The Covered Bowl Tea and the Congou
China is the homeland of tea, and it is a general practice for Han people to drink tea. Serving the guests a cup of tea has become a noble courtesy of Han people. Tea is one of three major popular beverages in the world.
There is a long history for Han people to savor tea. As early as in the Jin Dynasty, some people already carry the pots and sell tea in the street. Till the Northern and Southern Dynasties, small tea houses start to be set up. In Song Dynasty, tea houses spread all over the streets and lanes. The atmosphere of drinking tea is especially strong in the Qing Dynasty. In the tea house, pastry and candy are also supplied besides tea savoring. In addition, there is also folk art performance, such as ballad singing, storytelling, cross-talk, etc. Many tea houses are specially set up at beautiful places, and people can relax themselves through viewing the sceneries while they are savoring tea to satisfy their thirst. Some people also discuss business and solve their disputes in the tea house. So the tea house combines the political, economic, and cultural functions as a whole. Many emperors, ministers and literators have written down eternal beautiful lines of singing the tea house. The tea houses all over the country feature different styles, and the most famous ones are the covered bowl tea of Chengdu in Sichuang Province and the congou of Chaozhou in Guangdong Province.
SiChuan Province is one of the oldest tea production spots in China, so the activities related with tea is quite rich. The tea houses in Chengdu are the most famous ones, around 700 before the Liberation (in 1949). Its covered bowl tea is very characteristic. In the traditional Sichuang tea house, it is the tea master that serves the tea with red copper teapot, tin saucer, covered bowl made of Jingdezhen porcelain. The stools and bamboo deck chairs in the tea house can make it possible for you to savor the tea in sitting or lying postures. After the guests come in, they can view and admire a series of tea making stunt. The tea master displays the tea set on the desk. Then he carries a large teapot at one hand, and turns over the cover with the other hand. Make the tea and cover the teacup. The whole process is surprisingly fast and there is no single drop of water spilled on the desk. The covered bowl tea can not only keep its temperature but also regulate it through opening and closing the lid. One can immediately drink the tea, or savor it slowly. Its strong tea fragrance makes the hearts smooth and takes the fancy of people.
Drinking the congou is a tradition of Han people in Chaozhou of Guangdong Province as well as their first custom of receiving guests. Today, overseas Chaozhou people take "congou" as a symbol of being Chinese.
About the congou, Liang Shiqiu once has praised it in his article of Drink Tea: "The strong and thick flavor of the congou should not be compared by any other kind of tea." He still wrote: the tea set is particularly exquisite and the little pot looks more like a toy." "The tea has a function of neutralizing the effect of alcoholic drinks. When drinking it, it feels like chewing olive, and a little astringent in the root of tougue. After drinking several cups, it seems that the more you drink, the thirstier you become. It requires time, tea set, and attendant when drinking congou." The tea set of congou is exquisite and beautiful, and its making technique is also fine. Its tea set is generally made up of three cups and one little pottery pot made in Yixing. On the tray there is also a little kettle and a small charcoal stove. You can make the tea whenever the water is boiled. The congou uses black tea, Tie Guanyin being the top grade. The making process of the congou is clean and scientific. When pouring the tea, you had better not make the cup full. The tea should be offered to the elder and guests first, and others drink in the next round. The tea is only added after several rounds of drinking. It takes quite a while for the drinking and chatting and the congou gains its name from that.
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