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April 2017

Superfluous Things

Article Title
AuthorWen Zhenheng
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Superfluous Things

by Wen Zhenheng

Wen Zhenheng (文震亨, 1585 - 1645) was Wen Zhengming's great-grandson. Like his great-grandfather, he was also a late bloomer, though a great calligrapher and painter. When the Manchurians invaded China, he followed the renegade Ming court into the deep south. In the second year of the Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1911), in response to Manchurian law, which decreed that all men wear a queue (a shaved head on the top and long braid in the back), he tried to commit suicide by jumping into a lake. He was rescued by his family. He then went on a hunger strike and passed away after six days of fasting. Other than calligraphy and painting, he wrote many essays on landscaping and gardening. "Superfluous Things" is his most famous book. It is an exploration of everything a good Confucian and Buddhist should know about gardening but is afraid to ask. The first eight chapters discuss the essential elements needed in gardens and interior design, including: 1) architecture, 2) plants, 3) water and rocks, 4) animals, fish and/or aquariums, 5) calligraphy and paintings, 6) furniture, 7) all sorts of small household decorations/utilitarian objects or tools and 8) proper placement of furniture and decorations in interior design - chapter 9 is on clothing, chapter 10 is on vehicles, chapter 11 is on fruits (in relation to gardening), and last but certainly not least, chapter 12 is on incense and tea. The following is a translation of all the parts of "Superfluous Things" that discuss tea.
There is a great study of "Superfluous Things" (Zhangwu Zhi, 長物誌) that was done by Craig Clunas, entitled "Superfluous Things: Material Culture and Social Status in Early Modern China" (University of Hawaii Press, 2004).

Sections of Superfluous Things That Mention Tea

Chapter One: On Architecture
Tea Hut

A tea hut should be built near a house on a hill and furnished subtly, but beautifully, with teaware. A young servant should be devoted solely to taking care of this hut, in case guests stay for the entire day, or the master decides to stay up late during a cold winter night. This is especially important for hermits or retirees.1

Chapter Three: Water and Rocks
The Celestial Spring

The Celestial Spring2 runs true in autumn, while the rainy season is second best. Autumn rainwater is clear and cool, while the rainwater of the rainy season is sweet. Between the spring and winter seasons, springtime water is superior to winter water. The weather in springtime is milder and thus the rain tastes sweeter. The water from a summer storm is not suitable for tea because such windy thunderstorms are made by dragons and that kind of rainwater may harm human beings.3 Snow is the essence of agricultural crops, hence snow is the best water for brewing tea. However, freshly harvested snow is rich in earthen flavors. It is therefore better to age the snow.4 The proper way to harvest rainwater is to stand in the center of a courtyard holding a piece of fabric above a container. Raindrops dripping from the eaves won't result in good water for tea.5

Ground & Spring Water

Among ground and spring waters, creamy-looking springs that meander over a large area, such as the springs on Mount Hui,6 are the best. The second best springs are those that are clear and cold. Clear spring water is not difficult to come by, but cold springs are rare indeed. Sandy springs tend to be muddy, and rarely run clear nor cold. Some springs smell nice and taste sweet. Spring water with a sweet flavor is more common than water with a fine fragrance. And I have never heard of a spring that smells nice but does not taste sweet. Water from plunging and splashing waterfalls is not drinkable, since it will cause diseases of the head after drinking it over a period of time. For example, the Celestial Terrace and Water Curtain waterfalls on Mount Lu7 are not drinkable, though they are a joy to watch and listen to. Sulfuric hot springs are not drinkable either.

