Underneath the enormous umbrella that is "World Music" there exists a relatively small genre of recorded music that would best be labeled "Tea Music."
I'm not a fan of all music that falls into this genre. I don't really like tracks to contain too many sound effects like ocean waves or chirping birds. I also steer clear of repetitive harmonic drone-notes and chanting.
I usually love tea music that features Asian instruments being played by talented artists, especially when the recordings sound organic and unpolished.
Guqin (古琴) music such as on Wu Ziying's (吳自英) staggeringly beautiful record "Art of the Guqin" can sound bluesy and soulful with the occasional pop and buzz of the strings adding richness to the listening experience.
My first real tea music CD was Zhang Wei-Liang's (張維良) breathtaking Tea Drops, purchased back in 2003 from Tribute Teas online. The album is mainly Zhang's flute along with some pipa and dulcimer among others. This record added a lot of nice ambiance to some of the first tea tastings I presented right after I began Black Dragon Tea Bar.
In 2004 I first heard the hauntingly sublime erhu (二胡) playing of Fred Ji while he was busking at Pike Place Market. I purchased a home recording from him and love it. In some ways it's like a punk record because it has over 30 raspy edgy tracks, most of which are under one minute long... but the way they blend together with a cup of tea smooths them out and feeds my soul.
Another local artist to whom I frequently listen is Elizabeth Falconer. She is an American Koto master who I saw play live at Floating Leaves many years ago. I have since purchased most of her sweetly serene albums.
The latest album to join my small collection of tea music is the Meaning of Tea's movie soundtrack. This record features 16 original instrumental tracks that are appropriately cinematic with soaring and sweeping crescendos. I find them to have just the right amount of moodiness to keep me tuned in.
As many ancient Chinese paintings and poems will attest, there is little in this world better than sipping a great tea while blissing out to some beautiful music.
What tea and music pairings do you suggest?