文 By: 許玉蓮 Hooi Yoke Lien
Photographed by Seanteruo
For a tea gathering where a tea brewing master brews and serves tea enthusiasts with his/her works of tea infusion, it is essential for the person to make an entrance and an exit. It is not a good idea to have the tea brewing master waiting at the table for the guests to be seated, after the table has been laid and before the brewing begins. Greeting the guests and exchanging pleasantries would be the task of the ushers and public relations personnel. Equally inadvisable is for the tea brewing master to wait at the back stage after setting the table, until the master of ceremonies invites him/her to come forward and begin brewing. Without any warming up, this arraignment lacks emotional connection and may appear rather rigid.
This does not mean that a well-packaged entrance routine with strong visual appeal and background music is the way to go. Nor is this about entering elegantly with a pot of beautiful flowers, an antique lamp or any other props -- these are mere gestures that have nothing to do with tea, and surely do not contribute to the experience of tea appreciation.
How should a tea brewing master make an entrance? This begins with preparation including tidying and setting up the venue for tea appreciation. Put in the table, chairs, storage cupboards, screens and the like. Lay the table cloth, if using, on the table. Wait for the guests to be seated. When it is time for brewing, the tea brewing master will make an entrance with the tea ware (which he/she knows well before hand). This can be arranged in the following way: primary utensils such as teapot, tea pitcher and teacups to be brought in on a carrying tray or in a basket; secondary utensils such as teaspoons, saucers and tea towel on another tray; followed by the kettle. If the kettle is too bulky, or it is inconvenient to move it around, omit it from the entrance ritual and place it on the table when setting up the venue instead.
The way different items of tea ware are kept and organised follows a certain order, depending on their respective places on the tea presentation setting -- from the upper to the lower edge, or the innermost to the outermost position -- and the order in which these items are retrieved and laid on the table. For example, the teapot coaster would have to be placed on the outermost position of the basket, followed by the teapot and so on. This way, the items can be retrieved systematically. Take out the teapot coaster first and place it on the table, then the teapot on the coaster. Carefully remove the teapot from the pouch, if any, and fold the pouch neatly before keeping it in the basket. Next, take out the tray with the secondary utensils. Lay the items on the table one by one, from the edge inward. Put away the carrying tray once done. Finally, boil the water. This seamless flow of action leads to tea brewing and helps anchor the attention of tea enthusiasts, contributing to the aesthetics of tea appreciation.
How should he/she make an exit then? The tea brewing and drinking session has come to an end. Water has been taken, and the appearance and aroma of brewed leaves appreciated. It is time to briefly clean the utensils and pack. Take out the basket for the primary items, and put the teapot, tea pitcher and teacups back one by one in the correct order. Then, return the secondary utensils to the tray. Rise and bring one’s utensils to back stage, beginning with the tray of secondary utensils, and then return the basket of primary utensils. Finally, make one more appearance by bowing to the guests at the tea presentation setting to signal the end of the entire tea appreciation. This meticulous arrangement with a coordinated beginning and ending leaves a lingering impression that stays in the mind of tea enthusiasts, leaving them longing for more of such experience.