Running Water

For running water, it is better to gather water from rivers that are far away from civilization.8 The large pond with many rocks near Nanling, filled by the Yangtze River, is a top choice.9 Waters that rise from underground caves should sit for some time. One should wait until the unfavorable particles have left the water before drinking.10

Song Dynasty painting of a sage wandering in search of clear mountain water by Zhao Mengfu in 1299.
Chapter 12: Incense and Tea

Incense and tea are fine in many situations: sitting around and chatting about the Tao with lofty friends,11 tea and incense can soothe the mind and bring cheer to a gathering. Early in the morning, when one has just risen from bed and is not yet prepared to work, tea and incense can refresh the spirit.12 When one copies ancient calligraphy in the light of a sunny window,13 recites poems among the dust of old scrolls or reads a book late at night under lamplight, tea and incense can dispel sleepiness. Dressed in formal clothes, whispering with close friends, tea and incense fan the fires of passion. When one is sitting inside on a rainy day or taking a stroll after dinner, tea and incense ease anxiety and loneliness. Late at night, when one hopes to awaken drunken guests after a feast, to enjoy a nice, long conversation or even howl at the void of night, tea can quench one's thirst and make the party all the merrier. Of all the different kinds of tea and incense I've had before, Jie tea14 and aloeswood incense15 are the best. There are certain methods of brewing tea that only people of principle and class can learn well.16

On Quality of Tea

There are several dozen writings on tea; amongst them, Lu Yu's Tea Sutra17 and Cai Xiang's Record of Tea18 are the best. In those days, tea was processed by steaming, grinding and then compressing the leaves into round cakes. There were many famous tea cakes in those days, such as Dragon and Phoenix Cakes, Petite Dragon Cakes, Dense Cloud Dragons and Dragon Flying through Auspicious Clouds Cakes.19 During Song Huizong's reign,20 people began to consider white tea as superior. Zheng Kewen, a state official in charge of transportation, came up with a new kind of tea called Silver Thread Icy Sprout.21 Only the youngest, central bud of this tea was plucked and then soaked in clear spring water. Tea-makers never added any additional fragrance such as borneol to it, compressing this tea into a cake shaped like a baby dragon. They named it the "Dragon that Surpasses Snow Cakes."22 At that time, they thought their tea production methods would last an eternity, but, alas, we brew tea differently now. Our production methods are simpler and more natural, fulfilling the genuine flavor of tea to its fullest potential.23 In addition, there are specific ways of washing such tea, boiling water and choosing utensils which are brimming with a skill and art that goes well beyond simply listing the "charcoal container," "water vessel," "stove" or "tea container."24

Tiger Hill Tea and Heavenly Pool Tea25

Tea from Tiger Hill is the finest in the world. It is a pity that it is not cultivated in larger amounts. There are only a handful of tea farmers on the mountain and they are under strict government supervision. This tea is so hard to come by that one can only get enough tea leaves for one or two sessions. However, its flavor is actually second to Jie tea. Among the teas from Heavenly Pool, those from the Dragon Pool area are the best. Even though teas from South Hill have been famous for a long time, their flavor is far less refined or subtle, tasting a bit like grass.

Jie Tea

Jie tea from Changxing City in Zhejiang Province is superb, highly-regarded and very expensive, while tea from Jingxi is slightly inferior.26 When picking tea, there is no need to pick the youngest buds because they are still emerging and therefore flavorless. Also, it is advised to avoid leaves that are too dark a green, as they are too old and tough. It is best to pick the leaves with stems that are light green, round and thick. Do not dry them under the sun. It is better to roast them over charcoal and then fan them to room temperature. And tea leaves should be stored in containers lined with bamboo leaves27 and be kept in a high place. Tea is preserved well in warm and dry environments, as it loses its flavor in cool and damp places.

Liu An Tea28

Liu An tea is a medicinal tea. It should not be roasted at a high temperature. When Liu An is roasted at a high temperature, its fragrance does not arise and its flavor turns bitter. However, the inherent essence and quality of Liu An tea is quite fine.

Songluo Tea

Genuine Songluo29 tea trees cover less than 20 mu30 and are cared for by at most two tea farmers. These tea farmers are very skilled at processing Songluo tea. Recently, I met a monk who hand-roasts his tea, which is better than the traditional ones. Songluo tea is produced in the foothills of Cave Hill and above the Heavenly Pool.31 This is the most popular tea not only in Xi'an, but also in both capitals, Nanjing and Beijing.32 Its popularity has grown because it is easy to brew and it has a fine and strong fragrance.

