Satire of Gongfu Cha

The art of satire is in rendering the serious absurd. Good satire is the opposite of slapstick; the humor isn’t in the performance of something inherently funny – it’s in the serious performance taken to its logical extreme, such that the fans of the object of satire themselves find humor in the seriousness of the idea. The creation of satire is the creation of a window into the hyperreal, as the attributes to accentuate are precisely those attributes desired and preferred by the culture; the accentuation becomes a form of caricature, the caricature a reflection of ourselves.

The creation of satire is a form of reverence; only through understanding can one perform, create, or understand satire of an object, idea, or art. Satire requires one to grock, to have consumed the body knowledge of the practice such that the ideals of the practice are the ideals of the individual, to understand the accentuation of the characteristics which reveal the characteristic absurd.

Irony, exaggeration, and the use of true ideals is the language of satire; to satire is to love, to enjoy satire is to understand. How would you satire Chinese Tea Ceremony?

Public writing on the internet warning: THIS IS SATIRE


The Wares:

The Silver Cups: the cups are solid silver, as all the best cups are, and of course contemporary silver can’t ever compare to antique silver – yet these cups are so well crafted, with a special textural attribute rendered on their interior surface, that they successfully emulate the magic of ancient silver wine cups used for serving hot wine in early China. The aroma delivery of these silver cups is unmatched; if only they were smaller, they would help us to appreciate the tea all the more; and if only they were larger our mediation sessions would last longer. I personally believe that these cups are too big, as all the masters drink out of smaller cups.

The Yixing Zisha Teapot: Mined from 350-million-year-old ore in the dried ancient lakebed of Yixing, this exquisite small-ware zisha teapot concentrates the tea’s aroma, while giving the leaves room to expand in its spherical body. Zisha is always the best pairing for such roasted teas, even when other masters recommend specific pots to the contrary; it is best to do your own research, while trusting your master’s intuition and superior collection. In any case, this teapot features the most important attributes of old clay, the finest communist era workmanship, and a highly regarded three chop design on the bottom, on the lid, and below the spout, indicating supreme value and positive interaction with the tea. The teapot’s motif is a smooth wall of clay, representing the no-mind of Chan meditation: “an empty head is better than an empty cup!”.

The Cha Xi: For this tea setting, featuring such rustic and simple wares, I thought to highlight the beauty of the culture from which this ceremony arose with minyao wares – the wares of the people. The oversized silver cups are placed on a tiny plate to accentuate their rustic luster. The Yixing is placed on a Song dynasty minyao tea-boat, probably used by a tea farmer when challenging the emperor to a Dou Cha (斗茶, “tea whisking”) competition; the pure land, sea, air, and rivers of the farmers’ small tea terrace continue to express itself in the bowl stand.

The Tea

No discussion of Cha Xi can be considered complete without intense focus on the individual leaves of the tea itself. For a cha xi of this magnitude, I count the individual tea leaves and balance the proportion of leaf compositions such that I have the right ratio of two-leaf-and-a-bud, one-leaf-one-bud, and stems with tertiary leaves which add body and earthly compounds to each brew. For this oversized teapot, I’ve paired the metamagical roast-reducing non-muting Yixing with an ancient tree Wuyi vintage-1990-fresh-harvest high-mountain wild-grown Tie Guan Yin, the goddess of mercy, to whom I am still praying for forgiveness from that terrible tea session last week. The splendor of the tea counterbalances the homely, peasantly, wares I purposely selected to highlight the incongruity of life – brewing tea grown by a farmer in a skyscraper apartment in New York. One must humble themselves to remember what tea even is.  

Brewing

The arcane and mysterious skill of a practitioner is immediately obvious by observing their subtle and perhaps even hidden technique applied during the brewing process. Like a golf man putting the golf ball, tiny movements or a gust of wind can have huge effects. The agility of the brewer’s response to the seeping tea is paramount in a ceremony where no sudden movements are allowed. Brewing this tea, I wanted to overwhelm the pallets of my guests with subtilty and finesse, and thus used more tea, a hard pour, and long brewing times; creating a solid and punchy soup that left everyone asking “what just happened” and “these silver cups are hot”.

This 45ml Yixing is obviously oversized for this chaxi, but my guests were thirsty and I don’t own a larger teapot.

These garishly large 5ml solid silver cups accentuate the tea and remind some people of their childhood. The motif on these cups represents the terraced mountain slopes of ancient WuYi, an allusion to the never-seen farmland from whence tea originates.


Public writing on the internet warning: THAT WAS SATIRE

Satire relies on a recognition of reality in the absurd; the satire is funny precisely because of its falsifiability, because of its reflection of the hyperreal, and because it accentuates the attributes of our desire. Solid silver is great! F1 Yixing can be great! Wuyi grows great tea, that ages well! Yet – what do we believe to be true? These items and wares can not be all things at once, they cannot meet all of the demands of our desires. Perhaps its funny when they try?

How would you satire Chinese tea and our hilariously serious sub-culture?

Phenomenology and the Analytical Mind

If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.

