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Cerimonia del tè, chadao, gong fu cha cosa vogliono dire?

I would like to thank my colleague, Barbara Vola, from "Viaggio intorno al tè," for giving me the opportunity to write this article on her blog.

Here are the words of Barbara Vola, Tea Sommelier, and Tea Blogger:

"On April 19th, I had the fortunate opportunity to do a live session with Cristina Hua, a Tea Master who owns the Zentè tea shop in Prato. Cristina is supported by sinologist and translator Giulia Lami. As you can see from the video, just like the word "tea," translation plays a role here as well, requiring not only knowledge of the language but also the tea culture. Therefore, I would like to express my gratitude in advance to Cristina and Giulia for writing this clarifying article."

Do you know the differences between tea ceremony, chadao, chayi, and gongfucha?

When the culture of a country is represented abroad, often the words fail to express their true meaning due to linguistic misunderstandings and cultural differences. In my opinion, this is a significant shortcoming. For example, Chinese tea culture in Italy faces this problem. Many Italians confuse the terms chayi 茶艺, chadao 茶道, and gongfucha 功夫茶. The incorrect use of these words can lead to cultural confusion. In fact, when Italians talk about the "cerimonia del tè" (tea ceremony), I fail to understand them.

Lately, I have been contemplating this issue a lot because, as a professional in the field, I have a duty to clarify the subject. Thanks to my colleague Barbara, who first raised the issue, I have decided to share my knowledge with you by explaining the differences among the four aforementioned terms.

First and foremost, in China, the term "tea ceremony" does not exist. We use terms like chayi, chadao, and gongfucha, but when preparing tea, nobody uses the term chayishi, which means "tea ceremony." Indeed, the way of preparing tea can provide a sense of spirituality, a sense of ritual, so to speak, but not the sense of a true "ritual." Drinking tea is a relaxing and informal moment. If it becomes something rigid, it would be truly tiresome and would not be in line with the true nature and spirit of Chinese chadao.

What is "Chadao"?

Chadao is the spirit, the truth, the law of nature, the origin of everything, the essence. Often, it is invisible and intangible, but you can come to know it through your heart, your soul.

Chinese chadao encompasses religion, philosophy, aesthetics, ethics, and art. It is a combination of art, Buddhist religious practice, and the pursuit of the Way (the Dao or the path of practice).

Chayi and chadao share a common point:

in art, the Way is present, and in the Way, there is art. The highest achievement between matter and spirit.

What is "Chayi" (Art of Tea)?

The fundamental point of chayi is indeed "art" (yi). The focus is on learning the art of tea (cha), an aesthetic form that reflects the search for the spirit of tea culture, a collection of cultural notions.

Nevertheless, this form of expression must convey harmony between interiority and appearance.

The art of tea includes knowing how to prepare it and knowing how to drink it. The knowledge of preparation actually includes learning about the characteristics of various teas, choosing the right tools and water, and so on.

As for the ability to drink it, it indicates having a full understanding of what you are truly drinking, appreciating and analyzing the color, aroma, taste, and essence of the tea itself.

Only after acquiring these two abilities can one truly grasp the essence of the art of tea.

Furthermore, the ability to drink tea doesn't stop at the individual level; it also implies having the proper mastery of serving it to guests.

Gong-Fu Cha (功夫茶) and Gong-Fu Cha (工夫茶)

These two terms have the same pronunciation but differ in meaning, and in Chinese, the first character "gong" is written differently.

The term "gong-fu cha" (功夫茶) refers to the extremely attentive and elegant way of preparing tea. It requires a certain concentration, care, and skill in handling the tea and its utensils: "gongfu."

Gong-fu cha originated in the Song dynasty and is very popular in the Chaoshan area of Guangdong province (Canton) and Zhangzhou in Fujian.

In Quanzhou (Fujian prefecture), Chaoshan gong-fu cha is a form of tea ritual that combines the spirit, rules, preparation techniques, the art of making tea itself, and the evaluation of product quality. The utensils used for gong-fu cha are very refined, the infusion technique is unique, and even the way of drinking it is extremely well-crafted.

The preparation of gong-fu cha generally does not involve the use of red tea and green tea. Instead, teas like oolong, such as tieguanyin, shuixian, and phoenix tea, are selected. Among these, tieguanyin is considered the best because it adheres to the color and fragrance required by gong-fu cha.

On the other hand, "gong fu cha" (工夫茶) means dedicating a lot of time and energy to making good tea. Red tea is generally used, and it is divided by regions. For example, "Minhong gong-fu" (闽红工夫) is made in the Fujian region, "Chuanhong gong-fu" (川红工夫) in the Sichuan region, "Dianhong gong-fu" (滇红工夫) in the Yunnan region, and so on.

In conclusion, the true essence of chadao is practice.

Through the knowledge of tea, one understands the principles of life and the natural rules of Heaven and Earth.

A cup of tea is not just a sensory experience but a reflection on oneself, understanding the world, and a continuous process of self-improvement.

"Dao," in English "The Way," is formless, cannot be seen, is intangible, and is something metaphysical. It is the purpose of every living being.
"Yi," or Art, on the other hand, has form, manifests externally, and is a collection of tangible objects. It is part of a system and is something physical.

In the world of tea, only Art can be expressed as an exhibition, but not Dao.

The art of tea leans towards science, while "茶道" (chadao) leans towards philosophy.

Gong-fu cha (功夫茶) is a tea preparation and tasting technique with local characteristics. The other gongfucha (工夫茶) focuses its energy and time on the processing of red teas.

I hope the above-mentioned topics can bring clarity to better understanding the world of Chinese tea and the true spirit of chadao.

I wish everyone can find their own cup of tea!

Noi cinesi crediamo che una buona vita possa iniziare semplicemente con una tazza di tè!

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