Longjing and Tianmu Tea33

Longjing and Tianmu grow later than other teas because the cold season comes earlier in those mountains and it often snows in the winter. Nevertheless, if the leaves are picked and roasted properly, these teas can taste as fine as Heavenly Pool tea.

Rinsing the Tea

Bring the water to a boil and then wait a while for it to cool down. Use warm water produced in this fashion to rinse the dust and dirt off of the tea. Let the tea rest in the bowl34 before whisking. If the water has cooled down to room temperature, the fragrance of the tea will develop naturally.35

Boiling Water for Tea

Tea leaves should be roasted over a slow fire, while water for tea needs to be boiled with a "live flame." This "live flame" is coal with a flaming fire. In the beginning, water starts boiling when the bubbles emerge like fish eyes. This is termed the "first boil." Then more bubbles appear along the circumference of the kettle, and this is called the "second boil." Then, the water roars and crashes all around, which is termed the "third boil." Before water passes through all three boils, while the coals are being kindled and the kettle is starting to heat up and the water is still strong, it is termed "tender young water." On the other hand, water that has been re-boiled is termed "tough old water,"36 for it has lost its essence. Neither of these kinds of water, young or old, can brew tea to its fullest.

Cleaning the Teaware

Unclean tea utensils and bowls malign the flavor of tea. Therefore, teaware must always be kept clean, dried with a clean cloth and ready for use at any time.37

Tea Washer

A tea washer is made of clay. It looks like a tall bowl, with two tiers and a perforated platform. It is convenient for washing tea leaves on the top because sand and dust all flow down through the holes.

Tea Stove and Water Kettle

Tea stoves and water kettles can be made of several different materials and in many shapes and sizes. Some stoves are made of cast bronze and decorated with a taotie,38 while some are plain. Other bronze stoves are cast in the shape of a three-legged cauldron. Tea kettles are best when made of silver, tin is second and copper ones are not usable. Some are tall and shaped like large bamboo. These are easy to maneuver when preparing tea. Even though porcelain ones do not take away from the essence of water, they are not suitable, nor do they look elegant.


The best teapots are made from clay, because clay pots will not disturb a tea's aroma nor the structure of the water. Among Yixing pots, those made by Gong Chun40 are the most expensive. However, they do not look fine and most of them are too large. On the other hand, Shi Dabin's41 pots are too small. It is best if one can find a clean pot that looks like it is an antique and holds about half a liter of water. This is the perfect size for tea. There are many pots that look vulgar and are not recommended. For example: pots in the shape of pumpkins with big handles over the top of the lids, pots decorated with double peaches or fans, pots in the shape of an octagon with petite floral designs, pots with a saucer on the bottom or pots with white glaze and a blue floral design.42 Zhao Liangbi43 makes tin teapots in Shi Dabin's style, and his pots are fine, but they are more suitable for the cold winter season. In recent years, the tin pots made by Gui Fuchu44 of Suzhou and Huang Yuanji of the Jiahe45 area are the most sought after. However, small tin pots are garish, and gold and silver pots are not stylish nowadays either.

Tea Cups & Bowls

During Emperor Xuanzong's reign,46 tea cups with a tall foot were considered superior and elegant. Because these cups are thicker, the tea stays hot for a longer time.47 They are as white as jade from the Xinjiang area,48 therefore they are great for admiring the color of the liquor. They are still the best among all tea cups. During Emperor Shizong's reign,49 there were cups for tea, fruit juice and wine on the imperial sacrificial altar. Therefore, those with the inscription "Gold Charm Ceremonial Altar" on the bottom are great. As for bowls or cups from the White Ding Kiln,50 they are collectibles rather than for actual use in tea brewing. Before whisking tea, the bowls should be pre-heated so that a white froth will form. One should be cautioned that antique tea bowls might be damaged by heat. There are also bowls made by Old Man Chui's Kiln,51 which are rather large and are better used as containers for fruit and nuts. However, it is better to refrain from serving produce that has a strong aroma with tea, such as tangerines, oranges or jasmine. On the other hand, hazelnuts, pine seeds, fresh bamboo shoots, chick peas and lotus seeds are fine.

