Thursday, November 8, 2012

Tea ceremonies and tea cups

Tonight I thought I'd like to write about the tea ceremonies and tea cups. Tea is really the most popular drink in China (well there are quite a few soft drinks around too) - coffee is not drunk in the provincial towns, and most people, both young and old, carry an insulated tea container with them with green tea (or other herb teas) that they continually top up with hot water during the day. A habit I have taken up.

Good green tea, and fermented tea is unrecognisable when compared to the masticated tea we get in tea bags. At one small town, Hongcun, we saw the tea being dried, and I bought some freshly dried leaves. Hongcun is a water town (has a good clean water source) between Huangshan (Yellow Mountain) and Tunxi (the closest large town). The town has lots of character, lots of water, and specialises in fresh young tipped green tea. A lovely fresh green tea, without the bitter taste of green teas we get here.

Green tea tips drying in a shop in Hongcun (One of these tea containers is now in my cupboard at home!)

Hongcun is a popular tourist attraction, and is a very pretty town, with narrow streets and traditional houses (which have open roofs to collect the rain).

But onto the tea. In Jingdezhen I started to learn more about the tea and tea ceremonies. In good galleries and shops there would be a tea table, with a drain, and a couple of tea pots (each tea has to be served in a different pot). I learnt that the Hong Red Tea is one of the special teas, and enjoyed an afternoon tasting it at a little tea shop in one of the Gallery Streets in Jingdezhen. The Xijing (Zishi) red clay tea pots are often used for red tea, and have to be specially prepared for the tea by boiling the pot in water and tofu. They can cost thousands of dollars, but I managed to buy one made by a student (looks good to me) for about $15Aus. I love it!

The Pu'er tea is fermented green tea that is packaged in tight bowl-like forms that have to be prised apart to drink the tea. The age of the tea is important, and just like wine it improves with age. I bought a 10 year old Pu'er tea for about $20 Aus (in Australia this would cost a lot more) and have yet to taste it. My favourite tea is Tie Guan Yi, which is sold in small airtight packages that have to be kept in the fridge, but is just yummy. 
The first pour of the tea is usually thrown away (especially the red tea), and the second refill of the small tea pot is the start of the best tasting tea. The tea pot is filled, then poured into a jug, and the small tea cups are filled from the jug, while the tea pot is filled with hot water again. Green tea does not use boiling water, but water about 80decC, that has not been boiled (I do boil my water first and let it cool down a bit - not being a purist I can't tell the difference). 
A lovely tea table in a buddhist house near San Bao, Jingdezhen

Sitting down at a tea ceremony table at one the galleries in the contemporary artspace in Jingdezhen

Tea being poured into the jug before being served - to prevent the bitter taste developing

Pouring into the tea cups

A perfect cup of green tea
I bought back lots of tea cups of all shapes and sizes, and tea pots, jugs and of course lots of tea. My family room is now my tea room and I just love making tea in the traditional Chinese way and sharing it with my friends. It is a wonderful way to slow down, focus on taste (as the cups are so small), and enjoy each others' company. 
My handpainted tea pot and matching tea cups - I use it everyday now, at least once a day. 

Chinese shelves with some of my tea cups. The jug is a beautiful celadon glaze - too hard to capture in photograph. The cup at the front was decorated my moi - I bought the cup and decorated and fired it with decals and Qin Hua (more on this later). 

A very lovely little tea cup from the eggshell factory in Jingdezhen - unbelievably thin porcelain.

Enough for tonight! 


Jan said...

Great post. Thanks Ellen. Love your teapot and tea cups that you purchased in China. Great find and price.

Anna said...

Hi Ellen, love those from the contemporary space - wonderful insights to your trip.