Extreme ChaXi: Moab Desert

Hiking into the desert

We marched into the hot and dry desert surrounding Moab, Utah. A dry wind blew dust around us. Lizards fled from our path.

So Strong, much wow!

The boulders were hard, smooth sandstone marked with pockets and smooth ledges, leading to high top outs.

We found a shady spot, protected from the sun, under one of the climbs. We brewed an easy drinking young Sheng Pu’er to match the intensity of the environment and the heat.

Google Maps Strikes Again

Or: Oops I did it again….

A few years ago I wrote about riding my motorcycle into the jungle of a small Javanese Sultanate by blindly following Google Maps… In theory, that experience should have prepared me for a future of skepticism and hesitancy whenever Google Maps recommends routes, or at least imbued me with the first-hand experience that sometimes its best to turn around when the path becomes more difficult than expected.

In practice, apparently, I am still totally willing to follow Google Maps directly into whatever dangerous situation it recommends. Either I’m a slow learner or too much time passed between lessons, because I made exactly the same mistake again.

An arch in Arches National Park

After Climbing in Moab for a few days, and visiting the beautiful Arches National Park, the desert had the audacity to rain on us. Sandstone, already soft when dry, has the terrifying ability to liquefy on climbers when wet.

Determined to climb something less deadly, we set out to a granite cliff just over the border from UT in Colorado, Unaweep Canyon. Google Maps had the helpful suggestion to take the most direct route on Dolores Triangle Safari Rte. That name didn’t give us any pause.

A scenic drive we said. No extra time taking the direct route we said…

The road climbs the northern steps of Mount Waas in the La Sal mountain range, to a high point of 8,400′ elevation. While the first few miles are mild and paved, the road suddenly turns to dirt.

Not at all ominous.

OK – a few miles of dirt won’t hurt. We briefly considered turning around, but the map showed just a few short miles on this road. Certainly we’ll reach pavement again soon we thought as the dirt turned to mud.

Our 2 wheel Kia wannabe SUV did not inspire confidence

And suddenly I was coaching Nancy on how to oversteer and understeer as we slid downhill, with a shear cliff-face on one side of each switchback. The assumed normal car ride from one climbing area to another turned potentially deadly without any warning. Each switchback I would say “bail left” or “bail right”, so if we lost control of the car, Nancy could try to crash us into the uphill slope instead of plunging off the mountain.

After barely surviving the downhill, we came upon deeper and deeper mud on the flat land, until we got stuck.

The mud was too deep and the hill was too steep to continue. We tried pushing and digging ourselves out for a few hours to no avail. Night set and we prepared to bed down in the car until morning.

Around 9pm we saw headlights, and spoke to a nice woman driving a 4 wheeler; we moved our car downhill and let her pass with the promise she’d tell someone we were stuck.

Around 10pm a gigantic truck pulls up behind us and a very heavily armed man, with 2 pistols, a rifle, and a flack jacket with at least 4 extended magazines jumps down. It was, thankfully, the county sheriff. Welcome to Utah!

The sheriff suggested that the cold temperature and wind had frozen the mud, so he and I pushed while Nancy floored it. The car made it up the hill and the sheriff (who turned out to be a very nice man) offered to follow us as far as the border with Colorado.

We resumed our nighttime mudslide drive. We passed two other cars pulled off and stuck in the mud. The road became better maintained when we passed the border, but we were back on a shear cliff-face running switchbacks under only the moonlight. We crawled forward.

We hit a main road at about 11pm, and decided to continue on to Unaweep. We arrived at the camp-sight at 1am, built a small fire, drank two beers and ate our dinner – happy to be alive.

Go speed racer, go!

Luckily, the climbing was great.

A perfect hand jam to the top

The car is still recovering.

We plan to return it like this.

Tea Technique Podcast – Editorial Conversations

The editorial team has had a great many enlightening conversations while writing and publishing “An Introduction to the Art and Science of Chinese Tea Ceremony – Book 1: On Theory, Meta Theory, and Culture”, available at teatechnique.org.

The conversations have been interesting enough that we’ve decided to publish lightly edited versions as a podcast, the first of which is available here on YouTube:

And here on Spotify: Tea Technique Editorial Conversations

Future podcasts will be published alongside each section, currently every Thursday.

The podcasts are free and as always, please leave your love letters and hate mail in the comments.

Gongfu Cha: Method or Madness?

Hello tea world – remember me?

I recently read the article A Foreign Infusion: The Forgotten Legacy of Japanese Chadō on Modern Chinese Tea Arts by Lawrence Zhang (a few years late to the party), and was struck by the claim that Chinese Tea Ceremony is a contemporary constructed culture of foreign influence.

I’ll preface this post with the note that I have no animosity to the author and see this as an academic debate – and debate I shall.

TL;DR – the cliff notes version.

The author (Lawrence Zhang’s) versus my claims:

  1. LZ claim: Chinese tea ceremony (Gongfu Cha) is not a ceremony.
    My claim: Chinese tea ceremony (Gongfu Cha) is a ceremony

  2. LZ claim: Chinese tea ceremony, Chaozhou Gongfu, and Gongfu Cha are all synonyms.
    My claim: Chinese tea ceremony is the set of codified practices, or praxis, of tea in China dating to at least the Tang dynasty. Gongfu Cha is a new name (from at least 1801 CE) for the contemporary Chinese tea ceremony. Chaozhou Gongfu is a trans-regional practical technique for brewing high roast mainland oolongs encompassed within Gongfu Cha.

