My Life as A Tea Leaf

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Ineffable, Effable, Effanineffable...

Hui Gan 回甘, Hui Tian 回甜, Sheng Jin 生津, & Hui Yun 回韻…In literally term, Hui Gan, sometimes referred to as Hui Wei, is to reflect sweetly on a past event.Borrowing from the term 'to reflect', Hui Gan in tea is, simply put, a reflection on the sweetness of the tea - when one drink the tea, when the tea slides through the cavity of the mouth into the throat, there comes, after a short while, a sweetness that rises up from the throat. This sweetness is sometimes accompanied with a fragrance. Do not keep the upper and lower mouth pressed together when sipping tea, but create a cavity instead by lowering the jaw. Let the tea wash over the entire inside of the mouth, and then direct the tea to slide from the sides of the jaw into the throat. While holding the empty cavity, breathe out instead of in after you swallow the tea, there is warmth in the breath accompanied by a fragrance, and the same fragrance that rises up from the throat. This is Hui Gan. Depending on the quality of the tea, Hui Gan can be a lasting or short one.Sometimes, on tea that is medium oxidized and/or fermented, there is a lingering sweetness in the mouth that is not apparent at first, but noticeable after a while. Sometimes it comes first before Hui Gan, sometimes together. Most people considered this as part of Hui Gan - which it is - Hui Gan after all, is to reflect on the sweetness...technically, this is a breaking of the complex sugars in the tea by enzymes into simple sugar. This sweetness establishes itself in the mouth and doesn't come from the back of the throat; people who separate the two term this Hui Tian.Before we can get Hui Tian, we need the enzymes to break down the sugars in the tea. When the tea washes over the mouth, some chemicals in it excite the saliva glands on the two sides under the tongue to produce saliva. The welling of saliva under the tongue is called Sheng Jin.Hui Yun is an even more elusive term, it is more of a feeling that a tangible feel in the mouth: it is a combination of the above and the experience of drinking the tea. One will have to drink the tea in order to experience this…it is the inexpressible, as T.S. Eliot writes in The Dry Salvages:

We had the experience but missed the meaning
And approach to the meaning restores the experience
In a different form beyond any meaning
We can assign to happiness
The past experience revived in the meaning
Is not the experience of one life only
But of many generations
Not forgetting something that is probably quite ineffable

The ineffable and the effable, in a cup of tea.


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