We’ve been wanting to explore chaxi on Talking Tea ever since we visited the Tea Institute at Penn State University back in 2016. Tea was prepared and served to us by students in the Chinese tea track at the Institute with a degree of artistry and calm precision we had never quite witnessed anywhere else, and when we asked some of the students where they learned to prepare tea in this way, they suggested we speak with one of their teachers and mentors, Stéphane Erler, to learn more about chaxi, an artistic expression of tea originating in Taiwan.
It took us a couple of years, but we finally caught up with Stéphane recently on one of his visits to the US, and we’re proud to welcome him to Talking Tea. Stéphane is a tea educator, seller and blogger based in Taiwan – he hosts the very well-respected Tea Masters Blog – and, among other things, Stéphane practices, teaches and writes about chaxi. We talk with Stéphane about his own beginnings in tea, his study and work with tea master Teaparker, and about the history of chaxi in Taiwan, and then we delve into the practice and principles of chaxi.
Chaxi means “tea play”, and Stéphane chats with us about how chaxi is a kind of performance but also a way of creating a tea mandala, a picture of a harmonious world through tea. We discuss the priorities of function and art within chaxi, and we explore the question of how the host can best express the character of the leaves as well as the host’s own sentiments and feelings through the chaxi. In this context we talk about the choice of teaware, the importance of colors and visual harmony, the use of flowers or plants, the addition of music or other background art, and most importantly the skills and mindset needed to prepare the best possible tea in a beautiful setting, finding resonance and harmonious connections between the tea, the teaware, the setting and the participants.
Further resources for learning about chaxi are on Stéphane’s blog, teamasters.blogspot.com. Stéphane’s selection of excellent teas (we’ve tried several of them, and they were all fantastic), teawares and other items for use in chaxi are available at his online boutique, tea-masters.com. You can also find Stéphane on Twitter at @TeaMastersBlog and on Instagram at @stephane_erler.
Talking Tea is produced and hosted by Ken Cohen. You can follow Ken on Twitter @kensvoiceken.
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The views and opinions expressed by guests on Talking Tea are those of the guests and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of Talking Tea or its staff.
This podcast features music from “Japanese Flowers” (https://soundcloud.com/mpgiii/japanese-flowers) by mpgiiiBEATS (https://soundcloud.com/mpgiii) available under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/). Adapted from original.
Photo of a chaxi by Stéphane Erler, courtesy of Stéphane Erler.
Header image “Raw Puerh mid 1980 Menghai” by Cosmin Dordea, used under a Creative Commons CC By-SA 2.0 license. Adapted from original.