Why we brew – Constructs for understanding, Part 3

This is part 3 in the “Why we Brew” series of posts. [Read Part 1 and Part 2]
These posts are my writings on why we brew tea, and how we can understand the practice of ourselves and others.

I hope this can be a conversation, and I would greatly appreciate your comments, suggestions  questions, and clarifications.
– Jason

There are differences and similarities of Structural- Functionalism and Phenomenism left to be worked out. Structural Functionalism tells us only to consider the function of our wares and the aesthetic value of each individual piece of tea ware as it relates to the whole. Structural-Functionalism does not take into account the diversity of flavor profiles offered by a tea though different brewing parameters, nor the situation or surrounding environment; as long as your set is usable and beautiful you can have tea on the strip of land between the highway and the swamp.

Phenomenism requires the brewer to take into account the experience and expectation of the guests; will they appreciate an up-dosed robust brew of roasted oolong, or should I brew a lighter flavor profile? Phenomenism goes a step further than the other constructs by requiring the setting of a setting; one needs to have a space in which the tea can be appreciated. Phenomenism changes the values placed on function and beauty again; whereas Utilitarianism places no value on beauty, and Structural Functionalism posits that a ware or utensil must be functional in order to be used, Phenomenism requires that you create something you and your guest can appreciate and understand.

Structural-Functionalism and Phenomenism both state ‘function can be beautiful’. Within structural-functionalism this applies only to the use of the wares. For Phenomenism it applies to anything you or your guests will experience; for example, when selecting a tea pot for green tea, think about the brewing parameters (its function). A beautiful pot with thick walls will scorch the tender buds, yet an ugly pot just won’t do; you and your guests will think less of the tea! Phenomenism is not about balance – it demands both usable and beautiful wares.

These 3 constructs, Utilitarianism, Structural Functionalism, and the Phenomenism can be viewed as guiding principles for your own practice (pick whichever one reaches out to you). In teaching Chinese Tea Ceremony, I have learned to view them as stages of practice and as levels of analysis. Individuals join the Institute foremost because they want to drink tea; it takes time and study to progress through the Utilitarian to the Functionalist to the ‘Phenomenist’ approaches. That is not to say there are not highly skilled and knowledgeable practitioners within each construct; it is simply my opinion of the amount of skill and knowledge required by each construct. Individuals can and should practice tea ceremony in the way that is enjoyable to them.

As a level of analysis these constructs become useful in your reading and experience. Writings and blog posts about tea will with few exceptions fall into one of these categories, and it is helpful to view the practice and tea of others threw these lenses; why are they picking those cups? What effect does that tea pot have on the tea? What assumptions am I holding because of their set? This is not so much a method for critique as a tool for your understanding, and perhaps, as an admonishment against preemptive conclusions. Chinese Tea Ceremony, as in life, has room enough for all practitioners to live and let live.

Tune in soon for part 4, where I make a pretty chart detailing different theories!
Have a question, idea, or sneaking suspicion? Post it in the comments!

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