Thursday, January 6, 2011

Section 10.- On Drinking Tea

"When drinking tea, the fewer the guests are, the better... Drinking alone is said to be devine"

from Cha Sin Jeon- A Chronicle of the Spirit of Tea, a copy of Zhang Poyuan Chalu recorded by Cho Ui, translated in Korea Tea Classics

Those who do not have a copy of Korean Tea Classics do please follow along and participate by referencing a different English translation available here from The Leaf.

This tea classic will be covered one section a week which will go on for 24 weeks. Feel free to jump in with your commentary at anytime.



Anonymous said...

Drinking alone is said to be divine.

I like The Leaf traduction more: Sipping tea alone can be called spiritual.
The idea of spirituality and quest of the Way is better rendered.

A question that I hope is not off-topic: I usually brew my tea in small teapots or a zhong. Almost always < 15 cl. I do not know how my teas perform with larger teapots so when guests ask, at the end of a meal, for some tea, I do not know how to brew them in a 50cl teapot…
So I prepare different teas in different mugs or cups. (People usually have different preferences: green or black is asked as often as not.)

Does anyone have pieces of advice about how they handle tea-time after meals when there are several guests?

(Time to make coffee instead :-))

Anonymous said...


The section on drinking tea in the ChaSinjeon was written from a very particular point of view known as eremitism. In Daoism and Buddhism, there was an ancient tradition of leaving family and society to go on a spiritual quest. The hermit sought the tranquility of the mountains, forests, and streams where he lived alone in a hut or thatched cottage or even a cave. There in solitude, he purified himself through hygiene, diet, and fasting, and perfected himself through meditation and yogic and alchemical practices. Many hermits drank tea and relied on the herb to prepare and fortify them for the rigors of meditation.

Among the literati, hermits represented an intellectual and spiritual ideal. In the Tang dynasty, Lu Yü 陸羽 and Lu Tong 陸仝 were exemplars of eremitism. Lu Yü wrote the Book of Tea and became known as the saint of tea. Lu Tong wrote the Song of Tea with its celebrated seven bowls. Throughout history, poets and scholars sought out eremites for their insights and tutelage. Learning from these respected teachers, the literati then incorporated many eremitic practices into the art of tea, especially the notion that tea was an exclusive activity and that certain numbers of guests affected the experience of tea. Later attempts to describe the experience as a numerical hierarchy became codified in writings like the ChaSinjeon. Having guests of more than three to four persons was discouraged and disparaged, and in the case of purists, held in contempt. So, in the late Ming dynasty, three to four people was considered the extreme limit appropriate for the art of tea.

A literal translation of section on drinking tea is rendered as follows:


"When drinking tea, having few guests is esteemed. Many guests make noise. Noise diminishes refinement."

"Drinking alone is divine.
Two guests is superb.
Three and four guests is interesting.
Five and six guests is vulgar.
Seven and eight guests is charity."

Western translators of this section of the ChaSinjeon and other writings on tea are loathe to convey the ideal of exclusivity in deference to modern sensibilities: European and British tea manners are social in character, formal gatherings of family, friends, and acquaintances. But in China and elsewhere, such congregations were anathema to the art of tea.


Rebekah said...

"A crowd," "just doing a favor for others," "communal," "charity."

Julien, I am in the same place you are with guests, whew. For middle-American-academic-informal, American food, and American, sometimes Japanese guests, I offer only keemun, sencha, or sejak, working with separate infusers and separate cups. So far, I can turn out a good six-ounce serving. Next goal, 12 oz. -- perhaps wait until summer to practice 18 oz. and drink the leftovers cold...?

Matt said...


Thanks as always for your detailed commentary and personal translations.

One also wanted to highlight the difference between cultures of Asia and that of European tea cultures which you did so wonderfully. It is true that even today the preference for drinking tea alone with all the ceremony and equipage is seen as a bit weird in the West yet in the East it is very respected, and considered the work of a scholar/artist.

Anyone wishing to learn more about The Way of Tea and Eremitism should read this wonderful article on The Leaf:

Julien ELIE & Rebekah,

When serving a crowd, one selects a tea that you use boiling water to steep, and can handle many rapid infusions- one finds that puerh is best but even yancha or bal hyo cha will work good. These are also the best teas to promote digestion after a meal. The water is brought to a boil, this must be timed when charcoal heat is used.

The tea is prepared in rapid, Chinese gong fu cha style using ones large yixing pot ( ). Japanese sized cups are used (larger than Chinese and Korean standard sizes), even bone China cup and saucer would be a good size. When all the cups are filled, a large serving pot (fair cup) is also filled and put over the flame of the tea warmer for refills. The full cups are then handed out.

The cups are refilled as necessary remembering to keep the large fair cup full which is over the flame of the tea warmer.

One finds that this method is the least painless- only a single tea is selected with consideration of the guests, season, and meal.

Alternatively one will also serve matcha which involves ceremony then either communally sharing a large bowl of matcha or making individual bowls of matcha- this also goes over quite well with a small group of people. This is especially good after a large greasy meal consisting of lots of meat, especially fatty meats.