Cha Xi (茶席) generally refers to an artfully arranged tea session or tea ceremony. Several beautiful books about Cha Xi exist in Chinese, but outside of Taiwan the concept is still little known. If you're new to Cha Xi, I invite you to do a Google Image search for "茶席" to view hundreds of enlightening photos. I'd also suggest you read the wonderful and inspirational Tea Masters blog where author Stéphane Erler has been writing about Cha Xi and sharing lovely tea photos and stories with readers for many years now.
A mentor of mine, Thomas Shu, recently informed me that Cha Xi seems to be growing more popular among Taiwanese tea lovers. We discussed which English words, if any, could capture the meaning of Cha Xi as the practice begins to make its way to the West.
I had a hard time coming up with any great ideas. Cha of course, means tea, while Xi (according to the online Chinese-English dictionary mdbg.net) means: banquet, woven mat, seat, or place in a democratic assembly. None of those words accurately expresses the concept in my opinion. I personally kind of like the translation "tea gala" but I would gladly welcome other suggestions from any readers who are fluent in Chinese, English and Tea.
If this idea of Cha Xi is new to you and my post has inspired you to try using it to enhance your own tea brewing, here are four tips I've collected to help you get started:
1. Incorporate elements of nature. Try moving the tea session outside or even just opening a window with a nice view. If that's not possible bring nature to your tea table. A bouquet of flowers is always a nice touch, but rocks, shells or other found items can be just as beautiful when they're displayed cleverly.
2. Try using a favorite mat or cloth to help set the stage for tea. Sometimes a shallow bowl or a cool stand is a better fit than your normal gongfu tray. Think outside the box. A man in Taiwan once served me tea over a rustic tray filled with golden sand and little flat stones on which he rested his teapot and cups.
3. Choose teaware that will resonate with you and your guests for aesthetic and sentimental reasons. You can do this by sharing some stories about your teaware and by having a unifying theme for your session.
Which brings me to my last tip....
4. Have a unifying theme that ties together your Cha Xi. For example: seasons, the weather, or even a special holiday. More esoteric themes such as an element, a song or a color are also possibilities, so use your imagination.