Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Tea Tales by Shuai Chen

This is the first of what promises to be several articles by Shuai Chen, Chinese tea practitioner, HSU finance student and tea friend. Shuai joined us for Cha-no-yu recently.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

HSU Tea Demonstration April 10, 2008

Each year, Humboldt State University's Associated Students and the Multicultural Center organize an Asian-Pacific Heritage Celebration, a week of events and exchange of Asian culture.

We demonstrated ryakubon date (O-bon temae, tea made on a tray) in a three-mat "room" for about 19 attendees — students, staff and faculty. It was a very simple and informal demonstration, but perfect for the occasion. The tea we served was Pacleaf "Starlight."

photo of tea demonstration

Above, L to R: John, Kristin, Harvey, Pia and Laura. (Holly is behind the camera.) Harvey gave a brief introduction before Kristin, Pia and Laura demonstrated tea:

photo of tea demo

After our demonstration, Shuai Chen demonstrated Chinese tea ceremony. I was impressed by how differently each ceremony expressed appreciation of tea, yet I could sense an underlying similarity — perhaps a common stem from which both ceremonies grew. The tea she served was Oolong. Each step of the ceremony had a poetic name — and forgive me if I get this wrong — such as "Peacock Spreads its Tail." Her motions were as graceful as a dancer, and small flourishes while pouring or closing the teapot lid were deliberate and restrained. The tea leaves were rinsed once (a preliminary infusion which, I assume, should remove most of the bitter elements such as caffeine) then there was a series of seven infusions. The first infusion was poured into a tall teacup called the aroma cup, a shorter cup was placed over it then both cups were inverted. When the tea was served, the participant would remove the aroma cup (now on top) and appreciate the fragrance of the tea before drinking from the second, shorter cup. Here are photos of her beautiful equipment:

photo of Chinese tea ceremony equipment

photo of Chinese tea ceremony equipment

After both ceremonies, there was a relaxed time for questions. Shuai made more tea, and Kristin, Pia and Laura made bowls of tea which we shared with attendees in paper cups. Not as good as a chawan, but good for a first taste of matcha. (I'm always amused by the variety of facial expressions when someone tastes matcha for the first time!)

Chinese-Japanese Tea Exchange

Recently we were approached to demonstrate Cha-no-yu to a Chinese student who practices Chinese tea ceremony. Shuai has studied Chinese tea since she was a teen and learned through a mutual friend at HSU that we practice Japanese tea ceremony. On March 15th we arranged a demonstration at our home chashitsu.

Kristin performed Usucha. Guests were Laura, Kumi, Jay (Kumi's husband), Shuai (the Chinese student) and Holly. Harvey narrated. Kumi and Jay had just gone to San Fransisco and brought fresh manju sweets. We enjoyed Haiken after Usucha.

After tea, Shuai asked several questions about the ceremony, and was interested to know about any symbolic meaning what movements or actions might have. Harvey explained about the Four Principles -- Purity, Tranquility, Respect and Harmony -- and their influence on Cha-no-yu. And later, while we were enjoying sake and senbei in the kitchen, Harvey and Shuai sat down at the computer and watched YouTube videos of both Chinese and Japanese tea ceremonies.

Shuai is anxious to demonstrate Chinese tea ceremony for us, and we are equally excited to see it. We hope to see it at HSU's Asian-Pacific Cultural Festival or sooner if we can manage.

Here's an article written by our local paper about Shuai and her tea practice:

We are arranging a tea demonstration of our own at the HSU festival, but nothing has been finalized yet.