This Week on Tea Technique (7/8/2021)

This weeks chapter published on Tea Technique marks the half-way point in the first book of the series An Introduction to the Art and Science of Chinese Tea Ceremony – Book 1: On Theory, Meta-Theory, and Culture. The editorial team considered this chapter, A Bourdieu’dian Analysis for the Construction of an Education in Tea: What is Good Now?, to be particularly relevant to many of the conversations currently taking place in the tea world and suggested that we make it publicly accessible without a subscription – a suggestion I happily obliged. The chapter is open access and available to everyone.

Modernity, authenticity, exoticism, and contemporary culture are all placed under the microscope, with a focus on what we practitioners of Chinese tea consider to be good today. While many of us would say that we’re against exoticism and cultural fetishism, do our actions and desires match our proposed ideals? How much of our preferences are our own and how much have been handed to us by the yoke of history?

The findings may not be popular.

Contemporary practitioners of Chinese tea are obsessed with authenticity. Is it real, is it rare, is it from a famous ancient tree, was it made by poor tea farmers living in their family village? These attributes signal values and we value these attributes with our preferences. These attributes are used by our trusted merchants to market their teas, seduce us with their access to antique wares, and entice us to buy now because it may never be available again.

I want my tea from lesser known villages in YiWu where the trees have grown tall and wild for 1,000 years. I want to see photos of women in traditional clothing picking tea from these ancient tall trees on bamboo ladders. I want to see their thatched roof huts with wood burning mud stoves used for kill-green.

I want to drink my tea in a beautiful garden surrounded by the treasures of Chinese Culture – ceramics and yixing and lacquerware.

What about these desires are my own? Nothing. They have all been constructed for me by the culture I was born into and shaped by the habitus I developed over the short arch of my life. I share these desires with others precisely because society and culture shape our preferences and pressure us to converge. I share these desires because I am told they are the desires of a learned individual who participates and partakes in the culture of Chinese tea.

To this I say nothing. I know what I like and I like what I know. Some Chinese tea is quite good in my opinion; and yours?

Extreme ChaXi: Rocky Mountain Mountaineering

Not content to leave our adventures to the hot and dry desert, we exchanged our crashpads and climbing chalk for crampons and ice axes.

A walk in the park.

Starting the team off with a mid-level alpine route, we hit the trailhead around 6am. Our objective – to summit the ridge-line above Emerald Lake via a couloir. We hiked past the main trail, onto the snow fields, fitted our crampons, and put our axes in hand.

A few hours of climbing, and warm from the exertion, I stripped down to a t-shirt and gloves, even in the deep year-round snow. We roped up near the top, and made it to the ridge before the afternoon thunderstorms rolled in.

A momentary break on the ridge.

We pulled out a thermos of high-roast HongShui Oolong in celebration.

Extreme ChaXi!

The team enjoyed the view while sipping our tea, before gearing up for the descent.

Congrats to Ryan and Nancy for their first Mountaineering Objective!

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.