Creating arts in the tea cup
BY 花消英气 from 21st Century
Published 2022-05-17

You may have seen a barista pour milk foam into a coffee, upon which a beautiful pattern appears. But have you seen the art in a cup of tea?

Dian cha is a tea art from the Song Dynasty. The art begins with pouring water over fine powdered tea, creating a paste and then adding more hot water, constantly whisking it by hand with a bamboo whisk. It is believed that the art later spread to other parts of East Asia, including Japan. In 2019, it was listed as an intangible cultural heritage of Runzhou district, Zhenjiang city, Jiangsu province.

“It’s like adding bells and whistles to tea and giving people a stronger sense of occasion, so drinking tea is more fun,” said 40-year-old Han Zheming.

The Shanghai designer has been fascinated by dian cha since childhood.

“My mother loves traditional culture and I have been leaning toward it under her influence,” said Han.

After he graduated from the China Academy of Art in Zhejiang province in 2006, Han began his attempt at reviving the art form.

He said during the process of dian cha, the froth resembles paper while the tea paste is like ink. But “drawing” on the tea foam is not easy.

“When it comes to traditional paintings, it is about the soft brush against the hard paper, but with the tea, it is the other way round,” Han said. “It’s the hard teaspoon against the soft froth.”
“在国画里,毛笔在纸上作画是‘软碰硬’,但是在点茶中正相反,” 韩喆明说,“用茶勺在松软的茶汤泡沫上作画是‘硬碰软’。”

Creating patterns on the tea foam is cautious but quick work. Usually, the whole process has to be completed within 10 minutes. The ideal state is when the tea’s temperature is around 40 C and ready for the palate. It was through trial and error that Han got the hang of dian cha. “Usually, it takes a year of practice for one to be able to do it,” Han added.
在茶沫上作画,下笔需谨慎且快速。一般来说,从开始点茶到画作完成,时间必须要控制在10分钟内。创作的理想条件是茶的温度在40摄氏度左右,刚好可以入口时。韩喆明经历了反复试验,终于掌握了点茶的窍门,他补充道: “通常,一个人需要经过一年的练习,才能完全掌握点茶的技巧。”

To spread dian cha culture, Han put the process of tea-whisking and drawing on social media platforms, including Xiaohongshu, Bilibili and Douyin, attracting more than 20,000 followers.

Speaking about his understanding of this tea art, Han said it’s “to increase the aesthetics” rather than change the essence of tea.

“As well as poems, calligraphy and paintings that were created back then, I want more people to understand the items used by people to drink tea, and the reasons behind the ways they prepared tea,” he explained.

(Translator & Editor: Li Xinzhu AND Luo Sitian)
Barista  咖啡师
Powdered  粉状的
Whisking  搅动
Intangible  非物质的
Froth  泡沫
Cautious  小心的
Palate  味觉
Aesthetics  美感