中国茶经: “Utensil Selection”

Here’s another article that I’ve translated from the 中国茶经, the “Chinese Tea Bible”, on selecting tea utensils.  Students of gōngfuchá will not find any revolutionary information in this translated article, and online videos would be a better tutorial for beginners, but there are a few linguistic curiosities here. Most notably, the words 盖碗 [gàiwǎn] 盖杯 [gàibēi] and 盅 [zhōng] all appear in this article, and yet they can all be used to refer to the same object.

IMG_1079Gàiwǎn, literally “lidded bowl,” is the term most familiar to Western tea aficionados referring to the brewing/drinking apparatus shown at left.  According to this article, a gàibēi (“lidded cup”) is the same object, but the name reflects its use primarily as a drinking vessel rather than a brewing vessel.  It has also been asserted that “gàibēi” would indicate a vessel smaller than a gàiwǎn, which would sync with the English usage of “cup” and “bowl.”

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中国茶经: 六安瓜片 Lù’ān Guāpiàn

Part of a series of original translations made of articles from 中国茶经, or “The Chinese Tea Bible,” edited by 陈宗懋, 1992.

It was fresh when I started this article....

It was fresh when I started this article….

How to translate 瓜片 (guāpiàn)?  This tea is named after a melon seed, but 瓜片 doesn’t quite mean “melon seed.” It’s a contraction from the original, 瓜子片.  瓜子 is “melon seed.”  片 meanwhile, means “a thin piece.”  It’s a frequently used classifier to refer to a “slice” of something: food, a tract of land or expanse of water, a scene in a movie–a CD box set might contain 4 片.  So this has led some tea drinkers to believe 瓜片 refers to a “slice of melon,” which may in fact be a second accurate sense of 瓜片.  But I don’t want to obscure the primary reference to seeds, so I’m splitting the difference and translating 片 as “flake.”  I think “chip” would actually be better: some etymologies of 片 indicate it’s the right half of 木, the character for “tree/wood.”  And melon slices in some Chinese dishes look more like “chipped beef” than the wedges we call to mind.  But “melon chip” sounds like an ice cream flavor.

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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…. Continue reading ‘中国茶经: Bailin Gongfu’

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?

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Journal article: Pu-erh tea tasting in Yunnan, China

My wife’s graduate studies are winding down, so I’ve been taking advantage of her university privileges to access some tea books and journal articles.  I recently read “Pu-erh tea tasting in Yunnan, China: Correlation of drinkers’ perceptions with phytochemistry,” by Ahmed et al., from the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, and my scattered reflections follow.

Fig. 1. Lab setup

The authors studied 10 samples of puerh (ripe, new raw, and >10-year-old raw; plantation-grown and agro-forested), infusing each sample 10 times in gongfu fashion.  Each infusion was described and rated by a panel of Yunnan experts, and also analyzed in the laboratory for its constituent chemical content.

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Literary names for Chinese provinces.

Chinese tea names can be difficult for English-speaking tea drinkers.  Mandarin characters are too thorny for our brains to grab hold of.  But the most common alternative, unaccented pinyin, can be worse.  If I write 茶, there is no question I am talking about “tea.”  But imagine I write “cha.”  Tea drinkers will probably guess what I’m referring to, and others will feel like they have something that can be looked up in a dictionary.  Instead, they will still be lost: did I mean “to be surprised,” “inferior,” or “a fork”?  Chinese is a tonal language, so accents or numbers must be used to convey tone information; otherwise, there can be too many possible translations for any romanized word.

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Art of Tea #1: Green Tea Bean-Paste Cakes, explicated


from "Art of Tea" magazine

The Philadelphia Tea Institute has been making a systematic study of The Art of Tea magazine series.  The Art of Tea is the English version of 普洱壺藝, an irregularly-published periodical (an occasional?) on Chinese tea culture.  This English version is marketed to non-Chinese-speaking Asian countries (e.g., Singapore, Malaysia, and Korea) for whom English is a common second language, but thankfully it’s available stateside from Tearoma.  This post, my attempt at a recipe in The Art of Tea #1, will be the first in a series of comments on our studies.

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Chinese Tea Culture presentation

I recently gave a presentation on “Chinese Tea Culture” at the Narberth Public Library.  See here for coverage by the local affiliate! And hey, look at the comments–somebody else wants me to do another presentation.  Thanks, Mom!

Indoctrinating the young

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Tea Life, Tea Mind

Here are some excerpts from “Tea Life, Tea Mind,” written by Soshitsu Sen XV, “Hounsai,” the previous iemoto of Urasenke.

“In the time of Buddha, a man was walking deep in the mountains in search of a place where he could discipline himself to understand his spirit.  While searching he chanced to meet one of Buddha’s disciples.  “Sir, from where do you come?” he asked.  “The disciple answered directly, “I’ve come from my place of practice.”  Thinking that this man knew of the very place for which he had been searching, he asked the disciple, “Sir, I am looking for that same place.  Please take me there.”  The disciple answered, “The place of practice lies in the pure and honest spirit where there is no false vanity.”  Startled, the man saw that a place of practice and discipline is not only seen with the eyes.  The place of practice is the spirit.

*  *  *

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Gongfu tea burns, and building calluses

For external use only

How do you keep from burning yourself as you begin practicing gongfu tea?  Good gear helps, like a thin porcelain gaiwan with a sizable rim, but direct contact with hot water and steam is unavoidable.  I imagine most tea masters would say, “Make more tea.”

A majority of guitar players would give you the same “suck it up, baby” attitude, but there are still enough on the internet who offer helpful tips for toughening your fingers.

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