You may have seen a barista pour milk foam into a coffee, upon which a beautiful pattern appears. But have you seen the art in a cup of tea?
Dian cha is a tea art from the Song Dynasty. The art begins with pouring water over fine powdered tea, creating a paste and then adding more hot water, constantly whisking it by hand with a bamboo whisk. It is believed that the art later spread to other parts of East Asia, including Japan. In 2019, it was listed as an intangible cultural heritage of Runzhou district, Zhenjiang city, Jiangsu province.
“It’s like adding bells and whistles to tea and giving people a stronger sense of occasion, so drinking tea is more fun,” said 40-year-old Han Zheming.
The Shanghai designer has been fascinated by dian cha since childhood.
“My mother loves traditional culture and I have been leaning toward it under her influence,” said Han.
After he graduated from the China Academy of Art in Zhejiang province in 2006, Han began his attempt at reviving the art form.
He said during the process of dian cha, the froth resembles paper while the tea paste is like ink. But “drawing” on the tea foam is not easy.
“When it comes to traditional paintings, it is about the soft brush against the hard paper, but with the tea, it is the other way round,” Han said. “It’s the hard teaspoon against the soft froth.”
Creating patterns on the tea foam is cautious but quick work. Usually, the whole process has to be completed within 10 minutes. The ideal state is when the tea’s temperature is around 40 C and ready for the palate. It was through trial and error that Han got the hang of dian cha. “Usually, it takes a year of practice for one to be able to do it,” Han added.
To spread dian cha culture, Han put the process of tea-whisking and drawing on social media platforms, including Xiaohongshu, Bilibili and Douyin, attracting more than 20,000 followers.
Speaking about his understanding of this tea art, Han said it’s “to increase the aesthetics” rather than change the essence of tea.
“As well as poems, calligraphy and paintings that were created back then, I want more people to understand the items used by people to drink tea, and the reasons behind the ways they prepared tea,” he explained.