The Art and Ritual of Chinese Tea
Traditionally called Cha Dao, or the Dao of Tea, it is the harmony of tea, water, utensils, preparation, environment and conversation to create the perfect moment – a moment that can last for hours. A skilled pourer of tea creates the moment without standing in the middle of it. The moment belongs to the fragrance and taste of the tea, the atmosphere of Cha You, or ‘tea friends’ coming together, a moment outside the hecticness of daily life.
However, the art of soaking tea in china is not primary about creating that moment. It is about the tea itself. Good tea sparks spontaneous joy and conversation, a lightheartedness that separates it from the Japanese tea ritual. In Japan, the tea is a way to attaining a certain state; for the Chinese that state is simply part of the experience of tea, it is allowed to flow into the ritual but is not directly sought after.
Over its almost 2,000 known years of history, the ways of preparing and drinking tea have undergone great changes, just as some types of tea have waxed and waned in popularity. There are many varieties of tea bushes, each unique in their own flavors. Today, most tea is loose-leaf tea, separated into three main categories, which are green, wulong (or oolong, literally means black dragon) and red (known as black tea in the west). These three categories represent how the tea is processed, not the tea leaf itself. Green means the leaf has only been slightly fermented; wulong means it is semi-fermented; and red means the leaf is fully fermented. Thus, any freshly picked tea leaf can be made into green tea, a wulong tea, or red tea. However, certain varieties of leaf lend themselves to one preparation method or another.
While green tea is certainly the most famous of all teas, red tea is probably has the largest global market share and wulongs have the highest quality. The greatest wulongs are grown in the mountains of Taiwan, where the mists, sun and elevation combine to create the perfect climate for semi-fermented tea. The leaves are cared for by generations of tea farmers for whom growing tea is more a way of life than a livelihood. Today, it is around wulong tea that the greatest efforts are made in the Art & Ritual of Chinese Tea.