中国茶经: Bailin Gongfu

When I was hired for my current job last summer, I purchased 中国茶经 as a present to myself.  中国茶经, or “The Chinese Tea Bible,” is a Chinese book of about 800 pages edited by Chen Zhongxin in 1991.  (You can see a listing here.)  I know virtually no Chinese, but I have surprised myself by how much work I have done translating it so far.  Prompted by Michael Coffey’s Google+ hangouts, I present my translation of the section on Bailin Gongfu.  I hope it is the first in a series, but that’s something I’ve said many times….

A few notes: I translate 工夫 [gōngfu] as “artisan.” Many people leave this term untranslated, as it can refer to several things: the highest-quality manufacturing type of red tea; but also a leisurely method of skilled tea preparation and drinking.  I wanted to use an appropriate English term to demystify the Chinese for people who find it a barrier to entry.  Hopefully the current vogue for “artisanal” products dispels any cultural bias that might arise if I used the term “skilled labor” instead.  Note also that the text uses 工夫 and not 功夫, which is the “gōngfu” that usually refers to martial arts, and frequently artisan tea by extension.  For more on the term “gōngfu” and its relationship to tea, see Victor Mair’s exhaustive essay.

I usually translate 条 [tiáo] as “strip” and 条索 [tiáosuǒ] as “strip of rope.”  These are industry distinctions to indicate the rolling of tea to a long, thin shape, or the tea produced by that process.  “Wiry” would be a good paraphrase.  小(叶)种 [xiǎo(yè)zhǒng] “small (leaf) category” is also an industry distinction, for the second-highest grade of red tea.  The name has been ported to English as “souchong.”

Similarly, I also translate many place names, putting these literal translations in brackets.  They make the translation clunkier, but my overall aim is richer, more literal information rather than elegance.  I’ve also added characters like 村 “village” to place names so people can find them more easily on maps.

To repeat, I am no speaker of Chinese.  I have created this translation by brute force, character-by-character from the dictionary, picking up an occasional grammar rule as I go.  It’s a captivating diversion, something like a very large crossword puzzle.  I would be heartily grateful for any corrections or pointers you could make.

白琳工夫 [Báilín gōngfu]

白琳工夫产于福鼎县太姥山白琳, 湖林[村]一带.
Báilín gōngfu chǎn yú Fúdǐngxiàn Tàilǎoshān Báilín, Húlín yídài.
Bailin Artisan is produced in Bailin [“White Gem”] (Village) near Tailao [“exalted grandmother”] Mountain in Fuding [“abundant good fortune”] County, Hulin [“Lake Forest”] (village) region.

太姥山地处闽东偏北, 与浙江毗邻,
Tàilǎoshān dìchǔ Mǐn dōng piān běi, yǔ Zhèjiāng pílín,
Tailao Mountain is located in east by north Fujian, bordering Zhejiang,

地势较高, 群山叠翠, 岩壑争奇,
dìshì jiào gāo, qúnshān diécuì, yán hè zhēngqí,
elevated topography, “a crowd of mountains piled with jade,” crags vying with gullies,

茶树常种于崖林之间. 茶树根深叶茂, 芽毫雪白晶莹.
cháshù cháng zhòng yú yálín zhījiān.  cháshù gēnshēnyèmào, yá háo xuěbái jīngyíng.
tea bushes frequently sown among cliffs and forests.  Tea bushes have deep roots and luxuriant leaves, sprouting sparkling and translucent snow-white hairs.

19 世纪 50 年代, 闽、广茶商在福鼎经营加工工夫茶,
19 shìjì 50 niándài, Fujian, guǎng cháshāng zài Fúdǐng jīngyíng jiāgōng gōngfuchá,
In Fujian in the 1950’s, extensive tea commerce was located in Fuding dealing in processing artisan tea,

广收白琳[丘/镇?]、翠郊[&村]、蹯溪[镇]、黄岗[村]、湖林及浙江的平阳、泰顺等地的红条茶,
guǎng shōu Báilín, Cuìjiāo, Fánxī, Huánggǎng, Húlín jí Zhèjiāng de Píngyáng, Tàishùn děng de hóng tiáo chá,
widely harvesting red “strip” tea from Bailin, Cuijiao [“Jade Outskirts”], Fanxi [“Paw Brook”], Huanggang [“Yellow Ridge”], Hulin, up to Zhejiang’s Pingyang [“Calm Sun”] and Taishun [“Calm Obedience”] (Counties) etc.,

集中白琳加工, 白琳工夫由此而生.
jízhōng Báilín jiāgōng, Báilín gōngfu yóucǐ
converging in Bailin for processing, thus giving rise to Bailin Artisan.

