Rules of Engagement | China Heritage Quarterly
Rules of Engagement:
Surviving the Tea World
Translated by Lawrence Zhang 張樂翔
The following is translation is from a humourous post on the blog of the magazine Lifeweek 生活周刊. The translation first appeared on Lawrence Zhang's blog, 'A Tea Addict's Journal', on 21 February 2012. It is reproduced here with permission, and minor modification. In the Chinese title, the digits '13' are a written code for 'shishang' 时尚 or 'trendy'. Thus, '装13' means '假装时尚', 'to put on a show of being trendy'. For more by Lawrence Zhang in the current issue, see here and here.—The Editor
Fig.1 The well-accoutred tea enthusiast (Image: Xie Yufei 谢驭飞)
1. First—tea leaves. Of course, you must understand the current trends really well, but you cannot simply be following whatever is fashionable. Everyone all know about yancha and zhengshan xiaozhong, so what you need to do is drink things like Oriental Beauty, or pu'erh that came back (to the Mainland) from Taiwan. If you must drink yancha, then it has to be tea that is from a famous maker. You cannot ever say anything about buying tea, as all the tea you drink must be gifted from friends or famous personages. If you don't want to explain, you can simply put up pictures of you with said famous makers. If you must spend money to get tea, at least it has to be specially made tea, and not commercial grade stuff. Whether or not you can finish your tea collection in your current lifetime, you must have a lot of tea in your collection. When it comes to pu'erh, whatever '7542', '88 Qing', or 'old square brick', you must have all of them. Have ten different, large Yixing pottery jars each labeled with different years and storing pu'erh of different vintages, and then specially order some rosewood shelves specifically for the storage of pu'erhcakes. Prepare thirty different Jingdezhen porcelain jars from famous makers and store various kinds of famous dancing, yancha, and the like in them. These must be placed strategically so that when you take pictures they will form the background.
2. You must appear in various occasions where tea is evaluated. When you evaluate teas, you have to immediately and incisively point out the flaws in the tea you're drinking, especially on the points of roasting techniques and aftertaste. If you accidentally said something as bland as 'great fragrance and smooth mouth-feel' then you would have lost all effects from your appearance. If you can figure out which mountain, which hole, or which ditch this tea is from, all the better and you'll score full points for that. At this juncture, you must go for the kill and not only do you need to point out whether this tea is from a certain ditch or not, but you have to tell us if it is from the edge of the ditch or the bottom of the ditch. This is a little more difficult, and newbies should avoid trying this at home.
3. You must redecorate a room in your house to make it your tea-room. Rosewood furniture, supersized tea table are of course a plus. On the tea table you must have at least three different Yixing pots, all made by famous artisans. The cups cannot be run of the mill either. Even though Taiwanese makers are now a bit old-fashioned, a few of those might be good, and you can always throw them onto the rack behind you and only explain their origins if someone asks. Small cups from Jingdezhen are always good to intersperse in your tea drinking, but if you can find qinghua or famille rose cups Kangxi or Qianlong periods, then this is probably best. What you use to boil water cannot be mundane either. You must possess a few antique tetsubin [鉄瓶] from Japan. If you're still using induction plates or alcohol burners to boil water for your tetsubin, then this is way too lame. You have to use a stove made with top grade red clay, and paired with olive-pit charcoal. At the same time, you must point out clearly that using olive-pit charcoal to boil water is not the same as using electricity. If you want extra credit, find some friend who's from another province to provide you with mountain spring water from their region. Of course, such solutions can't always work for you, but still you can't just use regular purified water. If you can insist on driving fifty kilometres every week to a nearby mountain for water, that'll add a lot of points. Also, if you're drinking tea at this level and you don't burn incense, then you're just not doing it right. The incense burner and storage cannot be any run of the mill objects, and the incense itself has to be agarwood. Over the course of a night you have to burn off an entire iPhone4S worth of agarwood incense. Moreover, you gotta learn how to play an ancient Chinese zither, or guqin song. There needs to be a space in your tea room for a Chinese zither, and when you host top flight tea people in your tea room, you play this song, and that will just be your killer move.
4. You have to have a full-frame SLR with a top-flight zoom lens. Since you always have to upload your photos, such a camera setup is essential. All your pictures should be taken at night, the blurrier the better. The chaxi has to be changed constantly, and dead, dried out bamboo can add points to your setup. Unless you're Chen Daoming or Zhang Jiayi, try not to show your face in the photos. A good way to do this is to only shoot a female hand with a cup, only showing hands and no faces. This way you are simultaneously mysterious while letting everyone know that you're not some loser drinking tea by yourself at home.
5. Find a friend who's good with writing, and ask him or her to help you compose one-hundred short poems and store on your computer. Whenever you need you can pair it with a photo and put it up on your twitter stream.
6. Finally, you gotta have a title. At least you have to be a high-level tea evaluator, or you can team up with a few friends and become some general secretary or trustee of some Chinese tea aficionado association or world tea alliance. Whenever you're talking you have to mention Zen Buddhism, and have to invite all kinds of religious types to your home to drink tea, not to mention taking pictures with them. If you can get them to write you some calligraphy, all the better. If there are newbies who ask you how to brew tea, just say 'I use the ancients as guide and simplicity as my way' and end it there.