The art of tea or 茶道 in Chinese would be more accurately translated as the ‘Way of Tea’; a philosophy, a way of life as opposed to a technique or a methodology. Considering how deeply ingrained tea is in Chinese culture, it is not surprising that the art of tea is more than mere systems and skills.
The 4 common ‘truths’ (茶道的四谛) or rather ‘pillars’ of the Chinese art of tea are ‘Harmony’ (和), ‘Tranquility’（静），‘Fulfillment’ (怡) and ‘Truth’ (真). Though much of it is rooted in Confucian, Taoist and Buddhist belief, there are still elements in there that proves precious to tea lovers of all religious or theist beliefs.
First Pillar of the Art of Tea- Harmony
Harmony encapsulates the core belief of the Chinese art of tea. No doubt this was rooted in Taoist Yin-Yang belief but there are practical applications of this pillar in the art of tea.
During the brewing ceremony, it is all about achieving harmony between water temperature, steeping time and quantity of tea leaves to brew tea that is not too bland but not bitter；to bring out the full flavor of the tea without masking the subtle undertones.
The ‘Fairness cup’ allows the brewer to achieve harmony between the varying concentration levels of the tea liquid so that all guests can enjoy the tea in equal measure.
Second Pillar of the Art of Tea- Tranquility
Chinese tea is about achieving inner peace and tranquility- allowing the brewer and his guest to enter into an oasis of relaxation.
For example, the Oolong tea ceremony often starts with lighting an aromatic incense, to enable the attendees to achieve calm and peace. The unhurried steps and the acts of observing, smelling and finally tasting the tea are all geared towards relaxing the guest, putting the drinker in the right frame of mind to enjoy his or her tea.
Third Pillar of the Art of Tea- Fulfillment
Different people may drink tea for different purposes. The art of tea becomes a means of helping the drinker achieve their definition of fulfillment which may vary based on their status, culture or religious belief.
Throughout Chinese royalty and aristocracy focus on the ‘Preciousness of tea’- their intent is to flaunt their wealth and social status by offering the finest teas. This trend sustains till today which explains why the Pre-Ming Dragonwell tea was recently sold at prices per kg higher than that of gold.
Scholars and philosophers focused on the ‘Aura of Tea’. Their art of tea uses tea to evoke deep sentiments and emotions and hence inspire poetic and other literary works, making friends in the process.
The Buddhist focused on the ‘Morality of tea’ to dispel fatigue, understand their religious teachings and achieve nirvana.
For the common man, the art of tea is about the ‘taste of tea’, refreshing, relieving anxiety, hydrating and enjoying life in general.
Four Pillar of the Art of Tea- Truth
The art of tea begins and culminates in truth. The elements involved are of genuine quality- tea leaves, environment, water, ambience, brewing utensils. Even more so it encompasses the genuineness of host towards his or her guest, in words and in deeds- creating a truly tranquil serene environment.
The truth that is achieved through the art of tea has 3 important meanings:
1) Pursuit of the way of truth- through the acts of brewing achieving self-cultivation
2) Pursuit of true relationships- through brewing and enjoying tea together, cultivate true friendship
3) Achieve truth in self- the relaxation and tranquility of the tea ceremony allows the brewer to truly be at ease with himself or herself and find self-actualization
The Chinese art of tea then, is not merely acts or steps to follow in brewing tea. Nor does it focus on techniques and impressive skills. It is a philosophy, a way of life that helps the brewer and the guest enter into a new plain.
Note: This article first appeared on our company blog