– Monk Linji Yixuan (f. 851 CE)

Phenomenology is the study of experience. The phenominist approach is the practice of creating and controlling experiences. Throughout our lives, individuals attempt to create a variety of experiences: birthday parties, dinner parties, dates, and BBQs are but an inconsequential sampling of experiences that an individual may attempt to create with various levels of success. Within the practice of tea, individuals may create a tasting for novices or a chaxi for their fellow practitioners – just as well with various levels of knowledge, skill, and success.

It would seem uncontroversial that phenomenism is considered by some to be the highest level of practice within an art-form – a better ability to create better experiences accepted by the participants is a good skill. I do not subscribe to any counter arguments and will not play devils advocate here. Phenomenism is thus integral to the continuation and progression of an artform as it is the method most successful at awakening others to take up and progress the praxis by attracting and maintaining their interest.

The acquisition of new preferences is predicated on formative experiences which build understanding and appreciation for an artistic-output or artform; such is necessitated as individuals are not born with innate preferences for the art-product or ideals of higher socio-cultural capital, without acculturation into the dominant culture or their select sub-culture. “Acquired tastes” are thus tastes which conform to the highest cultural or economic capital preferences of an individual’s peer-group or selected in-group.

In accepting this argument, we must accept such tenants that:

  1. Preferences, particularly the preferences associated with higher economic and cultural capital, are acquired via formative experiences with an artform. 
  2. Practitioners of a praxis progress their personal techne via direct experience and practice within an artform.
  3. The integration of such techne and preferences into a personal body knowledge is an analytical process of understanding.

Such tenants lead us to believe that analytical excellence is the surest sign of phenominist ability. Take for example a wine taster. A wine taster may be of high experience or low experience, they may have high or low natural ability, and they may be good or bad at certain aspects of their chosen artform. Should a wine taster be unable to tell the difference between a Burgundy and a Riesling, we could consider them (rightfully) a bad wine taster – as even a novice could tell the difference between a red wine and a white wine (caveat lector, caveats abound).

So where do we draw the line? Should they be able to determine the difference between only the major classes of wine (red, white, rose, orange, and perhaps sparkling variations)? Must they be able to identify specific continents, regions, appellation, and even specific Grand Cru plots? Is the identification of grape variety more or less important than the identification of vintage and terroir?

The likely and logical answer is that an experienced wine taster of high ability should be able to identify and differentiate more attributes of a wine rather than less; the ability to identify specific attributes, common or esoteric, is proof that an individual has experience within the art-form and can consciously’ recognize and identify the attributes deemed important within the artform. The skill of blind identification is sometimes called analytical tasting, the specific gradations of which may be important in some future argument. Should we accept that more analytical abilities are better then we must accept that these analytical abilities were gained through prior tastings and experiences with wine; tastings that lead to the appreciation, interest, and desire to learn more about wine, tastings that lead to the integration of sensory information into the body knowledge and analytical framework of the individual thus capable of deploying these skills whenever wine is tasted.

Which finally leads us to the actual question of this article: what is the relationship between phenomenism and the analytical mind? For I posit that they must be in direct and constant conflict. For as we gain the formative experiences in which to appreciate an artform we lose the natural state of mind to appreciate the artform.

It is easier for a practitioner to present an item (a tea or a wine) which they enjoy to a novice than to an expert as the novice is less likely, and less able, to examine the item analytically. The “beginners mind” of the novice experiences the whole and is easily led by the practitioner (with any basic proficiency in phenomensism) to the desired experience.

Presenting such an item to an expert is more difficult – it must be assumed that the expert will analytically examine the item, comparing it to references and prior experiences; such ability comes naturally with the interest and training that one must possess to develop a high degree of analytical ability. Such comparison is more likely to degrade the expert’s enjoyment, at least in comparison to the novice, than it is to enhance it; it thus takes more phenomenist skill (or a better item) for a practitioner to lead an expert to an experience they will enjoy.

In a scenario with a pheomenist practitioner and an analytical expert – who is in control? He who possesses more skill. We often tell analytical experts, sometimes good or great phenomenist practitioners themselves, to cultivate a beginner’s mind; to return to tasting the whole without judging the independent attributes. A great phenomenist can’t rely on what the guest should do – a phenomenist practitioner is great when they can thrust the analytical expert into the experience with the wonder and enjoyment of the whole so easily available to the beginner.

Such a level of practice depends on many factors. The relative availability of economic capital may play a large role in who is impressed; expensive teas and wines are not necessarily better, but it helps to try them to know for sure. We practitioners seek experiences in which we can learn and progress, and yet such experiences shape us into increasingly analytical frameworks of mind which distance us from the original enjoyment we sought in the artistic practice. When advanced practitioners seek out masters, perhaps they are (unconsciously?) seeking out not just a more advanced analytical mind, but a stronger phenomenist mind that can ease them back into those experiences they so seek and enjoy.

Personal cultivation changes the individual; increased analytical abilities are necessary to become a better phemonenist even as they shape us into a more difficult guest. An expert is great when they can kill the Buddha: the analytical mind they’ve invested so much in developing.