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Ch’oŭi, translated by Ian Haight and T’ae-yong Hŏ

Excerpts from Homage to Green Tea






Floating Jade Hill lies in a valley; at the base of that hill sits Seven Buddhas Zen Temple. The men practicing Zen always pick their tea leaves late—sunrays dry the leaves to tinder brush. The tea, cooked like a boiled vegetable soup, is thick and a turbid red, coarse and bitter tasting. Thus, some monks have said: “The best tea in the world becomes deplorable through a clumsy hand.”


Su Yi of the T’ang Dynasty wrote “Sixteen Aspects of Boiling.” The third aspect states:


The eighth aspect states:


“Tea’s original purity of fragrance, taste, and color is lost by one touch—the tea loses potency.”


                       —The Complete Book of 10,000 Jewels


Li Po once said:


When dreaming in his youth, the first Emperor of the Sui Dynasty’s mind became afflicted by a god, an incident he continued to suffer from. One day he met a monk who said, “Tea leaves from the mountain can cure you.” After the Emperor drank tea from the leaves, he was healed. Since then, the world began to know the importance of drinking tea.


Dongpo visited a temple where the Monk Fanying had recently repaired a roof with care. As they drank fragrant tea, Dongpo asked, “Is this a new tea?” Fanying said, “This tea is a mixture of new and old, which makes the scent and taste endure.”


In the T’ang record, Enlightenment in a Forest Temple, the Monk Zhichong produced three grades of tea. He wrote that guests should be treated to Startling Thunder, one should treat one’s self to Day Lily, and that tea from Freshly Sprouted Purple was appropriate for services to the Buddha.

Tea has nine difficulties: the first is making, second is discriminating, third is vessels, the fourth is fire, the fifth is water, sixth is roasting, seventh is grinding, eighth is infusing, and ninth is drinking.

Picking in cloudy weather and roasting at night should never be done. Tasting at the end of the tongue and smelling with the nose is not a method for discriminating. A burnt old kettle or smelly bowl are unsuitable vessels. Kitchen coal or gummy firewood do not make proper fires. Swiftly flowing water or still water are not good sources of water. A ripe outer leaf but raw inner leaf will not roast well. A dust-like green powder is not an appropriate tea powder. Hands that hesitate or hasten will not brew a skillful infusion. Drinking too much in summer or too little in winter is not a healthy way to drink.

                         —The Book of Tea

Regarding over-boiled water: Water boiled to the tenth boiling is like men who live to one hundred. This water occurs occasionally because of inattentiveness; sometimes conversation is an obstacle; or sometimes the work is simply interrupted. This water should not be used for infusion because the water has already lost its nature. Do you dare ask whether an old, pale, gray-haired man can draw a bow, shoot arrows, and hit his mark? Do you also dare ask whether this same man can climb a mountain with vigor, or make a long trip without fatigue?

Regarding Distinguished Jade Boiled Water: Stone is a condensation of the distinctive energies of sky and earth; its shape reflects this amalgamation. For the best kettle, carve a figure stone such that the character of the amalgam remains. How could water boiled in this stone kettle ever taste weak?

Master Chen of Jade Well Temple is eighty, but his complexion is like a peach or plum. The scent of his tea is untainted—different from others. Therefore, one can return to youth, like a once dried-out tree that suddenly sprouts leaves. People can live a long life with his green tea.

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