Sunday, December 30, 2007

Less Is More

Ever wonder why gongfu cups are so small? Every time my friend comes over to my house, he's always telling me: "Your cups keep getting smaller and smaller. Don't you have any regular cups in your house?" Or sometimes at tea he will say: "I don't want to drink a dropful, I want to drink a mouthful!"

Other people ask: "How can you drink from such a small cup? Don't you get thirsty?"

Yes, a gongfu tea cup, or tasting cup (pin ming bei), as they're known, are pretty small; with the average gongfu cup holding about 20 mL of fluid.

But they're intentionally made small for several reasons. Chances are, if you're drinking from a big cup, you're gulping down liquid. But with gongfu cups, you can't do that. You need to sip slowly and appreciate the taste of the tea. It's not about quenching thirst; it's about savoring the flavor of the tea. Also, drinking from such a small cup can help you see the color of the tea more clearly. If you pour a large quantity of tea into a cup, you get a darker, murky color. The gongfu cup keeps the color lighter. You can judge the quality of a tea by the color of the infusion. So using a gongfu cup can help with that. As well, if you poured your tea into a big cup, the aromas dissipate, and you can't smell anything. Using a gongfu cup, you can smell the fragrance of the tea more clearly. Basically, you waste the tea by pouring it into a big cup because: you gulp it down without thinking to savor the flavor of the tea; your tea is murky, so you don't notice the true nature of the tea; and you can't get your nose near enough to smell the tea fragrance.

So if you really want to waste your money; and waste your tea, then drink it from a big cup. But you won't do that now, because you know why gongfu teacups are used. Of course, if you're really thirsty, please use a big cup. An iced oolong is nice once in awhile. But when drinking good tea, it's kind of uncouth to use a big cup. It's much better to pour tea into several gongfu cups and share the tea with friends, so you can have shared enjoyment, and a shared experience of tea.

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Get Off the Freakin Coffee! (tea neurosis - but it's normal)

Yes, I pity my camellia deprived friends. They spend their whole lives (or mornings, at least) in a half-asleep stupor until they have their coffee. They seem unable to function without the stuff. They go around with their little coffee lives, stopping for coffee on the way to work, having coffee at work, and worst of all, offering us - Teaists a cup of the dreaded stuff. Of course we gracefully decline, saying that we burnt our tongue on toast, and drinking anything hot would be forever too painful. But in our minds we are thinking: "Who would want to drink coffee anyway? Drinking the stuff gives you coffee breath. And besides, my tea palette is too precious to be ruined by such an odoriferous substance."

We Teaists live a good, clean, healthy tea life. It's not at all like those coffee freaks who gulp down their black stuff while inhaling a cigarette. No, no, those are not for us. We want to be clean and odor-free so we can smell the pure fragrance of our tea without distraction. And we want to be able to appreciate the unadulterated taste of tea. Our tongues are super-sensitive gustation machines.

And we absolutely hate it when other people fondle our tea things. It should be illegal to hold tea things until you have taken a course and are proficient in Tea Thing Handling. Yeah, that would greatly reduce the unnecessary cracking of a gaiwan, the heart-wrenching shattering of a gaiwan lid, the senseless breaking of a teapot handle. Yes, the world would be a much happier place if only those un-thinking people listened in the first place to the words "Don't touch that!"

But life goes on and what is broken is broken - an experience well learned and memories of glorious tea brewing in a piece well used. What are you doing? Are you crazy? Put that broom away. It's sacrilege to throw out my broken but still cherished gaiwan like it was nothing. No, I will instead keep the jagged little pieces in a bowl, as a memorial. And when I am done mourning - say after 3 years, and after many fallen comrades are committed to the "broken bowl", I will bury them all together, in the earth - for future generations to discover, and marvel at tea drinking customs of the early 21st century.

If you're a coffee drinker, do you now see what you're missing? Can you finally feel the void in your life now? Do you finally realize how senseless it is to go on with your life in a camellia deprived state? How can you live like that? How can anyone live like that? To drink tea is to enjoy a full, rich life. To be a Teaist is normal, albeit a little neurotic, but perfectly normal. Get a grip on yourself. Get some tea. And if you have to, seek professional help. Don't let yourself go like that. There is hope for you, really. Others like you were once coffee addicts; but their lives were saved because of tea. The soul is not complete without Tea.

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Chapan Care

Some chapan are made of wood, some of bamboo, some of stone, some of dense plastic, some of other materials. But whatever material they're made of, they all need daily care to keep them maintained in good shape.

If you're using a chapan daily, as most people do in Fujian, then you need to pay more attention to cleaning every day. The chapan is a necessary utensil; and it is ubiquitous in Fujian. You see one in hotel lobbies, you see them in offices of car dealerships, you see them in waiting rooms attached to school offices, you see them in homes, you see them in restaurants. In fact, you can find a chapan in just about every home, office, or anywhere else people have to wait for periods of time. These chapan are doing their duty every day, draining away liquids. And day after day, year after year, they get used. Some are so well used, the finish is worn off the top. Or, some are covered in rich, brown tea stains all over. Some have a hose that is thickly caked with tea sediment on the inside. They all show signs of age, but still just as useful as new.

Over years of service, your chapan will also show signs of wear. Here are some tips to help keep yours in good shape.

Use a Brush
When at home, you can use a small brush to sweep excess liquid and tea fines toward the drain hole.

Use Tea Towels
You can use tea towels to wipe your chapan down between sessions. This helps to cut down on tea stain buildup. Have extra tea towels on hand - because they get soaked quickly.

After finishing use of the chapan for the day, wipe it down thoroughly so there's no standing water on top. This will help preserve the finish.

Change the Hose
After use for a period of time, the hose will become heavily tea stained, and may become unsightly. If that's the case, then change it. You can buy an extra length of hose at any length you need at a hardware store.

Change the Waste Bucket
Your waste bucket will sit on the floor, collect waste tea liquid, and waste tea leaves. It gets used often, but most people neglect it. Then, it will become heavily tea stained, and ugly. It's best to empty it at the end of the day, and wash it with soap. Placing a little mat or rug under this bucket is also desirable, so your floor won't get tea stained.

It's Not a Cutting Board
If you really want to protect your chapan, then don't use it for other purposes other than brewing tea. Don't use it as a surface for cutting up fruit, for example.

Clearing Clogs
If your chapan gets plugged up with bits of leaf, then you should first remove any visible bits of leaf. Then, you can place your palm over the drain hole and lightly plunge with your palm. The problem should clear up right away. But if water is still not draining away, then maybe the hose either has a kink, or the hose is too long. The hose should not touch the bottom of the bucket. Try moving the hose around to see if that solves the problem.

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