An ancient Chinese myth tells of two celestial lovers 織女 Zhīnǚ (the star Vega) and 牛郎 Niúlán (the star Altair) kept apart, only united on the seventh evening of the seventh month. It is believed at this time, these stars align and a bridge made of magpies stretches across the Milky Way, linking the two sky-bound lovers. While some within East Asia may observe this day on July 7th in accordance with the Western calendar, the true date of 七夕 Qīxī is variable, dependent on the lunar month and day.
On this 7th of August, I sit down to prepare a very special bowl of tea in observance of Qīxī, one in the style of the Song period (960-1279). To give as accurate of an approximation of this approach, I utilize methods described in such texts as Emperor 宋徽宗 Sòng Huīzōng’s 大觀茶論 Dà Guān Chá Lùn (“Treatise on Tea”, 1107) and 蔡襄 Cài Xiāng’s 茶錄 Chá Lù (“Record of Tea”, 1049-1053). Additionally, I use teaware that closely reflect those which are depicted in Song period paintings and in the 1269 illustrated text 茶具圖贊 Chájù Tú Zàn (“Pictorial of Tea”) by 審安老人 Shěnān Lǎo Rén (Old man Shenan).
Much of my time making tea in this manner is spent not with the boiling of water or the whisking of tea, but in the hours-long process of sorting, sifting, and grinding leaves of a wild white tea to make a fine powder.
Once ground-down to a fine enough powder, I place this Song style 抹茶 mǒchá (powdered tea) into a small gourd-shaped celadon container.
Boiling water and assembling teaware becomes its own meditation, set to the scent of incense wafting in the air of my tearoom. Once put together, I offer up what is as close of an approximation to tea during the Song period that I can muster.
A vintage Japanese-made 天目茶碗 tenmoku chawan made in reproduction of a Song period 建窯 Jiàn yáo teabowl sitting atop a wooden cup stand.
A bright celadon tea container. A simple scoop fashioned from wood.
A bamboo whisk modified to approximate that which would have been used during the mid-to-late Song period. All items I place atop a tray carved from mulberry wood.
Each item is then cleansed and readied to prepare a bowl of Song style mǒchá.
With the teabowl warmed, I draw-forth six scoops of powdered tea from the small celadon tea container.
Placed in the center of the tenmoku chawan, the faint aroma of tea can already be detected.
Next, I pour a small measure of boiled water over the tea powder and begin to knead it into a thick, consistent paste with the tea whisk.
Once fully kneaded, I add a little more water, just enough to turn the tea paste into a thick liquid.
Whisking slightly faster, I begin to whip the tea into a light foam.
More water is added and I whisk faster.
More water is added and more foam is produced.
Seven times I add water before the tea is fully whisked into a proper bowl of mǒchá as described by Huīzōng during the 12th century.
The soft foam and minuscule patterns of collected tea upon the surface poetically resembling freshly-fallen snow.
Served atop the wooden cup stand, the tea is exceedingly fragrant, surpassing the light aroma of aloeswood that still lingers in the air.
In observance of two star-crossed lovers, as they make their way silently across the sky, I slack my thirst with tea prepared in accordance to an ancient style. The flavor of tea and the time of year melding together into a moment of meditation.