The Elegance of Tea-Drinking茶的格调
14. The Elegance of Tea-Drinking
In classical novels, if someone drinks tea out of a big cup to quench his thirst, the word used to illustrate this action is "drink", like a cow drinking water. Scholars would use fine cups to drink tea and the word to use is "savour".
Tea drinking is a very sophisticated pastime. It starts with the environment. In the past, tea drinking should take place in a setting where "spring water runs on marbles" or "in a monastery in misty spring" or "in the woods during sunset." Nowadays, in order to recreate such an ambience, tea houses are always decorated with traditional paintings, calligraphy and furniture, with a girl in traditional costume playing the gu zheng, a traditional Chinese musical instrument.
How about the tea sets?
In the old days, people used iron kettles to boil water. Tea was placed in a paper bag. Porcelain cups were used for drinking The water came from melted snow which was collected from plum blossom trees the previous winter and stored underground in a jar. Today people use different tea sets but the most popular ones are the pots made in Yixing. No one collects snow any more because of pollution so people use bottled water instead.
Is there any difference in the tea?
Tea has categories: red tea, green tea, Wulong tea and Pu'er tea. The first three types of tea area processed using similar methods but Pu'er tea uses a totally different method. It contains a kink of fungus which is believed to be healthy. The fungus will ferment on its own after the tea is processed. This is why expensive Pu'er tea is always quite old.
Is tea drinking very expensive?
Yes, it is a commercialized hobby now. This is different from the way ancient scholars enjoys themselves, by savouring tea among bamboos or in the moonlight. People nowadays talk business in expensively-decorated tea houses. Ordinary people go to the inexpensive tea houses where they can play games or simply chat with friends. It's more personal. Although such tea houses may not look elegant, the certainly have a relaxed atmosphere and are good fun.
Different tea houses can meet different needs and, you are right, people's taste preferences are not always swayed by money.