Me and my cha yuan

Add understated elegance to your tea setup

A while ago I bought a tea set from Dragon Tea House.  It’s an affordable “Yixing” set that comes in a carrying case that doubles as a chápán, or draining tea tray.  Included was a small tea towel – a washcloth, really – emblazoned with the legend CHA YUAN 茶缘.  茶 is tea, so I assumed this was Chinese for tea towel and moved on.

Recently, curiosity got the better of me and I decided to look up 缘.  To my bafflement, Nciku defined 缘 [yuán] as “cause, fate or edge.”  There are some poetic names for items used in gongfu tea, but this really took the cake.  How is a tea towel a cause, fate or edge?

According to local gongfu practice, a tea towel is placed to the side of the brewing vessel.  Before pouring from the vessel, and before passing it to others, its bottom is wiped on the towel.  Perhaps a towel is an “edge” or border in the sense that “the tea stops here.”  I found further senses where 缘 was used to describe a “hem” or “fringe,” so maybe this was a synecdochical usage.

Looking at ChineseEtymology.org, I could see that the part of 缘 that conveyed meaning, or the signific component, was 糸, which referred to “thread”.  This tied all the definitions together.  You could describe “consequent” or even “fated” actions as “following a thread through time”.  And if you approach a thread perpendicularly, it’s an “edge” or a “boundary”.

Suddenly, I felt very foolish.  Have you figured it out already?  茶缘 was written on a tea towel, but it shouldn’t have to mean “tea towel”!  Maybe the word for “thread” written on a towel produced a minor resonance, but its primary meaning was “fate.”  The plurality of usage examples for 缘 on Nciku referred to relationships.  良缘 liángyuán is a happy match or marriage, or “good-fate.”  情缘 qíngyuán is a predestined love, or “love-fate.”  Along those lines, I wish you a bountiful and flavorful TEA DESTINY!

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2 Responses to “Me and my cha yuan”


  1. 1 Patricia February 22, 2012 at 10:17 AM

    “The tea stops here” is good logic. I like the idea that there is a border to tea, and that tea = fate. Reminds me of our tea opera.


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