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Cha Xi: the evolution of beauty in tea space

Posted by Boyka Mihaylova on

In this blog post, we're touching on an important part of the whole tea experience: Cha Xi, or Tea Space. Setting up a harmonized space is a vital element in experiencing tea. It also helps us reach a calm, meditative state, where we are able to appreciate the moment and enjoy living in the present. We'll talk about the history of the Tea Space ("Tea Mat") and the ancient's pursuit of the beauty hidden in detail. We'll then review its essential elements and how to use them to arrange our tea space. So, grab a cup, and let's take our tea experience to the next level!

 

What is a Cha Xi?

In China, tea people use a term Cha Xi (茶席) – Tea Mat. This term, however, has a broad meaning with more than one aspect to it. To understand it fully, we have to follow how it developed through history. 

Tea gatherings in China started as early as the 7th century during the Tang dynasty. It was a flourishing era for arts and culture. Lu Yu created the world's first tractate on tea, the famous Cha Jing (茶经). It systematized all available information to this point on how to grow, prepare, serve, and enjoy tea. Tea was the drink of choice for monks living in secluded temples, as well as refined scholars and literary people, and the Emperor himself. Tea drinking started to form a culture of its own, sublimating the then-aesthetic values and pursuits into a cultural symbol of the entire Chinese empire. 

This trend evolved further with the following Song dynasty when tea drinking saw its pinnacle. Poets, artists, and literati found inspiration in tea drinking. They organized tea gatherings in the open, recited poems, drew paintings, and sipped tea. The Imperial court arranged for lavish tea banquets with exuberant decorations. People started decorating the tea tables with artwork and objects from nature. Practices like incense sticks, flower arrangements, paintings, and scrolls became part of the tea space and tea ritual, forming "The Four Arts" of Antiquity: flower arrangement, incense burning, painting, and tea art.

Although tea was a dominant cultural symbol, the notion of "Cha Xi" (茶席) didn't exist at the time. The term formed in much more modern times. 

In fact, it evolved from the words for "wine feast" (Jiu Xi, 酒席) or "banquet" (宴席). These words referred to lavish celebrations organized by the wealthy and noble class, including the Imperial Palace. "Xi" 席 itself has a meaning of banquet and also a seat (for the guests). The tea gatherings that started in Tang and Song dynasties transformed into tea houses and tea rooms in the Ming dynasty. During all that time, tea drinking referred to a specific space or themed experience. However, the term "Cha Xi" was still unheard of. Some sources claim it first appeared in Taiwan, from where it spread to the mainland. 

Today, "Cha Xi" (茶席) has broader and narrow meanings. One points to a specifically arranged tea table or tea mat, while the other refers to the entire space dedicated to the experience of tea culture.  

 

Chinese tea table

 

Cha Xi definitions

Here are some definitions of "Cha Xi", as we will refer to it in this article:

"Cha Xi is a kind of tea cultural space with an independent theme. It is a cultural space that condenses the essence of tea culture." ("Cha Xi Design", Zhejiang University Press, 2016)

"Cha Xi refers to a tea ceremony aesthetic space constructed for tea tasting, with people, tea, utensils, objects, and the environment. It takes tea soup as its soul and tea set as its main body. It combines with other art forms. Together, they form an artistic combination with independent themes and expressions." ("A Peek at the Beauty at the Cha Xi", Kyushu Press, 2015)

"A Cha Xi is a place for making and drinking tea. It includes the operating place for making tea, the seats for guests, and the surrounding layout for the required atmosphere." ("Image Chinese Tea Ceremony", Zhejiang Photography Press, 2002)

"Cha Xi is a place set up to express the beauty or the spirit of the tea ceremony." ("Tea Dinner Tea Party" Anhui Education Press, 2011)

So, we notice a double meaning of "Cha Xi". It can refer to the immediate space (table with seats), part of the tearoom, or tea space dedicated to making and serving tea. At the same time, it also expands to a specific arrangement of the space dedicated to learning about and experiencing tea. 

 

the tea experience

 

The three elements of Cha Xi: creating a harmonized space for a tea ritual

Light

Lighting is crucial in creating a suitable environment for the tea ceremony. General lighting provides basic lighting for vision, while local lighting emphasizes specific areas. Mixed lighting, on the other hand, uses both lighting types to create customized effects within the tea space. Paying attention to the relationship between general, spot, and mixed lighting can transform a tea room into an elegant environment that enhances the tea ceremony experience.

General lighting is the foundation of lighting in any space. It is required to meet the basic requirements of vision, and therefore the brightness and tone of the light are essential. In the tea room, the light should be soft and warm, with a color tone that is in harmony with the changing seasons. That creates a comfortable and relaxing environment conducive to the peaceful and quiet mood required for the tea ceremony.

Spotlighting highlights specific areas that need some emphasis. In the tea room, spotlights can be installed directly above the tea table to illuminate the center of the tea tray. It draws people's attention to the highlighted area, showcasing the bright tea soup and graceful gestures of the performer.

 

Music

Music is in the heart of the Cha Xi. It is crucial in creating a perfect ambiance for a tea ceremony. Music is an essential element that enhances the charm and artistic conception of tea art. A tea room without music is like a tea room without a soul.

The selection of music is essential in the arrangement of the tea space. Different rhythms, melodies, and volume levels have different effects on the human body. Therefore, great attention should be paid to music to create a perfect atmosphere in the tea room.

When it comes to selecting music for tea ceremonies, slow-beat, soothing, and soft music is most appropriate. It helps to create a calm and relaxing environment that complements the serene nature of tea ceremonies. The music volume needs careful management too. High volume can be disturbing, while low volume can fail to create the necessary atmosphere.

In addition to background music, theme music can also accompany the tea ceremony performance. It highlights specific musical instruments in tune with the performance. A good example is ethnic tea art and ceremony performances, where traditional musical instruments complement the performance. Some examples include Matouqin for the Mongolian tea ceremony; Dombra and Rawap for the Uighur tea ceremony; Hulusi and Bawu for the Yunnan tea ceremony, and Guqin, Guzheng, and Erhu for the Han tea ceremony.

The use of theme music in tea ceremonies not only adds to the aesthetic value but also helps to showcase the unique cultural elements of different regions. It enhances the charm and cultural significance of the tea art performance and makes it a more meaningful experience for the participants.

 

tea ritual

 

Utensils

Tea utensils are the backbone of the Cha Xi and the tea ceremony itself. A good performance depends on the selection and arrangement of these tools. There are four main groups of tea utensils, each serving a specific function.

  1. The first group, the main tea utensils group, includes brewing utensils for making tea. These items are for tea distribution and tasting. They include teapots, gaiwans, glasses, brewing cups, and teacups. The proper selection of these utensils can enhance the aesthetic value of the tea space and the sensory experience of the tea ceremony.
  2. The second group, auxiliary tea utensils, includes tools for serving tea. These include cha hai, pot mats, lids, tea towels, tea whisks, tea trays, and more. These tools are essential for the preparation and presentation of tea at the Cha Xi.
  3. The third group, water preparation devices, as the name suggests, is responsible for preparing tea water. These include tools for using water and discarding bottom leaves and used tea, like water bowls. A good selection of these tools ensures that the water used in the tea ceremony is of high quality and adds to the overall sensory experience at the tea space.
  4. Finally, the fourth group includes tea utensils for storing tea, such as pots and jars. These tools are essential for the preservation of tea and the maintenance of its quality.

 

That's it for today! Stay tuned for our next blog post where we'll go through the nine essential elements for arranging - and enjoying your perfect tea space!