Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Echoes of autumn in music and tea

 A French reader invited me to concert of guqin in Taipei's Qin Hall, a Japanese era house that exudes a timeless, classic spirit. It's not concert hall, but rather a few big room with tatami where a dozen visitors can listen to guqin performers. The main guqin master was in China for some concerts. That's why several students of varying levels performed during this event. The player above, Bo Han, was clearly the most experienced and proficient in this art that evening. He played with his eyes closed and seemed in total control of the music and his instrument. The other players were not as skilled and kept looking at their hands.

At first, I felt a little bit disappointed to notice so much hesitation and lack of grace in the performance of the younger players. But this let me appreciate how hard it is to play this ancient instrument and I admire their courage.
The range of emotions that can be expressed with a guqin is very broad. This stringed instrument can be played from crazy like Jimmy Hendrix to totally relaxed with long pauses between each note. The beauty lies in finding the right tone, rhythm and letting the music resonate with both body and soul. The way each note resonates and lingers reminds me of how tea's aftertaste long echoes in the throat and mouth.
Drinking tea or listening to guqin implies a calm state of mind. That's another reason why they go so well together. With both tea and guqin, I enjoy the purity and power of single notes. Unblended leaves, coming from the same harvest, produce unique and pure aromas (when they are well produced and selected). And in the same way there are different quality levels in the playing of music on a guqin, the act of brewing itself also impacts the quality of the brew. You may have great tea (the score), a wonderful instrument (teapot and cups), but if you don't play (brew) well, the beauty of the notes will be lost. 
Spring 2016 Wenshan Baozhong (new plantation)
The best way to produce a relaxing and beautiful cup in autumn is to make fall part of your Chaxi. Here is how I brewed some of my teas at home this last week. I share them to inspire you to be creative. It starts with a spring 2016 Wenshan Baozhong, because fall is a mirror of spring and it's a good idea to see how a tea is evolving when it's starting to loose some of its freshness.
Top OB from 2000
An Oriental Beauty from Hsin Chu is also a nice match for fall thanks to its warm summer aromas, since fall is the season we mourn the end of summer. Or, with a more positive attitude, fall is the time we celebrate the remains of summer with the best things that season has produced!
OB and mooncake

The sweet power of high mountain Oolong is also a nice treat on a bright autumn day. And Da Yu Ling rarely disappoints. This tea is very refined and still very fresh. That's why I used a green chabu on top of a bamboo mat to add the element of dry wood that is associated with fall. And instead of using light celadon cups that would have colored the brew green, these ivory white cups turn the Oolong brew slightly golden. This sunny hue marks the early turning point from summer to fall.
When nature turns red and woody, puerh is also a great tea to echo the autumn season. Below, I brewed my 1995 raw wild brick on a new Chabu.
Raw puerh brick from 1995
I started this article with guqin and thought I'd finish with Chinese calligraphy. Like for tea or music, you don't have to be a Chinese scholar to appreciate the beauty, rhythm and harmony of calligraphy. It takes hard work, skill and practice to be made well, but the enjoyment is much easier. Mastery is when you make something difficult look easy! So, practice producing beautiful Chaxi, practice brewing tea the best you can, practice finding harmony between the season and the tea, practice concentration and you'll enjoy your teas even more!

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