The Chinese Tea Ceremony
The Chinese Tea Ceremony is an ancient ritual that dates back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.) It encompasses the sensory exploration and appreciation of tea in all its aspects, utilizing a whole range of pleasures involving ears, eyes, nose, palate and mood. It also embraces the skill involved in the growing and processing of the tea leaves; knowing how to brew fine teas so as to extract the maximum flavor and aroma; cultivating a taste for ceramics and other accessories. Most of all, it is knowing how to relax and savour a brew in pleasant surroundings so that the tea session becomes a short retreat from the stresses and straiins of modern life.
Tea is an art. In Chinese they use the term ch'a-shu . In Japanese it is chanoyu. No matter how you say it tea is at its best when enjoyed in pleasant surroundings where the atmosphere is tranquil and the setting is harmonius. In the Chinese tradition it's important that it be shared in the company of relaxed, friendly people. The ability of the tea master to select a high quality tea that is right tea for the occasion and to brew it expertly is also of the utmost importance. Two other essentials are the use of very pure water and a set of tea utensils that is pleasing to the eye on account of their unostentatious beauty, thus adding to the prevailing atmosphere of tranquil harmony. However, all of these things--the setting, company, tea, water and tea utensils--will be in vain in the absence of the special attitude required to do them justice.
The key to that attitude is mindfulness or awareness. Today's world is full of so many distractions that we fail to notice much of what's going on around us. As such, this awareness needs to be cultivated. Once the mind is fully concentrated on the moment and we are able to attend to the responses of all six senses (hearing, smelling, tasting, seeing, touching and consciousness) the world opens up and reveals thousands of hidden sensory beauties. There is music in the sound of the kettle. One might say that it resembles the sound of the wind in the pines or the gurgle of a mountain stream. The eye is enthralled by the steam clouds billowing from the kettle and there is a freshness in the fragrance of the steam rising from the teacups. The delicate green or amber of the tea and the charm of the surroundings further entice the senses.
I wish that I had the words to express the following as eloquently as it was written by John Blofeld in his book The Chinese Art of Tea.
"I am sure that in this modern world where the pace of life is continually accelerating so that people get ulcers, dyspepsia, apoplexy and all kinds of mental ailment, practising the art of tea in the Chinese fashion is something well worth doing. As there are no hard and fast rules one may sit at ease on any kind of chair, on a cushion on the grass, with no obligation to think or talk of this and that. Tea is conducive to full relaxation; and the more experienced one is in the art of its carefree enjoyment, the truer this proves to be. Taking part in a tea session is a way of awakening to the Here and Now. To enjoy such subtle pleasures as the hiss and bubble of a kettle, the small white clouds of steam, the harmony of thoughtfully chosen utensils, the colour, flavour and aroma of the tea, one must resolutely banish cares (instead of allowing them to gnaw the mind like rats) and keep one's mind and senses focused on what lies to hand. This art, besides being delightful in itself, is a great deal cheaper than most other forms of therapy. I have yet to hear of regular tea people who need the help of professional analysts. To be a tea man or tea woman is to doctor one's mind. Cultivation of immediate responses to the Here and Now by means of the tea art leads gently to a more permanent awareness. Thereafter, the fragile beauties of each moment, which have hitherto been allowed to pass unnoticed, will receive our pleased attention. Thus we shall be guarded from preoccupation with a past already gone, or a future yet to come--a future that is likely to be less dismal than we feared if we know when and how to relax!"