Sunday, January 16, 2011

Section 11.- Fragrance

"When inside and outside are the same, that is pure fragrance; what is neither immature or mature, that is clear fragrance; when the heat of the fire is controlled evenly, that is orchid fragrance; what has the freshness of tea picked before Gogu, that is true fragrance."

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...

I dream of a pure true fragrance. :-)

It is strange that a fruity fragrance is not mentioned. Is it undesirable?

When the heat of the fire is controlled evenly, we obtain the best color and scent (according to Section 2). Maybe the other kinds of fragrances (withheld, escaping, transient and parting) come out from mistakes done during the process of the tea, from picking to brewing.

Matt said...

Julien ELIE,

Ones complied notes also mentioned the reference to section 2- Drying Tea. The drying stage is when fire is used to process tea. Fire has a close relationship with fragrance. Fire below (yang) heats water (yin) above. The result is tea fragrance, a yang characteristic of tea.

Conversely taste is a more yin characteristic of tea. The balance of taste and smell is the cumulation of yin and yang characteristics of tea. Fragrance floats upwards and taste descends downwards. Fragrance, Taste, and Colour comprise of the three mysteries or wonders of tea that Steve Owyoung explains in his comments on section 7 (see here: ).

As you mentioned it is implied and inferred from previous sections that the four undesirable fragrances come about from things that were overlooked in timing (astrology) and placement (feng shui) in the tasks employed before the tea is enjoyed with all of our senses.

You may also wish to reference section 8 Infusing Tea (as well as the commentary here on MattCha's) that also mention tips on maintaining teas original fragrance when infusing tea.

Have never encountered a fruity fragrance that wasn't desirable in a tea- all fruity is good fruity isn't it?


Rebekah said...

All fruity is good fruity.

I am always stunned by the citrus in certain Chinese and Korean green teas -- Have annoyed the local florists by sticking my nose into their orchids all the time, but have yet to identify the scent/taste.

Matt said...


So it is settled, all fruity is good fruity! Hahaha. You're right, the orchid odour is rare compared to the fruity at least in green tea- most Taiwanese Oolong have the orchid smell.

Orchids represents perfection, higher attainment, prosperity, and respect. Coveting the orchid odour in tea represents a striving for these ideals in our lives. Flowers are closely associated with fragrance. Both flowers and fragrance are more yang in nature and float up into the nose. In this way the orchid fragrance is a 'pure', 'clear', and 'true' fragrance. An orchid fragrance is the perfect example of what it is to be a fragrance thereby fitting with the other adjectives used here to describe the fragrance of tea. In this way it is not so much a specific descriptor like 'fruity' or 'sweet' or 'nutty'.


Matt said...


Notes on Section 11:

As noted in the above comment "pure", "clear", "orchid", and "true" reflect qualities of tea and of mind. The mind that a teaist strives for when preparing and enjoying tea.

"Pure fragrance" is a result "When inside and outside are the same". Inside and outside refer to yin and yang. This comment speaks of striving for the Middle Way- of creating the perfect balance. Fragrance is yang, taste is yin. Colour is what it is, it is a direct, or rapid yang evaluation. The leaf version states, "When tea's aroma matches its appearance, it is said to have a pure fragrance." A better translation would be, "When tea's aroma matches its taste, it is said to have a pure fragrance". This translation speaks more to the dichotomy of taste and smell which are more at the core of the yin and yang of tea than that of its colour or appearance.

"Clear fragrance" is a result of tea being fresh, pure, and refers to many different aspects of tea production, storage, and preparation. Maturity suggests that the tea has a certain wisdom about it that should be appreciated. It also suggests that those who drink tea can acquire some wisdom or clarity from tea. The Leaf version states that "Tea that is neither fresh nor fermented is said to possess delicate fragrance." This translation speaks of the importance of production and storage to fragrance.

"For comments about "orchid fragrance" see above comment.

"True fragrance" speaks of the importance of picking tea before Gogu (see comments on Section 1- Picking Tea).


Anonymous said...

Hi Matt,

A comment which may looks lame but…

The result is tea fragrance, a yang characteristic of tea. Conversely taste is a more yin characteristic of tea.

How do we know that fragrance is yang and taste is yin? Do you have a pointer to somewhere explaining it and determining whether a characteristic belongs more to the yang side or to the yin side?
Maybe because wind is yang and water is yin?

But why is colour a yang evaluation? If we evaluate the colour of water, why wouldn't it be a yin characteristic here, especially if the colour is darker?

Regarding fruity fragrances, I asked because I was astonished not to see it mentioned in the Section. Sure such fruity fragrances are (usually) very pleasant!

Matt said...

Julien ELIE,

It is a good question. Everything has either mainly yin characteristics or yang characteristics. Each yin has yang in it. Each yang has yin in it. This is the mystery of the Dao.

There are many characteristics of yang of which include outward, upward, and ascending among many others. Conversely there are many characteristics of yin of which include inward, downward, and descending among many others. Fragrance is thought to be yang because it is thought to ascend upward to the nose. Taste is thought to be yin because it is thought to descend downward into the body.

Colour is a rapid yang evaluation because appearances are only based on the outside appearance of things, or the visual surface of things. Outside is a yang characteristic. A judgement of the colour can be made in an instant by looking at it so appearance or colour is a rapid yang evaluation.


Gingko said...

I think it's very possible that 90%, if not 100% of the entire book is about green tea, which was a "mainstream" tea back then and the author is from a green tea region. And probably that's why there is not mention of "fruity aroma", which is more often affiliated to oolong and black tea.

About orchid, I've never seen a wild orchid of south China. But it's often described as purely white, small flowers and very fragrant. It's very different from the orchids commonly seen in garden store, which have more showy flower wit less fragrance. I recently tasted a orchid-scented green tea from Sichuan. It made me realize that the natural orchid fragrance is very similar to so-called "orchid fragrance" found in many unscented green tea.

Matt said...


It is understood that this book is about green tea, the popularity at the time. This is important to note when reading and interpreting this work.

Thanks for sharing your knowledge about wild orchids. Was told that they are becoming more and more of a rarity.


Unknown said...

I know I am slightly late to the party, but I'm trying to understand what is Clear fragrance. I guess I am trying to decide between ways to decipher mature, and immature, could it be the age of the leaves when plucked? The freshness of the tea? Or is it distinctly a characteristic of the aroma itself, as in the aroma seems neither to young, nor exceptionally old?

Matt said...

Adam Yusko,

"Clear Fragrance" is a bit more ambiguous. In the comments above one claimed that it "refers to many (or maybe just one of these) different aspects of tea production, storage, and preparation"

Really, as you mentioned you can't really tell exactly what "clear fragrance" is.

Thanks for pondering these things with us.