I am obsessed with drinking tea. In my twenties, I met Mr. Wu Xinyuan1 in Yangxian,2 and Mr. Guo Yangzhuo in Qinchuan.3 They both enjoyed drinking tea and taught me all about picking, firing and roasting, as well as the whisking of tea, which are all quite simple to understand and difficult to do. After I read the historical accounts of tea from the Tang and Song Dynasties, I learned about all the utensils for brewing tea and how tea leaves were ground into powder, sieved, and pressed into tea cakes, called "petite dragon cakes," which are extremely precious. As a result of their value, there was a popular saying that went: "Gold is easier to come by than a dragon cake." Alas, how could an official afford a dragon cake? Recently, I read what Mr. Qian wrote about tea, and his writings were similar to what I've learned from Mr. Wu and Mr. Guo. However, Mr. Qian collected many different people's comments on tea without any collation, and the result was not really a manual for tea lovers, so I edited his writings in my spare time and appended Wang Youshi's bamboo stove and six related accounts at the end to share with all Chajin.4 This is that compendium, written by Gu Yuanqing from Wu County.
Tea is a magnificent tree growing in the South. Tea trees range from one or two feet to tens of feet tall. In Bashan5 and the river gorges of Sichuan, there are tea trees growing to such a size that it would take two people hand in hand to embrace their circumference. Because these trees are so very tall, the branches need to be cut down to harvest the leaves.6 The shape of tea trees resembles those of other Camellia. The leaves look like those of a gardenia and the little white flowers are so many lovely rosettes. Tea seeds are like those of palms with stems like clover, while the root system is similar to that of walnut trees.7
There are many different teas throughout the empire. For instance, the following are all famous teas: Stone Flower Tea from Mengding Mountain at Jiannan,8 Russet Bamboo Tea from Guzhu, Huzhou,9 Bright Moon Tea from Bijian, Xiazhou,10 Si'an Tea from Huojing, Qiongzhou,11 Thin Slice Tea from Qujiang,12 True Fragrance Tea from Badong,13 Boyan Tea from Fuzhou,14 White Dew Tea from Hongzhou,15 Yangxian Tea from Changzhou, Juyan Tea from Wuzhou,16 Yangpo Tea from Yashan,17 Qihuo Tea18 from Longan,19 Tall Duru Tea from Qianyang20 and tea from Na Brook and Plum Peak in Lu River.21 If I had to rank these, then Stone Flower is the best, Russet Bamboo is second, while Bright Moon is the third. Unfortunately, they are all difficult to come by.
Treat the tea trees the same as gourds and the tea leaves will be ready to be harvested in three years.22 It is better if tea growing on a cliff faces eastward, while tea trees growing in the forest are best situated in shady sites. As for tea leaves, russet ones are better than green ones.
Tuanhuang23 is famous for "one flag with two rifles," which means each contains "one bud with two leaves." Leaves that are picked in the morning are true tea, while those picked later will be bitter. The best time to pick tea leaves is around the solar term guyu. As long as the leaves are picked when it is sunny, and roasted and stored properly, leaves of all different sizes will make fine tea.
It is best to pick tender, young leaves for tea. Tea leaves tend to absorb aromas, so try not to store tea with food, anything with a strong fragrance, or medicinal herbs. Tea is best stored in a warm and dry environment, rather than cold and humid places. As a result, tea lovers often roast young leaves sealed in their containers24 every two or three days. The best temperature for roasting is about body temperature, so as to maintain the appropriate humidity. If the fire is too strong, then the leaves will be burned and become undrinkable.25
Cut orange peels into thin slices and mix with high quality tea at a ratio of one part to five. Place the mixture on tightly woven linen and warm over a fire. Then, cover the warm tea mixture with a clean cotton cloth for four to six hours. Seal the roasted tea in envelopes made of thick, tough paper such as Jianlian,26 then wrap the envelopes in the cotton cloth again to dry before putting them away.
