Warning: by the sheer number of steps involved, skip this post if Chinese tea doesn't get your juice flowing
But, if you luv Chinese tea like I do you may very well have heard the region Wuyi of China mentioned above, the place where Oolong tea and the Tea of Cliff (so named because the trees are grown on the cliffs of the Wuyi Mountain) come from. It is also the locale where the King of Chinese Tea, Tai Hun Bo, or the legendary Grand Red Rope is produced (but I reckon this is a totally pointless and melancholy claim given that none everywhere and everywhen has a chance to taste a cup of authentic Tai Hun Bo, save those octogenarians of the Communist Party).
The lyrics of The Wuyi Tea Song was written by a tea cognoscente of a monk called Sik Chiu Chuen 釋超全 back in the Qing Dynasty. According to Master Sik, we should serve, or be served the Wuyi tea in these 27 steps in order to enjoy the tea to perfection. I have posted 9 of them (the part on serving the tea) in a previous post quite a while ago. Yet, my friend Lam keeps reminding me that in omitting other parts, I'm not doing the song right. Easy for him to say for he is not the one to succumb to the translation. Trust me, turning all these 27 steps into English is an immense ordeal.
No matter how quixotic the project I'm doing seems like and feels like, the goal is simple: to share with you the art, the skills and the wisdom of Chinese tea culture. That is, indeed, something I'm proud of. Yet, as a translator, I must confess I am of the most impotent kind. Do forgive me if you find the translation sucks. And apart from some translation bummers you may find here or there, I hope that you can discover the four principles of Chinese tea culture out of these 27 steps: "affordable; beautiful; harmonious and respectful (廉、美、和、敬)."
(1) Heartily welcome the guests and let them be seated (恭請上座)：
Warmly welcome the guests and usher them to their seats. The host usually sits facing the south of the room (i.e., face to the entrance) whereas the seat facing west is reserved for the most respected guest, the east lesser and those facing north the humblest (back to the entrance: the most insecure). For Chinese, truthfully, eats and drinks are full of subtlety and politics.
(2)Ignite the incense to purify the soul (焚香静氣)：
To create a harmonious ambiance in the room. Some tea masters do meditation in this step while others take this opportunity to pay homage to the Sage of Tea, Luk Yu.
(3)Silk and bamboo sing in harmony (絲竹和鳴)：
Silk and bamboo, when two are used together, is one poetic term for Chinese strings such as gujin (seven-stringed zither) and guzheng (Chinese lap harp). Classical Chinese tunes are played by the musicians to let the guests waltz into the desired spiritual mood.
(4)Show the "Yip Ka" to the guests (葉嘉酬賓)：
Show the tea leaves to the guests. "Yip Ka" is metaphorically used for the tea of cliff in a poem written by poet Su Dongpo back in the Sung Dynasty.
(5)Boil the spring water alive (活煮山泉)：
To boil the spring water with strong fire. In Chinese, a "lively" fire is equivalent to a strong fire. To the cognition of Chinese tea cognoscenti, the spring water eclipses all others for brewing good tea.
(6)The bathe of Man Son (孟臣沐霖)：
It means to cleanse the pot with hot water. Man Son was the most famous maker of pot in the Ming Dynasty. In later days, all good tea pots are referred as Man Son.
(7)The dark dragon marching to the palace (烏龍入宮):
This is the part where the precise portion of Oolong is put into the tea pot (the palace). 'Dark dragon' is a double entendres here because a) it is homophone to Oolong in Chinese and b) the use of dragon imposes a kind of majestic sentiment to the tea.
(8)The plunging fall from the high-hanging kettle (懸壺高掛) :
In this step, the waitress pour the boiling water into the pot from the kettle in a high-arching position to a) show off her sinuous skill and b) break the tea with the boiling water hastens the uplifting of the tea's fragrance.
