea ware in this book, because most scholars got the explanations wrong (which is understandable, because they are experts for literature, not for tea). 

I will discuss about the novel and some of the clarifications in this week's tea class. I'm almost through reading the novel and, while long, it gives a very realistic glimpse of Chinese life in a wealthy Chinese family some 300 years ago. 
The story is well written, because the author's family used to be extremely rich and well connected to emperor Kangxi. And it fell in disgrace when Yongzhen came to power. The end of the novel reads like the end of a Godfather movie. The characters that lived and prospered for so many page die or are banned one after another! The downfall of this family shows that good fortune doesn't last and that it's important to cherish the good times while they last...
To celebrate Teaparker's book on the right, I have made a Chaxi with the original novel in Chinese on the left and the French translation in the middle. My tea is this roasted Wenshan Baozhong. Since the novel is a dream where half of it is invented and half of it is autobiographical, the idea behind the roasted Wenshan Baozhong was to brew something that is not entirely accurate (Wenshan Baozhong is just 160 years old and not 300), but its process is very similar to that of WuYi Yan Cha (and the author mentions the grandmother Jia drinking a Yan Cha).  
Another reason for choosing a roasted Baozhong is the aftertaste. This sweet lingering on the palate feels like the novel: something refined, pleasurable and that gives a lasting impression. Like all great books, the story doesn't really leave you unharmed. You feel the pleasures and pains of the characters. You understand their distress, the complexity of social life in a large family, the importance of rituals... And every 5 pages they drink tea!  
And finally, roasted Baozhong or Oolong is the kind of tea where time is frozen. It's asleep as long as the leaves are untouched, but once you turn/boil them they become alive and taste just as good and lively as when they were made (unlike fresh greens that loose their freshness)!

Addendum November 8th: Here is this week's video of the tea class about this book:

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