A Tea Addict's Journal

Rules of engagement: Surviving in the tea world

February 21, 2012 · 29 Comments

*The following is my translation of a humourous post on the Chinese blog of the magazine Lifeweek. They claim this is taken from issue 660 of the magazine, although I can’t seem to find it in the table of contents of the issue.

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 puerh 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 puerh, whatever “7542”, “88 Qing”, or “old square brick”, you must have all of them. Have ten different, large yixing jars each labeled with different years and storing puerh of different vintages, and then specially order some rosewood shelves specifically for the storage of puerh cakes. Prepare 30 different Jingdezhen porcelain jars from famous makers and store various kinds of famous dancong, 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 on 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 mouthfeel” 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 from 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 tetsubins 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 50km 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 a guqin song. There needs to be a space in your tea room for a guqin, 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 100 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 have 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.

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29 responses so far ↓

  • Nicolas // February 21, 2012 at 4:19 am | Reply

    Fortunately, you specify that translation comes from a humorous post.
    I intended to empty my bank account to buy a tea room at crazy prices 😉
    Best regards
    Nicolas (regular reader)

    • MarshalN // February 21, 2012 at 4:36 am | Reply

      Heh, it’s very tongue in cheek

    • David // February 28, 2012 at 9:41 pm | Reply

      Ha, yeah; I’m glad I read this before shelling out thousands on antiques!

      Instead, I can now invite the “custom tea room” set over to drink knock-off CNNP from some corner store in Chinatown, and knowingly reference a few choice quips from this post, while pretending not to have seen the Twitpic of their latest Export Period wine cups…

      David Galli, Head Cheerleader, Portland Tea Enthusiasts’ Alliance

  • sparris // February 21, 2012 at 4:26 am | Reply

    Very accurate, and with some tweaking easily applicable to any hobby/interest , especially those with an element of collecting. The snobbery and excluding seems universal.

    Been following your blog for a few years but haven’t commented until now. I appreciate your writing a lot.

  • Hobbes // February 21, 2012 at 4:32 am | Reply

    Hmm, we have a guqin in our tea-room… 🙂

  • Su Ming Ng // February 21, 2012 at 7:20 am | Reply

    Haha ! Funny article !! I like the bit about whether the tea comes from the edge or the bottom of the of the ditch.

  • Thoughts on American Tea Culture | World of Tea // February 21, 2012 at 10:45 am | Reply

    […] any culture for that matter. I was reading a translation by MarshalN of a Chinese blog post about snobbery in the tea world and it kind of went along with my thinking of late about tea culture here in America, where it […]

  • Sam // February 21, 2012 at 11:06 am | Reply

    I’ve just lost all my self esteem. I had to look up ‘guqin’ on wikipedia.
    No rosewood shelves, either.

  • pb2q // February 21, 2012 at 6:44 pm | Reply

    You shouldn’t have posted this: now there will be a guqin bubble among western tea drinkers.

  • Chris // February 22, 2012 at 6:32 pm | Reply

    Things that are humorous in one language often fall flat in another; I found the entire article hilarious. Thanks for a wonderful translation.

  • Anonymouse // February 23, 2012 at 3:42 am | Reply

    Its funny how much of the tea experience could be seen as pointless aesthetic, unless the Agar wood really does enlighten your taste buds to a new level.

    Great post. It’s good to remember its just tea.

    Btw, not sure China has much of a Twitter to blog about.

  • flo // February 23, 2012 at 3:15 pm | Reply

    very perceptive and funny article, thank you so much for translating it. It is the least to say that the small world of tea amateurs has its bunch of Précieuses Ridicules.

  • Cloud Mtn // March 2, 2012 at 2:21 am | Reply

    Does that all apply to Bubble Tea as well?

  • dobler // March 9, 2012 at 1:25 pm | Reply

    What a brilliant article! Maybe the writer should have added something about keeping a teablog with various quasi-intellectual writings about tea. I could score high points from that. Or maybe that’s too mainstream nowadays ;).

  • Katie H // February 27, 2013 at 12:18 am | Reply

    hmm this is hilarious…but where on earth can I get my hands on some agarwood insence?

  • Tobias // February 28, 2013 at 8:26 pm | Reply

    Depends on where you are located, agarwood is included in the Appendix II of the “Convention of International Trade of Endangered Species” so if you want to order from asia you will need a export permit.

    If you are located in the US you can order agarwood or Japanese incense made with agarwood from Shoyeido.I haven’t tried any of their agarwood incense but I can recommend their other products.

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