Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The tea

As I become ever more engrossed in the gong fu cha ceremony, I sometimes forget about the importance of the tea itself. Whether it is a freshly picked and packaged oolong from one of the revered mountains in Taiwan, or a well-aged loose leaf sheng pu erh from Yunnan in China, good teas can, in and of themselves, bring about a state of meditation, inner warmth, calm and peace. There is just something about this age old beverage that comforts the soul, and the Chinese have been coming up with methods ever since tea's discovery several thousand years ago to enhance this overall feeling. Gong fu cha is one of those methods, but it means nothing if one does not honour the tea for what it is: a means by which to communicate with the divine, a path to enlightenment, a taste of nirvana. As my good friend Erick recently reminded me however, tea is merely a means by which to reach the door to enlightenment; it is up to us to open the door and move 'beyond.' Do you have the strength?

It pays to remember that each tea has this inner quality inherent within it, but that we ourselves cannot be lazy, that we must work with the tea if we wish to achieve ultimate nirvana. All tea is not created equal however (as many of us are well aware). I'm not talking about the pre-packaged teabag (though even those have a limited comfort factor when steeped in hot water); i'm talking about fine loose leaf and cake teas. If you are fortunate enough to come across a particularly powerful tea, respect it, work with it, and then release it. I am of the firm belief that good tea was made to be appreciated and consumed, not stared at in a museum or collection (I like that: the consummation of the tea. It has a nice ring to it). Perhaps my personal bias comes from Master He Zai Bing, whom first introduced me to tea and would happily pour a vintage, endangered pu erh as he would a more recent variety. For him, the greatest honour is found in drinking the teas and not only in possessing them. Perhaps this is one of the greatest tests for all of us: to best honour the greatest of teas is to drink them and appreciate them until they are no more, and we must in the end, let them go. But the memory, ah the memory of that moment shared with the tea, is oh-so-sweet.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Flipping tea cups

So the other day I was reviewing other's blogs regarding gong fu cha and discovered something regarding the smelling (yang) and drinking (yin) cups I'd not come across before. There is an alternative method (at least one anyway) to simply pouring the tea from the yang cup to the yin. And it actually leads to a more aromatic flavour in the yang cup when done with this alternate method.

The host pours the tea from the tea pitcher into the yang cups as he/she normally would. Then, each person takes his/her yin cup and inverts it overtop of the yang cup so that the pair look like a mushroom. Then, with the tea drinker's hand palm up place the index and middle fingers on either side of the yang cup and the thumb on top of the yin cup holding all securely together. When ready, flip. The yin cup should now be on the bottom with the yang cup upside down sitting inside. Slowly lift the yang cup so that it gradually allows air to enter the cup through the tea and lift the cup to your nose and inhale. You'll find there is much more tea aroma by using this method than simply pouring from one cup to the other. It is particularly good for teas that change significantly from the first pour to the last or even within one pour such as Tie Guan Yin or 40 year old oolong. The aromas linger to be enjoyed just that little bit longer!