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China 2024 Day 3 : Exploring Song Dynasty tea culture & the art of tea whisking

Welcome to the fourth in our series of blogs documenting our tea & teaware sourcing trip to China & South Korea.  At Comins we are very fortunate to have friends all over the tea world.  When we visit them on our trips we promise to share what we learn & in our recent survey you shared that our blog is one of the best ways to do that.  So we hope you enjoy the journey!

You may recall from our last blog that we had enjoyed a wonderful visit to the tea museum.  Here we had seen some of the ancient & modern tea utensils used in this area including a very unique stone circle grinder for making powdered tea.  Having expressed our interest in this type of tea we were invited to a meeting with teacher Su at a institution dedicated to teaching tea culture nearby.  More proof that you never know where your curiosity in tea may lead you!
We started with some tea together as Teacher Su explained how she teaches the tea culture of the Song Dynasty - specifically the Jingshan tea ceremony which uses the tea-making technique of dian cha - something she started to study in 2013.  As this article explains :
"Chinese tea culture started to enjoy popularity during the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and flourished throughout the Song Dynasty, when tea had become a necessity for almost everyone, from nobles and scholars to common people [......] Different from the method of brewing tea during the Tang period, in the Song Dynasty, the prevalent way of having tea was through dian cha. The process begins with hot water being poured over fine powdered tea creating a paste, then more hot water is slowly added as the tea is constantly whisked by hand with a bamboo stick. It is believed that this method later spread to other parts of East Asia, including Japan, where similarities can be seen in the way matcha is prepared today"
On the wall of the tea school we noticed the pictures from the tea book Tea Ware Pictorial (茶具圖贊/茶具图赞) - shown below.  This reference explains how this is a 'book by Shenan (審安老人/审安老人) compiled in 1269 and is the earliest picture book on tea ware used in preparation of Song dynasty tea cakes for drinking'
This book describes the 12 tea wares shown below  (審安老人的12茶具).  As this reference  explains 'Some of the tea terms of Shenan and Lu Yu have the same names and use, because some of the tea wares from the Tang dynasty were also used in the Song dynasty, although Shenan does give them special names.  The above tea wares, except for stone mill (石磨) and tea whisk (茶筅), were also mentioned by Lu Yu in The Classic of Tea'



From left to right top row onto bottom row

  • Brazier 風爐 (hong lu 韋鴻臚)
  • Crushing Block 砧椎 (mu dai zhi 木待制)
  • Crushing Roller 碾 (jin fa cao 金法曹)
  • Stone Mill 石磨 ( shi zhuan yun 石轉運 )
  • Gourd Scooper 瓢 (hu yuan wai 胡員外)
  • Sieve Box 羅合 (luo shu mi 羅樞密)
  • Brush 札 (zong cong shi 宗從事)
  • Bowl Basket 畚 (qi diao mi ge 漆雕秘閣)
  • Bowl 碗 (tao bao wen 陶寶文)
  • Water Vessel 水方 (tang ti dian 湯提點)
  • Tea Whisk 茶筅 (zhu fu shi 竺副師)
  • Tea Cloth 巾 (si zhi fang 司職方)

After taking a look at this pictorial teacher Su invited us to observe the first step which is to crush the tea - you can see the steps and the instruments used below

  • Select the tea
  • Crush the tea using the Crushing Block 砧椎 (mu dai zhi 木待制)
  • Use the Crushing Roller 碾 (jin fa cao 金法曹) to make the particles smaller
  • Use the Stone Mill 石磨 ( shi zhuan yun 石轉運 ) to make a powder
  • Remove the powder from the grinder using a Brush 札 (zong cong shi 宗從事)
  • Sieve the powder using the Sieve Box 羅合 (luo shu mi 羅樞密)

The next step is to whisk the tea.  The finely ground tea powder is placed into a tea bowl and then a small amount of water is added to create a paste.  Then the rest of the water is added while being continually whisked.  The action of pouring hot water is called dian, hence the name dian cha.
According to this article the more detailed specific steps are:-

  • Boil clean water with Cha Fu (茶釜) and slowly warm up the Cha Zhan (茶盏, tea bowl).
  • Take out an appropriate amount of tea powder with a small spoon and put it into the Cha Zhan.
  • Add a small amount of boiling water and whisk it with a Cha Xian (茶筅, tea whisk) until it becomes paste-like → (Tiao Gao, 调膏).
  • Add water in seven times with the soup bottle, adding water continuously while whisk with Cha Xian, so that the tea powder is evenly integrated into the tea broth (Qi Tang Dian Cha Fa).
    • Qi Tang Dian Cha Fa (七汤点茶法) refers to the process of adding hot water and whisking the tea in seven times during Dian Cha.

  • The tea soup is thorough, the color of tea is white, and the Mo Bo (沫饽, froth of tea leaves) that hangs on the wall of the cup is distinct, then the whisking tea is completed. → (Yao Zhan, 咬盏)

As the article goes on to share you are looking to create  "Xue Mo Ru Hua" which means 'that the surface of the tea soup appears as rich and milky foam as snowflakes, which is the highest level pursued by the whisking tea experts'


After whisking Song Dynasty tea had a distinct additional step called "tea artistry"  involved creating drawings of insects, fish, birds, and other animals on the surface of the whisked tea with green tea paste.   This takes great skill & practice; all of the steps of creating this beautiful tea do ; which explains why in 2022 when 44 Chinese tea traditions were inscribed on the UNESCO intangible culture heritage list this list included the Jingshan tea ceremony.

Teacher Su went on to explain the importance of the right pottery for Dian Cha. Jian Zian bowls - 'In the Song Dynasty they use a black bowl to show the white of the tea so they use a dark pot' she explained.  'This kind of bowl can keep the teas heat as well'   Jian Zian pottery is made in this area with firing bringing out dark colours and flecks of blue, red & gold.  'As we sip the tea we can be drawn into even deeper contemplation as we observe the unique beauty of each piece'

As well as tea artistry the Song Dynasty also used whisking tea for competitions; tea duels.  Teacher Su explained to us that 'focus is placed on colour [pure white is favoured] and taste [must be smooth & rich] '.  Jenny & I were invited to compete in a timed duel - Jenny won with a much whiter paste & more beautiful artistry! 

We hope you have enjoyed the read and may enjoy exploring some of the linked articles.  We can't wait to bring some whisked white tea to Comins in the future.  Huge thanks to teacher Su for her patient and detailed teaching.  

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