(9)The breeze of spring brushing the cheek (春風拂面) :
This is the move where the froth of the tea is brush away (smooth off) from the pot with its lid. The move is done with extra care, reminiscent the spring breeze caressing one’s cheek gently. An utterly Shakespearean term for a step in tea-drinking, if you ask me.
(10)Rewash of the face of an angel (重洗仙颜)：
Splash the pot with hot water to lift up its temperature as well as to wash away the tea that spilled out.
(11)The bathe of Yu Shen (若琛出浴)：
Cleansing the tea cups. Yu Shen is the most famous craftsman in the tea cup trade in the Qing Dynasty. People later allude his name to all good tea cups.
(12)Lark about the mountains and the waters (游山玩水)：
The tea pot is spun around the tray to scrape away water at the bottom. It is extremely impolite to have water spilling off from the bottom of the pot on the cups when serving.
(13)Kuan Yu (the God of War) patrolling the fortress (關公巡城) :
This move means to pour the tea from the pot to cups. It bears the resemblance to a wily general checking every corners of the fortress meticulously. Instead of pouring the tea from high-arching position like in Step 8, the pot kiss the lips of the cups in this move and the tea is poured slowly, almost in a dripping fashion, to ensure only the tea, not the leaves, is flowed into the cups.
(14)The roll call by Han Shin (韓信點兵) :
In this step, each cup is poured with tea again to even the portion. The roll call by Han Shin is a Chinese idiom made famous by general Han Shin's astute deployment of his battalion. The second part of this idiom, which is not used here, is equally famous - the more the better - which somehow reflects truly what's in every tea aficionado’s mind during the tea ceremony.
(15)Three dragons shield the "ting" (三龍護鼎)：
To hold the cup with your thumb, forefinger and middle finger. In this way you can hold it firmly without losing fineness and elegance. "Ting" is a brass container used in ceremonial occasions during Confucius's day -- using "ting" here more or less implies the guests should do this step politely to express gratitude to the host.
(16)Appreciate the three colors (鑒賞三色)：
Tea guru would say good tea always shows three different colors in the top, middle and bottom layers. If this so or if this not so? See for yourself.
(17)Sniff the captivating scent (喜聞幽香)：
Smell the aroma of the tea. But don't ply the glass swirling stunt like that in wine tasting here, please. Different course, different horse.
(18)Taste the marvelous tea for the first time (初品奇茗)：
Seen it and sniffed it. Now taste it.
(19)Refill the falling twilight (再斟流霞) :
The tea is poured again for the guests. They say the color is lighter than the first round with a vivid resemblance of sunset red.
(20)Sip and taste the sweet dew (品啜甘露)：
Taste the second round of the tea. Some may argue the second round is better than the first. Sweet dew is an euphemism for the tea.
(21)Pour the drips of stone for round three (三斟石乳)：
Serving the tea for third time. The drips of stone has been synonymous to the "tea of cliff" ever since the Yu Dynasty -- relating the tea as rare as the dripstone. The tea master pours the tea in a three-ups and three-downs evolution, a move that is also quipped the "three bowings of the phoenix (鳳凰三叩頭)."
(22)Take delight in the taste of the cliff (領略岩韵)：
Enjoy the after taste of the cliff (the tea).
(23)Serving of dim sum (敬献茶點)：
Exquisite dim sum (light and sweet ones to fight against the tannins) is served at this stage.
(24)Bask in the sea of tea (自斟慢飲)：
Guests are invited to pour the tea in their own accord and taste the tea further.
(25)Enjoy the tea songs (欣赏歌舞)：
Folk songs of the Wuyi region, especially those of tea growers' are played to entertain the guests.
(26)Dexterous dragons frolicking with the water (游龍戲水)：
A few drinkers start to bade farewell; the host or the servant starts to flit across cups and pots. A polite way to suggest to the guests the feast is about to end.
(27)Bottoms' up and auld lang syne (盡杯谢茶)：
The finale: taking the hint, the guests rise up and bottoms' up the tea. Express their gratitude to the host and wave goodbye.