Before sunrise, force open a blossoming lotus bud and pour in a handful of tea. Wrap the petals with some hemp stalks and leave the tea inside of the bud overnight. Pick apart the flower the following morning and pour the tea leaves into a Jianlian paper envelope and roast them dry. Repeat the same procedure several times, until the tea smells fantastic.
Many flowers are good choices for making scented teas, such as osmanthus (Osmanthus fragrans), jasmine, rose, all the flowers from the orchid family (Cymbidium), orange blossoms, cape jasmine (Gardenia jasminoides), Lady Bank's rose (Rosa banksiae) and plum blossoms. When these flowers are in season, pick them before they are fully open, and while they are still exuding a strong fragrance. Depending on the amount of tea, estimate the amount of blossoms needed. If there are too many blossoms, the flavor of the tea will be overpowered. On the other hand, if the blossoms are too few, then the fragrance will not come through. Start with a ratio of three parts tea for every one part blossom. Osmanthus flowers need to be prepared by cutting off the stems and sepals, washing off the dust and removing insects. Put one layer of tea under one layer of flowers in a ceramic jar and keep layering them until the jar is full. Use paper and big bamboo leaves to wrap the jar up very tightly and boil the whole ceramic jar in a big pot. Take the leaves out and wait until they are cool to the touch. Then, put them into an envelope and roast them until they are dry. The same procedure can be applied to all the flowers mentioned above.
If the water is not sweet, then it will diminish the taste of the tea. Therefore, traditionally, water is foremost in making tea. In general, water from a mountain spring is best, river water is second, and well water is the worst. Among waters found in the mountains, those milky springs that meander are better.27 Do not draw from waterfalls that splash and crash, running too fast. Drinking too much water from such sources will cause problems in the neck.28 For river water, remote rivers are better than those that are too close to civilization. On the other hand, wells that are frequented by people more often are always better.29 Do not use well water to boil tea if it looks cloudy or creamy yellow, like the yellowish innards of cooked crabs, or if it tastes bitter or salty.
Before boiling, the tea leaves need to be rinsed with hot water to remove the dust and coolness.30 Then the tea will taste great.
The tea leaves should be roasted over a slow fire while the water for tea is boiled with a "live flame." This so-called "live flame" is charcoal with a rising, flaming fire that keeps the water from boiling in vain, so as to culture the tea properly.31 In the beginning, water boils like fish eyes, scattering on the surface, and a slight noise starts to rise. Then, more bubbles emerge from all directions like a fresh spring, followed by a string of pearls. After that, the water boils violently, like high tide, and all the vapors start to vanish from the water, which is called "old man water." This "three boil method" can only be achieved with flaming coals. Also, if there is too much water for the tea, then a white foam will not form. On the other hand, if there is too much tea and not enough water, then a creamy porridge-like surface will form.32
The smaller the tea kettle, the shorter the time it takes for the water to boil, and the easier it will be to maneuver when preparing tea. If the kettle is too big, then it takes too long for the water to boil, and the tea will not taste good. Pots33 and kettles are best made out of silver or tin, while ceramic ones are second best.
When the tea liquor looks pale, then it is best to use black-colored bowls. A dark bowl made in Jian'an with decoration of fine rabbit's fur lines is the best, because the bowl itself is thick. After the bowls are preheated, the tea will last for a longer time. Bowls made in other places are inferior in that they are either thinner or of other colors.
The kettles, bowls and spoons get dirty or rust easily and will then contaminate the tea, so it is imperative to clean these utensils before each session.