Choosing Charcoal

When boiling water for tea, smoke is detrimental to the hot water. Therefore, even though things like fallen leaves, bamboo shells, tree twigs and pine cones might sound idyllic, they are in reality of no use at all. Furthermore, charcoal and oily firewood that cracks when burned, making heavy smoke, especially in an enclosed room, is the worst enemy of tea. Charcoal from Changxing tea mountain,52 known as "golden charcoal," is prized for its perfect size. When kindled to a fire, charcoal is the best friend of water for tea brewing.

Right: Original Shi Dabin "Shaman's Cap" pot from the Ming Dynasty. It's exciting to think of the time when Yixingware met Tea and fell in love!
Left: Ming Dynasty cup with a tall, elegant foot like the author mentions. There are examples in which the foot was broken off by tea lovers.
  1. The second sentence is a direct quote from Gao Lian's (高濂, 1573 - 1620) Eight Notes on a Healthy Living (遵生八箋). Obviously, since he mentions servants, the author's use of the term "hermit" is referring to officials, scholars or artists choosing a simple life in the country, as opposed to renunciates.
  2. "Celestial spring" is here a poetic way of saying "rain water."
  3. The ancient Chinese believed that rain was conjured by dragons who lived in the sea, so when there was a drought, the provincial governors would pray to the dragons for rain. Alas, gone are the days when dragons soared free!
  4. It is unclear whether the author means gathering the snow and leaving it in a jar for some time or harvesting snow that has sat on the ground for some time.
  5. It is implied here that this is because the roof may not be clean.
  6. Mt. Hui (惠山) is close to modern day Wuxi City (無錫), Zhejiang Province (浙江).
  7. The Celestial Terrace (Tiantai, 天臺) and Water Curtain (Shuilian, 水濂) waterfalls are on Mt. Lu (廬山), which is a UNESCO world heritage site in Jiangxi Province (江西).
  8. Alas, it seems that the ancients also had some kind of pollution problems, or at least the seeds of our modern problems.
  9. Nanling (南泠) is modern-day Zhenjiang City (鎮江), Jiangsu Province (江蘇).
  10. We aren't entirely sure what is meant by this. Many ancient tea lovers used clothes to strain water for tea, removing unwanted particles in that way.
  11. Wu De often translates this as "drinking tea and talking about what is important."
  12. As Wu De often says, "Being before doing!"
  13. One way of learning different ancient calligraphic scripts is to put the model calligraphy against the window when it is sunny so that it is easier to trace the strokes.
  14. Jie tea (岕茶) refers to a tea from Changxing County (長興), Zhejiang Province (浙江). Jie tea was a special species that grew mainly in the Yixing area. "Jie" refers to a narrow valley between mountains. Jie leaves looked paler than most tea leaves, and the tea liquor appeared milky white. The tea was also said to smell like milk as well. As a result, it was much sought-after and became a tribute tea in the late Ming Dynasty and early Qing Dynasty. However, this varietal has been extinct for several hundred years. Fortunately, there is a group of people who are trying to revive the cultivation and production of Jie tea in recent years.
  15. See the November 2016 issue of Global Tea Hut, which was all about aloeswood and tea.
  16. Master Lin always says that if you want to learn to make tea well, you must first learn how to be a person. The essence of this is that fine people make fine tea. This is, in part, why a true tea practice must be a practice of self-cultivation.
  17. Lu Yu (陸羽, 733 - 804) wrote his seminal work in the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907). See the September 2015 Extended Edition of Global Tea Hut.
  18. Cai Xiang (蔡襄, 1012 - 1067) wrote the Record of Tea (Chalu, 茶錄).
  19. The Chinese for these are: Dragon and Phoenix Cakes (龍鳳團), Petite Dragon Cakes (小龍團), Dense Cloud Dragon Cakes (密雲龍) and Dragon Flying through Auspicious Clouds Cakes (瑞雲翔龍).
  20. Emperor Song Huizong (宋徽宗, reigned 1101 - 1124) also wrote an account on tea, the Treatise on Tea (Daguan Chalun, 大觀茶論), which we translated for the April 2016 issue of Global Tea Hut.