20 世纪初, 福鼎“合茏智”茶号, 充分发挥大白茶的特点
20 shìjì chū, Fúdǐng “Hé Mào Zhì” cháhào, chōngfèn fāhuī dàbáichá de tèdiǎn
In the early 20th century, Fuding tea firm “Join Abundant Wisdom” had fully made use of the characteristics of “Big White” tea [cultivar],

精选细嫩芽叶, 制成工夫茶, 外形条索紧结纤秀,
jīngxuǎn xìnèn yáyè, zhì chéng gōngfuchá, wàixíng tiáosuǒ jǐn jié xiānxiù,
carefully selecting tender sprouts and leaves, manufacturing artisan tea with the slim, graceful appearance of strips of tightly-knotted rope,

含有大量的橙黄白毫, 具有鲜爽愉快的毫香,
hányǒu dàliàngde chénghuáng báiháo, jùyǒu xiǎn shuǎng yúkuài de háo xiāng,
containing a large amount of orange-yellow trichomes, possessing a pleasantly fresh and clear downy fragrance,

汤色、叶底艳丽红亮, 取名为“枯红”,
tāngsè, yèdǐ yànlì hóngliàng, qǔmíng wèi “kūhóng”
a gorgeous bright red liquor color and leaf tips, called “withered red”,

意为枯子般红艳的工夫, 风格独特, 在国际市场上很受欢迎.
yì wèi kūzi bān hóngyàn de gōngfu, fēnggé dútè, zài guójì shìchǎng shàng hěn shòuhuānyíng.
meaning withered just like scarlet artisan (tea), a distinctive style, and it skyrocketed in popularity on the international market.

白琳工夫茶系小叶种红茶,
Báilín gōngfuchá xì xiǎoyèzhǒng hóngchá,
Bailin artisan tea is a small leaf category red tea,

当地种植的小叶群体种具有茸毛多、萌芽早、产量高的特点, 一般的白琳工夫,
dāngdì zhòngzhí de xiǎoyè qúntǐ zhǒng jùyǒu róngmáo duō, méngyá zǎo, chǎnliàng gāo de tèdiǎn
and the group of small leaf category teas from this locality have a lot of down, sprout early, with characteristically high yield, which is the same for Bailin Artisan,

外形条索细长弯曲, 茸毫多呈颗粒绒球状,
wàixíng tiáosuǒ xìcháng wānqū, róng háo duō chéng kēlì róng qiúzhuàng,
an appearance of slender, wavy strips of rope, with many downy hairs that show up as grain-down-spheres [fluffballs],

色泽黄黑, 内质汤色浅亮, 香气鲜纯有毫香,
sèzé huáng hēi, nèi zhì tāng sè qiǎn liàng, xiāngqì xiǎn chún yǒu háo xiāng,
a dark yellow (brown?) luster, with an inner nature of pale, bright liquor; the fresh, pure aroma has a downy fragrance,

味清鲜甜和, 叶底鲜红带黄.
wèi qīng xiān tián hé, yèdǐ xiān hóngdàihuáng.
a clear, fresh, and sweet taste, with bright red-and-yellow leaf tips.

(施兆鹏, by Shī Zhàopéng)

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1 Response to “中国茶经: Bailin Gongfu”


  1. 1 Patricia Delahaie Roland October 29, 2012 at 5:28 PM

    Hi Evan, What a lengthy and amazing translation you have done. And plz don’t say you have “no” Chinese. I have heard you holding conversation with at least two people in Chinese, and you were pretty convincing. (PD was one of them.)


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