When making tea, it is important to preheat the bowls. If the bowls are warm, then it is easier to form a white foam while whisking. If the bowls are cool, then the color of the tea won't reach its full potential.34
Tea itself has a true fragrance, fabulous taste, and gorgeous color. As a result, during whisking, it is not advisable to serve any of the followings foods, which have a strong aroma of their own. For example, pine nuts, oranges, tangerines, almonds, lotus seeds, Lady Bank's roses (Rosa banksiae), plum blossoms, jasmine, rose, and osmanthus tend to overpower the aroma of a tea.35 Food with strong flavors, such as milk, Saturn (doughnut) peaches, litchi, dragon eyes (longyan), Asian pears and loquats will also impact a tea.36 Therefore, when savoring fine tea, it is imperative not to serve snacks like these so as to enjoy the true flavor and aroma of the tea. As a result, if I do choose to serve delicacies with tea, I select refined foods such as the following, all of which go well with tea: walnuts, hazelnuts, watermelon seeds, jujube seeds, water chestnuts, Indian almonds (Terminalia catappa), chestnuts, ginko seeds, Chinese yam (Dioscorea polystachya), dry bamboo shoots, sesame, lettuce and celery.37
According to A Supplement to Materia Medica, written by Chen Cangqi,38 "Good tea can quench people's thirst, help people digest food, dissolve phlegm, reduce the need for sleep, facilitate proper urination, brighten the eyes39 and bring clarity of mind." According to the most famous literary figure of the Song Dynasty, Su Shi,40 tea can help you deal with your worries41 and digest heavy food.42 Some people cannot live without tea every day, while other people feel that they should not drink tea at all due to specific aliments. Even so, it is a good idea to gargle with strong tea immediately after each meal to get rid of an undesirable aftertaste in the mouth. Since the tea is spit out after that, the stomach and spleen are not affected. In addition, any residual food stuck between teeth will eventually loosen and fall out after several such gargles. Without the need to keep picking at whatever is stuck between teeth, and therefore harming the teeth, food between the teeth will disappear before you know it. As a result, the teeth will suffer less from picking and be healthier. Since the tea is not for drinking, rather only for gargling, medium- or low-quality tea will suffice for this.43
The Six Departments48 of tea utensils are now established, and all the implements are stored within it, supporting the Gentleman of Principle in preparing tea amidst springs and rocks, mountains, studios and pavilions. The Gentleman of Principle is fervent in all things, so he is granted the title of state governor.49 According to the ten parts of the Tea Sutra - namely, Origins, Implements, Processing, Utensils, Brewing, Drinking, Records, Production, Omissions, and Tenets - of the utensils in Part Four, there are none that may be eliminated. The lack of any utensil signifies the neglect of the other nine parts, and the tea is thus wholly ruined. Even though the utensils are listed in the fourth section, they are essential in brewing tea as well. If any of the utensils are missing, then the rest of the nine parts are useless, and no tea can be prepared. The design of the Six Departments and of each utensil is genius, so that all the utensils for tea can be placed in one container for easy storage. In addition, use the spring water from Hui Mountain and the tea from Yangxian - otherwise, alas, ruination! As for Master Lu's utensil case, this he fully described in the Tea Sutra: weave it using the hard glossy skin of Xiang bamboo. Since a printing of it is attached, I will not spend much time describing its appearance.
Since tea leaves should be sealed tightly, they are stored inside a bamboo container. It should be stored as high as possible to avoid humidity, which would diminish its flavor. Ancient people roasted tea leaves with fire regularly to keep them at body temperature as often as possible, so the tea leaves do not dry out. Nowadays, the storage container is referred to as "Jian Town."
Gu's note: According to Record of Tea by Cai Xiang,50 a group of people enjoyed tea so much that they built a citadel to enclose all the nice tee treas and named the "town" Jian'an.51
When gathering spring water, it is best to draw it from the source, where the spring is at its purest and cleanest. In order to maintain its fragrance, it is best to take some pebbles and store them in a jar along with the spring water until it is brewed with tea. If the spring water gets flat, then the tea will not reach its full potential. Previous generations commented that spring water from Hui Mountain is the best. Nowadays, it has been renamed as "Yuntun," which means "aggregate of clouds." The "cloud" here refers to the spring water, which can be stored in this vessel.53 Even though one works with other petty officials in the mundane world, if one can rest amongst the clouds of clean spring water, then one is lofty and has risen out of the quotidian world in one's heart.
