During a recent visit to Thailand I had the pleasure of meeting and sharing the ritual of Oolong Tea with San Bao.
Equally important as the quality of the tea is the chinese art of properly preparing and appreciating High Mountain Oolong.
Small unglazed clay teapots hand-crafted by master potters are used to steep this type of tea, and these are highly treasured collectors items among dedicated drinkers of High Mountain Oolong.
Connoisseurs also collect tea cups and tea caddies, tea scoops and tea trays, and other requisite paraphernalia of the ancient art.
Unlike the stiff formality of the Japanese tea ceremony, in which every move is ritualized and the quality of the tea itself is not very important, the Chinese art of tea focuses entirely on the practical points of savoring the flavor and fragrance of the tea, enjoying the touch and utility of the tea tools, and engaging in the spontaneous exchange of thoughts and feelings which drinking this tea together always inspires among fellow tea drinkers.
In fact, the Chinese refer to devoted connoisseurs of fine tea as cha ren, literally “tea people”, as thought they were a unique breed, which indeed they are.
There are so many subtle facets to the chinese art of tea, and particularly High Mountain Oolong Tea, that it takes a lifetime to master them all, but basically its the expression of a whole way of life, a way that harmonizes the various elements of nature in a balanced, aesthetically pleasing manner that refreshes the body, soothes the mind, and delights the spirit.
The Venerable Popchong Sunim of Korea, who cultivates the art of tea as a part of his spiritual cultivation, describes the proper appreciation of tea as follows:
- To determine whether a tea is good or not, one should examine the color, scent, and taste of the infusion.
- The perfect color is that of the first leaves in Spring; the scent is like that of a young baby.
- The taste cannot be described but can be appreciated with experience.
- Tea is drunk to quench the thirst, savor the taste, or simply to spend a quiet hour appreciating the pottery and the general atmosphere that accompanies tea drinking.
- There is no need to have a special attitude while drinking it, except one of thankfulness.