Blog 164: The Meaningful Taste
In Mr. Yu Lu’s The Classic of Tea/茶经, he used the word “Juan Yong/隽永” to describe the taste of the first boiling of the tea soup. In English, the closest translation of this word would be “meaningful”. However, this translation cannot fully express the true meaning of “Juan Yong”. “Meaningful” is just an oversimplified understanding of the word.
What does “Juan Yong/隽永” mean here? To answer this question, we have to take a look at Mr. Lu’s original script:
“… For the first boiling (of the tea soup), (we) need to clear the thin, film-like layer on the tea soup surface that looks like black mica. Otherwise the tea would not taste righteous. Then, the first serving (of the tea soup) tastes Juan Yong/meaningful…”
In Chinese, Juan(隽) and Yong(永) are two separate characters. In Mr. Lu’s book, he explained the first character, Juan/隽, as “taste”; the second character, Yong/永, as “long”. Together, these two characters literally mean “long taste”. To make this word more comprehensible, we call it “the meaningful taste”.
Here is where things get more interesting. Mr. Lu pointed out that if you save the first serving, the first serving can “preserve the tea soup” and “prevent the tea soup from continuous boiling”.
This is because the strength of the taste of the tea decrease cup by cup. One liter of water can make a total of five bowls of tea. All five bowls of tea need to be enjoyed while they’re hot. Because when we boil tea leaves, heavier leaves sink to the bottom of the bowl and drinkable tea soup are alwayson top. Once tea soup cools down, the good taste evaporates with the heat.
No two leaves are the same, and no two cups of water are the same. Naturally, no two cups of tea are the same. One thing we need to understand is that Mr. Lu’s The Classic of Tea talked about the tea-drinking habits back in his time. Most of what he said no longer makes sense in modern day tea-drinking.
Can “the meaningful taste” still find its place in our daily tea-drinking?
Just the order day, I had tea with a couple friends, and I noticed that my friend poured the entire first serving into a separate pitcher. At first, I thought my friend might have the habit of “washing tea” (please see Blog 20 for more on this topic). However, after perhaps eight or nine servings, my friend gave us the first serving. Suddenly, all my dull taste buds from drinking washed-out tea got stimulated again. It was like seeing the sunlight for the first time after spending days in the storm.
What kind of tea-drinking habit is this?
Well, I’d say it’s “the meaningful taste” of modern tea-drinking.
Today’s tea blog is inspired by Ms. Xuanbin Ye’s recent article. Ms. Ye is our family friend and the daughter of legendary tea maker Mr. Qitong Ye. If like to read more about Ms. Ye’s journal (in Chinese), please contact us at email@example.com.
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