Category Archives: 01.There is always Bitterness and Astringency in Tea-Rong-tsang Tsai

Rong-tsang Tsai。There is always Bitterness and Astringency in Tea

There is always Bitterness and Astringency in Tea-Rong-tsang Tsai

茶,永远有其苦涩的一面-There is always Bitterness and Astringency in Tea

蔡荣章-Rongtsang Tsai

(2004.04《茶艺》月刊社论Published in “Tea Art”monthly magazine)

Much of the colour, aroma, taste and appearance of tea have been discussed.  Technology has certainly contributed to the scientific study and analysis of this world-loved beverage.  We have compared the differences among tea leaves with the help of images.  Now, we will be focusing on one of its intrinsic properties, bitterness and astringency1. We would also be looking into another unique ‘character’ of tea, namely the state of emptiness and solitude, in another chapter.

What captivates tea drinkers the world over could be its aroma, mellow sweetness 2and the unique flavour each type of tealeaves offers.  Bitterness, in this case, has always taken a back seat – more often than not, it is merely described as what comes ‘before mellow sweetness sets in’.  It is, therefore, no surprise that tea is also compared to the hardship before one enjoys the fruit of labour.

Bitterness and astringency are, in actual fact, key properties and distinct tastes of tea.  The source of aroma, taste and characteristics of tea can all be traced to its intrinsic bitterness and astringency. As to the bitterness and astringency being pronounced or subtle, it is all in the species and processing methods.  Such aroma and flavour built on tea’s intrinsic bitterness and astringency explain the beverage’s refreshing appeal.   Fashion comes and goes; tea, however, is a life-long affair – the more you get to know it, the more you will be hooked by its uniqueness.

The aroma of tea is exquisite and fascinating, the sweetness alluring. And yet, tea has never been taken as a drink for glamorous occasions, for the simple reason that its bitterness and astringency tones it down, balancing what may have made it emotionally overpowering.  With the note of bitterness and astringency, tea is tamed to a beverage demonstrating the qualities of Conviction and Simplicity3, emptiness and solitude 4, and purity and harmony.5  Do not belittle this seemingly subdued base note; as it goes, this bitterness and astringency may generate an unending chain of reaction, resulting in tremendous force and impact.  The preoccupation could become so intense that it may lead to self-destruction, be it out of one’s conviction or circumstances.  Sen no Rikyu,Tea Guru6 of Japan, for example, was ordered to end his life with ritual suicide, or seppuku, out of his strong belief in the ideologies of tea ceremony.  Several advocates of such ideologies after him followed the same sad path.  Meanwhile, Tang poet Lu Tong suffered similar fate when his conviction was proved too strong for some people’s liking; he was killed in a political tussle. It seems that tea has never been a ‘pleasure’ drink – tea is always sipped with calmness, with style and at times, with courage.


以下为文內之编码Coding in the text:

苦涩1 bitterness and astringency1

2 mellow sweetness 2

精俭3 Conviction and Simplicity3

空寂4 emptiness and solitude 4

清和5 purity and harmony5

茶人6 Tea Guru6



The aesthetics, character and the state of mind created are not to be undermined in the understanding and enjoyment of tea; and yet, they are the hardest to express.  Writings on the thoughts pertaining to tea, regardless of languages used, remain scarce.   We have attempted to express them in Chinese, with accompanying English translation(Translator:Katherine Yip.2010.01), to elaborate our thoughts as they are. What we want is to share the knowledge of tea alongside tea drinking.  This is, in our opinion, an important contemporary task in promoting the tea culture (Coding in the text is for cross-referencing of the academic terms of tea). (1824)