  21. Since the central, hairy bud is silver in appearance, they named this tea: "Silver Thread Icy Sprout (銀絲冰芽).")
  22. Only when these tiny silver buds were pressed into cakes did they receive the name, "Dragon that Surpasses Snow Cakes (龍團勝雪)."
  23. Actually, like the ancestors' methods he is criticizing, the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644) brewing methods would also be outstripped in the Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1911), and gongfu tea would more properly brew the kind of tea he is boasting of here.
  24. These terms, "charcoal container (wufu, 烏府)," "water vessel (yuntun, 雲屯)," "brazier/stove (kujiejun, 苦節君)" and "tea container (jianchen, 建城)" can be found in Gu Yuanqing's (顧元慶) Tea Manual (Chalu, 茶錄), which we translated in this issue. Here, the author is suggesting that there is much more to the creation and use of these utensils than merely listing their names in a manual like this one or copying them down from previous masters.
  25. Both Tiger Hill (虎丘) and Heavenly Pool (天池) are in modern Suzhou City (蘇州), Jiangsu Province (江蘇).
  26. Jingxi (荊溪) is modern-day Yixing (宜興), Jiangsu Province (江蘇).
  27. This sentence is a direct quote from Zhu Quan's (朱權, 1378 - 1448) Tea Manual (茶譜), which we have translated in this issue. However, Zhu Quan said to store roasted tea in an envelope with "young (ruo, 篛)" leaves while Wen says to store it in "bamboo (ruo, 箬)" leaves - the difference being "young" and "bamboo." We think Wen's version makes more sense, but the discrepancy might be a mis-transcription. Since both characters have the same radical for "bamboo (⺮)" on top and are pronounced the same, it would be understandable for transcribers to make this mistake.
  28. The author literally says "liuhe (六合)." In his Notes on Tea (茶箋), which we translated in this issue, Wen Long (聞龍) said "There is great tea in Liu An (六安), which is medicinal." Liuhe tea is actually a drink made of minced Liu An tea mixed with ground peanuts, sesame, soybean, ginger and salt, that can be traced back to the twelfth century. We think this is another mis-transcription due to similar characters. "Liu An" makes much more sense here, and was well known to the author. Liu An tea is made in modern-day Liu An County (六安), Anhui Province (安徽). (See the March issue of Global Tea Hut.)
  29. Songluo tea (松蘿) is still grown on Mount Huang (黃山) in Anhui Province (安徽). It is also a UNESCO world heritage site and where we are heading for our 2017 Annual Global Tea Hut Trip. The Chinese literally means "lichen," as the area is rather humid.
  30. One mu is about 667 square meters.
  31. Cave Hill (Dongshan, 洞山) and Heavenly Pool (Tianshi, 天池) are sites on Mt. Huang. There are many "Heavenly Pools" all over China. Virtually any pond on a high mountain could be named "Heavenly Pool."
  32. The first emperor of the Ming Dynasty, Ming Taizu (明太祖, 1328 - 1398) established the capital in Nanjing (南京) in 1368. The third Emperor, Ming Chengzu (明成祖, 1360 - 1424), who usurped the throne from his own nephew, moved the capital to modern-day Beijng (北京) in 1421. However, some people still referred to both as the capital city.
  33. Longjing (龍井), literally "Dragon Well" tea, is still grown near West Lake (西湖), Hangzhou (杭州), Zhejiang Province (浙江), which is a UNESCO world heritage site. Tianmu (天目) literally means "Heavenly Eye." It is still grown near Mt. Tianmu in Linjiang County (臨江), Zhejiang Province (浙江).
  34. The author references a "ding (定)" bowl here. During the Song Dynasty, Dingware was made in a kiln that produced ceramics exclusively for imperial usage. Its glaze was light-gray to white in color. However, it was extremely rare and the light color would not have been favored by most tea lovers of the time. Most people used dark bowls to see the white froth more clearly. Perhaps the author is using this term in a different way that we don't understand.
  35. Once again, this author is discussing whisked tea. As you can see, the emperor's ban on whisked tea took some time to really take hold in the minds, hearts and practice of Chajin.
  36. Once could translate this as "stale" water as well.
