26 January 2011

The Tea Environment

In the spirit of not posting without something interesting to say, I've dutifully neglected posting anything since my last spate of shu pu reviews. I have been drinking those and other teas, the other teas not offering enough of interest to merit scribing.

We in Los Angeles met again recently for tea, and the excellent tea space of the host made me return to thoughts of the importance of environment when drinking tea.
January 2011 Tea - Dancong5
The space where we drank tea is very well laid out: a recessed, wall-less space near the back of the host's home, separate from the nearby living spaces but not cut off from them. As you can see above and below, he has one long tea table, functional in its length and shallow depth insomuch as it makes it easy to serve tea to many people without reaching over anyone and beautiful in its carving, slightly curved shape, distressed red and brown paint and elegant slate inlays.

More photos of the space are below. I am missing a shot of the left corner, which housed a short table holding some additional wares and canisters.
January 2011 Tea - brewing 1997 8582
January 2011 Tea - Wyardley brewing
January 2011 Tea - Dancong 3
Visiting the space made me long to finish my own tea space, which is currently half ugly office furniture and half nice tea furniture, with two walls that are begging for adornment with their blank faces.

Tea can be had and enjoyed anywhere, but a space's charm--whether a dedicated indoor tea space, a well decorated dining room, or outside at a park--can bring an added element to the experience. On this particular occasion, the added elements were calm and intimacy, and very enjoyable.

I also remember visiting a shop in Taiwan, a standalone building set into the corner of what was essentially a shopping plaza parking lot. The tea tasting space was simply decorated with heavy wooden furniture, but the real beauty of the space came in through the windows: the tea table was surrounded on three sides by windows that let in the diffuse light, dancing shadows, and rustling whish-whish of tall bamboo planted just on the other side of the glass.

Of course, many other pursuits benefit from a good environment, and conversely, good tea will stand out wherever it's brewed. But a little charm certainly makes it more comfortable and memorable.

11 comments:

MarshalN said...

Interesting how the Kamjove is used when there's a Purion nearby.

I like that table -- it's very well suited for tea making, although perhaps just a tad low?

Jason Fasi said...

The Kamjove is for pre-boiling. Otherwise, we'd be waiting all day! :)

The tea table doesn't feel very low, but it certainly looks that way in pictures.

Will said...

Yeah - I can see how the height looks weird in the photos, but it's actually a perfect height for me. Much more comfortable than my coffee (tea?) table.

Alex Zorach said...

I do think that the environment in which you drink tea, even ignoring the possibility of interfering aromas, can have a profound effect on your experience of tasting a tea. Things like the furniture you sit in, the company you share, the lighting, all impact my experience -- and in my experience these factors are sometimes bigger than the differences in experience effected by changing steeping time, brewing temperatures, and other factors that influence the actual chemical composition of the brewed tea.

I think this is a much-neglected topic, and I'm glad you've chosen to write about it!

Jason Fasi said...

Thanks for the supportive comment, Alex. Tea is a lot more than hot water and leaves: environment certainly contributes to experiencing the tea gestalt.

Lelia said...

Hi, I notice you are using the smaller size Yixing pots. Do you find them useful when tasting with several people and do you use a different pot for each type of tea you are tasting to perverse the flavor?

Will said...

Those pots aren't actually so very small. Probably most of the pots pictured here are about 150-200 ml each, which is plenty for 5-6 people, especially when you're trying a lot of infusions of a lot of different teas. The cups we use are fairly small, and they're not filled all the way to the top.

Most of the pots in this picture are Tom's, but I think most of us do tend to dedicate a particular pot to one type of tea; some people are more general or more specific in how they do this.

learning to pull radishes said...

Is that Linda there sipping tea with you? I just got my first order of Bana's '92 Tang Xiang shu a few days ago. mmm I sure love that tea. Nice to read about the effect of surrounding environment on the tea experience. I'm headed to CA in a few days and will be staying in a generic hotel. The thought of sipping my tea in a hotel room or lobby leaves me cold...

Jason Fasi said...

@learning 'Tis her indeed. Where are you visiting in CA? We're having tea in LA on Sunday...

I bet you will make better tea in that hotel room than anyone else staying there!

learning to pull radishes said...

I'll be in and around Santa Rosa through March 9th, too far from LA I'm afraid. That would have been so nice :) But if you happen to have any tea-related destinations you could recommend for that area I'd be happy to hear them.

Jason Fasi said...

@learning there's a place called Infusions in Sebastopol, not far from Santa Rosa. It's more tea cafe than tea shop, IIRC. They had a few unblended pu'ers, nothing fancy.