Coal is an object that looks pitch dark and is strong and tough in nature. When it encounters fire, it can create a ferocious flame. Whatever touches it will be harmed by it, and whatever violates it will be burned. It is not unlike an official from the Justice Department who can intimidate crooks and criminals, even from afar. The gentleman of principle becomes even more powerful with its help. Furthermore, it is also known as "dark silver," which reveals its treasure within only to those who know its ways. Therefore, it is suitable to call it the "dark mansion."
The true flavor of tea lies in the leaves and buds, and can only be developed after they are rinsed with water. After immersing the tea leaves in water, more spring water is added. When the water starts to hum and buzz, then a nice fragrance arises from the cauldron. Eventually, all the gentleman's entourage becomes dirty after use. Therefore, it is very important to use water to clean all of the utensils. I've named this utensil "Magistrate of Water" because gentlemen clean themselves with water in dishes, and filth is thereby cleansed away. The body is then uncontaminated again. In other words, the water container helps the gentleman to start every day with a fresh, clean slate. Is this not a good moral for people?56
In the olden times, tea farmers added a trace amount of borneol during the process to make some tribute tea cakes smell stronger. In spite of their intention to enhance the fragrance, the original flavor of the tea was actually lost in doing so. Furthermore, once such flavored tea is brewed, the artificial flavor will stain the cauldrons and tea bowls. Other people added food such as jujubes,76 oranges, green onions, and ginger while whisking, which is even worse. Nowadays, the tea produced in Yangxian is highly valued by tea lovers. In addition, the brewing method most practiced is in Zhaozhou's tradition.77 In that tradition, the tea is brewed light and goes well with bland food, such as bamboo, Indian almonds (Terminalia catappa), watermelon seeds, celery or other bland greens. Therefore, the God of Xiang River78 is in charge of setting up an inspector to screen off those strong-flavored foods.
Shangxian58 is the ancient name for a stone ding, the three-legged cauldron for cooking.
Guijie59 is the bamboo brush that cleans the pots.
Fenying60 is the spoon, which Master Lu Yu called "shuize." In general, for every two sheng of water, one liang of tea is used.61
Dihuo is the bronze spoon that scoops the coals and moves them around.62
Jianghong are the bronze fire tongs.63
Zhiquan is the scale for tea.64 Every one liang of tea leaves requires two sheng of water.
Tuanfeng is the green bamboo fan.65
Luchen is for washing the tea bowl.66
Jingfei is the bamboo frame, which the Tea Sutra refers as "zhifu."67
Zhuchun is the ceramic kettle.68
Yunfeng is the knife to cut fruit with.69
Gandun is the wooden cutting board.70
Chuoxiang are tea cups from Fujian Province.71
Liaoyun is the bamboo tea spoon.72
Najing is the bamboo tea holder.73
Shouwu is the tea cloth for wiping up.74
These are the sixteen utensils in brewing tea that are stored together, so as to serve the gentleman with principle. Therefore, they are all given a title for better management, for they all exhibit inherent virtues, elegance, and discipline, which is why they can work together under the proper and noble leadership of the tea brewer.
Gu Yuanqing also goes by his style name, Dashi Shanren, the boulder man from the mountain. No one knows where he is from. I only know that he was a long-time friend of my fellow townsman, Wang Tianyu.79 Wang is an erudite who enjoys ancient affairs, and his friends are mostly local esquires. In his old age, Wang grew tired of living in the city and moved to the shady side of Mount Ming. He only socializes with Gu Yuanqing and Yue Dai during the day. Yue is a hermit from Suzhou whose sobriquet is Zhangyu. He is a fine painter and his calligraphy is almost as good as the great calligrapher Mi Fu (1051 - 1107).80 Among this circle, I have met two out of the three, so I can infer the personality of the other one. I read his Tea Manual today and it is certain that he must have indulged himself in books throughout his life to be able to write anything even remotely of the caliber of this manual. As a result, I can also picture who he was from his books. I so enjoy leaving this manual on my desk for all my guests to enjoy.