  3. LZ claim: Teahouses were, at one time, places for gambling and prostitution.
    My claim: …. that is not a teahouse!

  4. LZ claim: Chinese tea ceremony is a constructed tradition of foreign influence.
    My claim: Chinese tea ceremony is a living art which has changed and evolved with the culture of China.

In effect, to say that I disagree with the central thesis of the paper would be an understatement; China is the birthplace of tea, Chinese culture incubated the practice of tea since the Tang, and the living tradition of tea ceremony survives to the present day – having evolved alongside the tea, wares, and preferences of the practitioners.

At some level, perhaps, it may not matter if we consider the contemporary practice of Gongfu Cha a modern constructed tradition or an unbroken historical practice – we agree that the practice of tea has changed, sometimes quickly and sometimes radically, over time. Those changes have been in response to economic, social, political, and cultural impacts that have effected China and the world; if any change is enough to render a tradition “new”, then the tea ceremony we practice today is undoubtedly modern.

Finally, if the article was meant merely as a critique of the corporate marketing undertaken by companies such as TenRen, with pseudo-dynastic “ceremonies” and aggrandizing claims, than I will gladly rescind all points below and agree whole heartedly with the article; I have taken the claims within the article at face value as applied to all Chinese tea tradition and have responded thusly.

In the point-by-point refutation below, I examine each claim in turn and respond where my interpretation of the facts differ. My refutations follow the order of the quotes in the article, so you can easily follow along.

Continue reading

Quarantine Fever Dreams and Grandiose Delusions

TL;DR: I have a new website and book! Please join me at teatechnique.org

Way back in 2012, I mentioned on this blog that I was writing a book… (see post HERE).  With COVID-19 and the resulting quarantine, that book expanded into a series – and I have completed the first book. After careful consideration and with the support of my editorial team, we have decided to serialize the publication on a member’s only forum to host discussion and debate on each chapter.

It is thus with great joy and trepidation that I announce the founding of a new organization for the Chinese Tea community: teatechnique.org

Joy because this project is at once the best work on Chinese Tea Ceremony I have produced and a world of difference from the posts that appear here, on Cult of Quality.

Trepidation because any new organization lacks members and impact – I actively fear that you, dear reader, won’t join and that Tea Technique will never match the educational impact of the (now defunct) Tea Institute at Penn State.


The Book

The first book in the series, “An Introduction to the Art and Science of Chinese Tea Ceremony: On Theory, Meta Theory, and Culture”, examines the cultural forces that shaped tea ceremony , the contemporary forces that threaten its future, and a recommendation for the progression of the praxis.

This book, and the following books in the series, are written for advanced-intermediate to intermediately-advance level practitioners of Chinese Tea Ceremony (and thus not suitable for any “tea masters”); it is not an introductory text, a how-to manual, or a review of specific teas and wares. Nor is it a reference text to be consulted with specific questions. Instead, the series aims to be an education for those who already know how to select and brew tea; it is a text written to help advanced practitioners progress their personal knowledge and technique.


On Writing

The Simple Retreat by Wang Meng ca. 1370

The Simple Retreat by Wang Meng ca. 1370

I began anew at this daunting task in late February of 2020, when COVID-19 and quarantine upended my professional life. Restricted to my Manhattan apartment, staring out at an empty New York City, and often alone in my tea room… I began to write. My dedication to tea may have wavered in the years of distraction between the decline of the Institute and the writing of this book; I may have focused on other worldly pursuits. Yet, like those scholars of the past who retreated from the city to their mountain huts, all I needed was some time and space.

Writing, especially in the early days of the pandemic, felt ebullient; I still find myself, finishing a section (of the next book) and having grandiose delusions that this may be my Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica – that I may be the Isaac Newton of tea, toiling alone in a pandemic to make history.

Now, in announcing the time and form of publication, my excitement has been replaced by fear. Fear, for I know my delusions of grandeur are not to be. Whatever await me on the journey, I know that the path is long, the challenges will be steep, and the okapis are all well-hidden. Only two things are certain; firstly, that I will be consuming a lot of tea, and secondly, that I will not be alone – this book would not exist without the loving help and support of my editorial team: Pat Penny, Ryan Ahn, and Zongjun Li (all, I may add, former Executive Directors of the Tea Institute in the order of historical succession).

The Publication

This series will be published on a subscriber-only website, with a forum dedicated to each section – allowing for cultivated discussion and debate amongst members.

It was a difficult decision to start a new organization. In weighing the benefits of publishing online versus a printed book, we found that the ability to discuss, debate, and interact with subscribers far outweighed the prestige of traditional publication.

Sections will be published approximately weekly, and subscribers will have access to a few other benefits of membership.


Join Us

This is a grand experiment – a way of regrouping the educational mission and vision for the future of the praxis of Gongfu Cha. The book is written – now all it needs are readers.



– Jason Cohen
From Quarantine in NYC
March 10, 2021