EXCLUSIVE: History in a Bowl of Tea: Tea in the Song Period

IMG_6906Friends and fellow tea people! I’m excited to share the live video and presentation component for the tea talk and interactive workshop “History in a Bowl of Tea: Tea in the Song Period”, held Wednesday, May 30th from 6:30pm to 9pm at Floating Mountain Tea House in Manhattan!

Join us as we explore the unique history, art, and craft of tea culture during the Song period (960-1279). Learn how today’s matcha craze has its origins in the tenth century as scholars, monks, and emperors alike celebrated the flavors of powdered tea in poetry and prose, paintings and elegant tea gatherings. Examine antique teawares from the Song period and learn about the diversity of ceramics that marked this time as a “golden age” for tea.

This workshop includes a step-by-step demonstration of the grinding of Song period-style powdered tea (抹茶, mǒchá) followed by a diǎn chá (點茶, literally “marked tea”) tea tasting, conducted using historically accurate reproduced recipes.

The presentation (currently a rough version… expect something “beautiful” later) is linked here: Tea in the Song Period Presentation

You can use this presentation to follow-along with the live video of the tea talk and interactive workshop, linked here via Facebook LIVE and Floating Mountain Tea .

Any comment you leave on the Facebook page will be answered either by myself or by the proprietor of Floating Mountain. Otherwise, please feel free to leave comments, questions, feedback, and any other notes here on Scotttea.

As always, stay curious and stay thirsty!

Since originally posting this article, the video has also been uploaded here to YouTube, with additional notes pertaining to the tea talk and workshop. Enjoy!


Filed under Ceramics, China, Education, Green Tea, History, Japan, Korea, Poetry, Tea, Tea Tasting, Uncategorized

4 responses to “EXCLUSIVE: History in a Bowl of Tea: Tea in the Song Period

  1. Pingback: The Opening of a New Year | Scotttea

  2. Ellen S Best

    Thanks, Scott. So it is white tea that is ground? So that’s the Chinese “counterpart” to Japanese matcha? Also, one of the slides says that tea is light and looks best in black cups. I alway tend towards white cups to be able to see the color best – thoughts?
    Those old paintings show how tea the tea experience was incorporated into the culture (outside, lots of prep) compared to the English formal experience (indoors, now with sweet confections) and compared to the grab and go “mug culture” in this country and others!
    I would love to taste these teas – let me know the sample fee and how/where to send.

    PS Went to Floating Mountain a week ago, had Wu Yi there, and bought Moonlight and Peony white teas. Will try to boil it after many infusions. How do you recommend I do that? Just use a little water and boil briefly?

    • Ellen,
      What a fabulous comment and great questions! Where to begin? I’ll try my best to answer to every point you have provided.

      First, to call 抹茶 mǒchá a Chinese “counterpart” to Japanese matcha is to maybe oversimplify. There’s a long history that “begins” in China where tea was picked, processed, pressed into cakes, and then pulverized and powdered into what is called mǒchá (“powdered tea”). Even in this superficial look, the process is quite different to the production of matcha, from the way tea is grown, to what type of tea is used, to pretty much all aspects of production. Even the final whisking is quite different. I go over this in detail in the video that is linked as I make a bowl of mǒchá following a process laid-out by Emperor Song Huizong in his 大觀茶論 Dà Guān Chá Lùn (“Treatise on Tea”, 1107).

      I guess this leads me to your second point: cups (or should I say “bowls”…茶碗 cháwǎn). In the Tang (618-907), white bowls were deemed suitable to the enjoyment of tea. The reason was, like modern white porcelain tea cups, one could enjoy the color of the tea’s broth (whether opaque or translucent). Some tea connoisseurs preferred light blue (as it was believed this would bring out the “true” color of tea). Lu Yu goes into this more in his 茶經 Chájīng (“Classic of Tea”, c.760-762).

      By the Song period, tastes shifted (in many ways), as whisked tea with a fine bright foam was favored over the broth-style tea. As this approach to tea developed and people began to add their own artistic license to it, a wide variety of ceramics became preferred. Black or dark brown 建窯 Jiàn yáo ware was popular amongst the tea people of the Song given that the dark color created a dramatic backdrop to the bright foam of the tea when producing 點茶 diǎn chá (“marked tea”/tea with foam).

      In regards to your point on indoor/outdoor enjoyment of tea, I think this, too, reflects a cultural tendency of the Song (and East Asian scholars’ culture) to get closer to nature. This comes from a number of intersecting philosophies that hold nature as a projection of harmony. It’s also a place where one can go to distance themselves from the “red dust” of society. Likewise, it is a space of rustic refinement. All of this plays well into how tea was enjoyed back then (and today). But, that said, tea was also (and often depicted in art) enjoyed inside, whether it be in a hut or more formal setting. Coming from English stock, I’ve had English “high tea” both in fancy interiors and laid-back gardens. Perhaps there is something similar here (though distant in time and place).

      If you do happen to find yourself in NYC again, let me know and we can talk (and taste) tea. As for samples of my Song period-style powdered tea, I consider this “still in development”. I would ask only to pay for shipping if you want a small amount. If you’d like something more substantial, I ask for people to pay for the unprocessed tea leaves… it can take up to three hours of hand grinding and sifting to produce a small amount of this tea for consumption.

      Finally… in regards to brewing white tea, I find it depends on the lead type. Some white teas are quite delicate, others more robust. Try to initially brew them quickly, extending your brew times as you continue to do subsequent steepings. What you want to aim for is a expression of the tea’s optimal flavors, so it really depends on the tea. It’s something best explained over tea.

      Thank you again for you inquiries. Always appreciated. I hope I have answered as best I can what you have asked.

      Best regards,

  3. Pingback: EXCLUSIVE: History in a Bowl of Tea: Tea in the Song Period, Part II | Scotttea

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s