Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Oolong Rise Up!

Chinese is a fun and interesting language, albeit a difficult language. What other language would call an airplane a flying machine, or a computer an electric brain, or a kind of tea, black dragon? One of the cool things about Chinese is that there are infinite possibilities for those who enjoy word play. But sometimes, even for those who have been studying Chinese for decades are taken aback by learning about just how much there is to know.

Just on this last trip to Taiwan, I learned a new word play joke, that I might have said before, but didn't grasp its full meaning until this trip. When people would ask me, “What are you doing in Taiwan?” and I would answer, “我來找茶” or “I came to look for tea.” One person with a good sense of humor thought I was saying “我來找碴” or “I come looking for trouble.” You see, 找茶 (look for tea) and 找碴 (to pick fault with/to nitpick/ to pick a quarrel) have the exact same pronunciation and the exact same tone. This joke evolved into the following sentence: 在台灣當時找茶,跟美國茶界找碴。“While I'm in Taiwan looking for tea, I find a fault with the U.S. tea world.” My quarrel is over the term blue tea. As I stated in my previous post “The Color of Oolong is Never Blue,” calling qing cha “blue tea” is a mistranslation. Qing cha is, in fact, a category of oolong tea that is less oxidized and closer to the green end of the oolong spectrum.

This term “blue tea” was really getting to me. It's as if one source started calling oolong blue, and everyone follows. Now it is as if everyone is copying everyone else. Oolong is not blue tea. Oolong has never been blue and it never will be. Given the difficulty of this beautiful language, it is no wonder that when presented with a word, like “qing,” that can be translated both as green and blue, there is some confusion. I knew that there was some confusion, so I decided to get to the bottom of it.

I asked a tea teacher in Taiwan, “What color is qing?” He showed me a color very close to the blue on this pouring pitcher shown above. My heart sank. Maybe they are right in translating qing cha as blue tea, I thought. He went on, “But when we are talking about tea, this is not the color. When we are talking about tea, qing cha is green. In fact it is supposed to be the color of a frog's back. It includes green, red, and even white. This is qing's color when it comes to tea.” In this case 青色 “qing se” or the color of qing, and 青蛙 “qing wa” or frog use the same first word, 青”qing.” Like I mentioned in my previous post, I think most Americans can learn to call oolong simply “oolong” and don't need to rely on an arbitrary color code.

Oolong Qing Cha is the color of a frog's back. Frog's Back Oolong... An oolong by any other name would taste as sweet. Let's just not call it blue.

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