  37. As Wu De often says, "Cha Dao is eighty percent cleaning." He also admonishes us to never leave tea in our vessels or a tea space unclean. Always leave ample time in a session to clean up; it is a very important part of completing a tea session!
  38. Taotie are ancient, mythical, ferocious and gluttonous beasts that were a popular motif on bronze vessels, especially before the third century BCE, though they resurface at various times throughout Chinese history. On such a vessel, the beast is tamed and is a protector. This is Daoist and Buddhist philosophy, in which we do not defeat our demons, but rather transcend or tame them - and they often serve us from then on!
  39. Now we get to steeped tea. Obviously, the author practiced different brewing methods, whisked and steeped, as we do at the Tea Sage Hut.
  40. According to legend, Gong Chun (供春) is the first person to make Yixing pots famous, during the 1520s - 60s. He made teapots in the shape of tree burls. Later generations called such burl/ tree-shaped pots "gongchun (供春)," after him. His name literally means "offering for the springtime." It is said that he learned the craft at the Golden Sand Monastery (金砂寺). He was a manservant, and his master often visited Yixing and rarely needed his services while there, so he would stay at the monastery to learn Buddhism. They say he saw the monks making Yixing pots and asked them to teach him. Like good Zen masters, they said no until he proved he was determined to learn by asking over and over for years, proving he would fulfill the art. Gong Chun then gifted his master one of his pots, who was so impressed by it that he showed it to his aristocratic friends. They all then wanted one, and like that, Gong Chun soon became famous, and Yixing teapots along with him.
  41. Shi Dabin (時大彬, 1573 - 1648) is one of the most famous potters in Yixingware. (We plan to start a series covering famous Yixing potters soon, so you will hear more about him in coming issues.) When he was a young pot-maker, he started to make pots as big as Gong Chun's. At that time, Gong Chun was in his eighties already. Later on, after a trip to Suzhou, Shi started to make smaller pots and developed his own style. However, these "smaller" pots were not as small as the gongfu pots we are used to, which were invented in the late Ming and early Qing dynasties by Chen Mingyuan (陳鳴遠).
  42. Chajin have always preferred simplicity. Such pots are always better for tea. Of course, the art of Yixing has merit as an art in and of itself, but the aesthetic of artistic pots is not always congruent with the measure of a Chajin looking for a pot to make fine tea.
  43. Zhao Liangbi (趙良璧) is attributed as the first to make tin pots in Shi Dabin's style and made tin pots a novelty. Two centuries later, another modification was made by wrapping a layer of "tin jacket" over zisha clay pots to enjoy all the great characteristics of Yixing clay and also enjoy the shiny decoration of tin on the outside.
  44. Gui Fuchu (歸復出) is said to have been an apprentice of Zhao Liangbi.
  45. Huang Yuanji (黃元吉) was also famous for making tin pots in modern-day Jiaxing City (嘉興), Zhejing Province (浙江).
  46. Ming Xuanzong (明宣宗, 1399 - 1435) reigned from 1425 to 1435.
  47. He speaks of cups and bowls interchangeably, expressing the combination of brewing methods.
  48. Tremolite jade from Xinjiang looks like coconut oil, with a warm fuzzy luminescence.
  49. Ming Shizong (明世宗, 1507 - 1567) reigned from 1521 to 1567.
  50. This kiln is in modern-day Quyang County (曲陽), Hebei Province (河北). Artists there started to make pottery before the ninth century and the quality improved over time. Due to the pieces' fine, thin bodies and rare light-gray to white color, this city became home to one of the kilns that made ceramics exclusively for imperial usage during the Song Dynasty (960 - 1279).
  51. "Old Man Cui's kiln (Cuigong yao, 崔公窯)" refers to the ceramics made by Cui Guomao (崔國懋) in Jingde Town (景德鎮), Jiangxi Province (江西) from 1522 to 1572.
  52. Changxing (長興) is in modern-day Zhejiang Province (浙江), where the famous Guzhu (顧渚) and Jie (岕茶) teas grow.