02 April 2010

Doing it up, Tang Dynasty Style

I was at the Flagstaff Museum of Teaware in Hong Kong over a year ago, so these pictures and this article are long overdue.  In the interest of full disclosure, I have to say that my pictures are of low quality, partly because of the yellowish-light used in the displays, but mostly because of user skill-lessness.  Photography is generally prohibited in the museum.  It was just my luck, though, that a group of art students from the University of Hong Kong were there that day to work on a project.  I had walked in with that group and the museum guide asked if I was from the University of Hong Kong.  Since I was technically a student there (on exchange) many years ago, I said yes I went there.  She waved me through and let me use my camera as well.  Sweet!  But she reminded me not to dawdle and to avoid using my flash, which is why my pictures ended up somewhat blurry and dark.  Ok ok, those “effects” probably have more to do with, again, the user.  Moving on….

The following series depicts the major steps for preparing powdered tea, per Lu Yu’s methods, during the Tang Dynasty.  Water, probably stream or mountain water, is heated in a charcoal burning stove.  The pictures are shown below, in order, with my paraphrased explanations for each step.


tang2 - boiling water, look for fish eyes.  Called first boil

Step 1:  Boil the water until you see bubbles the size of "fish eyes.”  Yes, I realize that different fish have different eye sizes and shapes, but I’m guessing that Lu Yu meant common Chinese river fish.  No idea what type of fish those would be.  This is called the “first boiling.”

tang3 - season the water with a pinch of salt Step 2:  Season the tea with a pinch of salt.  I know, it looks like the preparer is putting in about 1/4 cup of salt.  Unfortunately, I don’t have a picture of the Chinese placard to reference what is meant by “a pinch.”  No worries, I can confirm next year.

tang 4 - boil to a string of bubbles, set one ladle aside for later use

Step 3:  Take out a ladle of the boiling water for later use.  Where to put it?  In a bowl of course.

tang5 - stir the boiling water with a pair of bamboo chopsticks

Step 4:  Stir the boiling water with bamboo chopsticks.  This step is pretty straightforward; I have no sarcastic comment here.

tang6 - add the tea powder and stir

Step 5:  Add the powdered tea into the boiling water.  Simple?  Maybe not.  There has been some gentle debate about whether the powder should be stirred as its added to the water or if it should be allowed to sit for a bit, be absorbed into the water, and then stirred.  I *think* Lu Yu said to stir as the tea is added. 

tang7 - reduce the boiling; ladle in that set-aside water to reduce the bubbles

Step 6:  Reduce the boiling.  That ladle of water you took out earlier?  It has cooled a lot; add it back in and watch the bubbling ease up.

tang 8 - serve the tea in bowls     

Step 7:  Serve the tea in a bowl.  Yes, I also wondered why the powdered GREEN tea that was added to the water turned BLACK in the picture.  As far as I know, salt does not interact with tea in such a manner.  That bowl of tea looks like it has pu’er in it.

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