The Tea Curious Blog

Choices In Cha Xi: Takeaways From The Cha Xi Challenge 2020

RIE TULALI | 9 MIN READ

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In May 2020, we hosted a 2 week challenge to explore the concept of Cha Xi, or "tea play" - the art of designing a beautiful and practical tea session. Here's what we saw after over 100 tea sessions!

Cha Xi Challenge Overview
Date: May 2 - May 16 (15 days)
Theme: Create at least 3 Cha Xi, with notes about tea, teaware, and thought process used
Participants: 35
Completions: 24 (68.57%)
Total # of Cha Xi: 105

Sessions

Here's a fun little breakdown of the challenge by date. Were you an early finisher, or were you one of the people (like me!) who crammed all your sessions towards the end?

Sessions by day

The day with the most entries was the last day, May 16 (17 sessions), followed by May 14 (16 sessions). This graph is similar to the previous two challenges in that we see a steady rate of entries in Week 1, then a lull starting Week 2 before a race to finish.

Tea Types Used

Breakdown of teas used

For the Cha Xi Challenge, the most popular tea was oolong with 26.3% of the entries, followed closely by green tea and pu'erh/heicha. If you're curious about the breakdowns of light and dark oolong or sheng/shou pu'erh, it was about even!

Just 2 herbal teas were used during the challenge, a South African rooibos (IG: @the_purple_kettle) and a rose/tulsi blend by Steven, although Christine S. also used herbals in her "Mad Scientist" Cha Xi -- the only person to use loose tea leaves purely as decor in the entire challenge.

I think the breakdown of teas actually reflects pretty well what I've seen in our community, by the way, with a skew towards lighter teas maybe because of the warmer weather we're seeing in the Northern hemisphere.

Describing Cha Xi

To see how we experienced and described our Cha Xi, I input our descriptions into a word cloud software, then divided the results into two categories: objects (to represent the material side) and actions (to represent the thought process side).

Objects (the tangible side of the Cha Xi)

Cha xi word art

Above are the 120 most common nouns from our descriptions. This seems to show us what we most valued in the Cha Xi: vital pieces of teaware or accessories, and the most important concepts.

All the words in this image were used at least 10 times, so we really went into some interesting places and thought processes during the challenge! Go take a closer look.

Words like tea, teaware, teapot and cup are pretty high up of course, and then there's a scattering of other tools, accessories, and decor since we differed so much in our approaches.

My favorites here are moonlight, mother, and ocean: not what I expected going into the challenge, but a reflection of how far and wide-ranging we went here!

Actions (the process)

Cha xi word art

I like this one a lot. Above are the 120 most common verbs/adverbs -- basically the stuff that was going on in our heads as we were constructing and explaining our cha xi.

More, or less? Changing things a bit, or changing things a lot? How would something look, or how would something feel?

There's a lot of detail, motivation, and care exhibited in the words here, and I think it really shows just how careful we were in our Cha Xi practice. I'm really happy to see just how much effort we put into every detail, big or small, in our sessions!

Items & Techniques Used

Brewing Styles

As per Lion R.'s request, we analyzed all the brewing styles used during the challenge, mostly based on the brewing vessel being used since sometimes a Japanese kyusu would be used for Chinese-style gongfu brewing.

Cha xi brewing styles used

Red tint: styles/vessels typically seen as being Chinese or Taiwanese.
Green tint: styles/vessels typically seen as Japanese.
Yellow: western style (large teapot)

Small clay and porcelain teapots were the most common vessel used (31%), followed by gaiwans (30%). Together, they made up a majority of all the tea sessions!

Kyusu, defined here as any side-handled teapot (and not necessarily just Japanese kyusu), made up 16% of the sessions.

Just 6% of the sessions were western style, which was any session involving a large teapot (implying longer infusions + less leaf material).

Even less common were matcha sessions, at just 3% of the total. I'm not sure if this is because we don't drink that much matcha, or if matcha seems less suited for a Cha Xi, at least in the west.

While matcha in Japanese tea ceremony is accompanied with a lot of decor and setup, when done solo it's a relatively quick affair and not as "worth it" to design Cha Xi around, maybe? I certainly felt too intimidated to try to do my own take on a matcha Cha Xi, since I didn't feel like I could do as well as in formal chanoyu!

Either way, it's really interesting to see what teawares we gravitate to as a group.

Next, let's take a look at the items we didn't necessarily have on hand.

Collecting + Upcycling Items

Cha xi added items

Collected: items found in nature from nature (flowers, leaves, shells, rocks, etc.)
Repurposed: items that were not originally meant for tea, created + upcycled for the tea session

We're a pretty resouceful bunch, apparently! Of the 105 sessions, more than half (79 total) involved some kind of improvising with found or repurposed items. The most common of these were flowers for decor, but we had some super creative ones, such as Joseph B.'s use of concrete blocks outdoors as a tea table, or Delphine G.'s use of old curtains to make coasters. Lots of examples in the posts!!

A full 25% of the sessions involved both collecting and re-purposing items. I think this is good practice for Cha Xi since old school tea aesthetics leans heavily on making use of what we have, and also inspiration from nature.

Hats off to the 35% who didn't need any other items though -- in many of them, the sessions highlighted the beauty of the teaware and simplicity of the session, which in themselves are really smart choices in Cha Xi as well.

Environment & Setting

Beyond just the items on the table, the physical setting of the Cha Xi is important too! I was curious to see how many of us played with environmental elements for our Cha Xi.

Let's start with the time of day: did the Cha Xi happen during the day or night?

Day or night

Daytime: 66 confirmed
Nighttime: 9 confirmed

Just based on the sessions we had information on, we preferred making daytime Cha Xi 7 times more than nighttime Cha Xi. Why is that? Do our tea sessions end earlier during the day, or we just didn't want to post our nighttime ones, because photos suck at night? Probably a little of both?

I personally find it very difficult to do nighttime Cha Xi since the natural light in my tearoom is so much nicer, but as some of our friends showed us, there are so many possibilities we can explore for evening Cha Xi. The use of candlelight, moonlight, or even just the relative quiet are potent tools we could harness.

Actually, many of us did play with these ideas…

Use of light graph
Outdoor  vs Indoor graph
Use of smell graph
Use of sound graph

Use of Light: 31
Use of Outdoor Environments: 20
Use of Smell: 10
Use of Sound: 8

(from 105 total, based on descriptions + photos)

Many of us got really creative and used the environment to our advantage. A quarter of all Cha Xi were done outdoors, and many more played with light, sound, and smell to enhance the tea experience.

The most common uses of light were sunlight, moonlight, and reflections on teaware.

The most common uses of smell were in emphasizing tea leaf aroma, from flowers, and from incense.

The most common uses of sound were in specific soundtracks, birdsong from outside, and intended silence.

I'm sure there were many more instances than we were able to record in our Cha Xi, but I invite you to play more with these concepts in the future! Probably my favorite example was IG user JinAndTea's note about her daughter's laughter providing the soundtrack to a happy morning Cha Xi. Can't get more immersive than that!

There are lots of studies that tell us that what we sense in the environment really does change the way we experience food and drink, so keep these in your back pocket for really leveling-up your Cha Xi.

ALRIGHT, LAST BITS.

Juicy ones, too, my favorite kinds of bits.

I mean it's ALL juicy to me, but...

The Impact of Color in Cha Xi

Just for fun, I wanted to see how we used color in our Cha Xi. At first, I wanted to break down exactly what colors were used in each Cha Xi and tally them up, but that would have taken DAYS and I settled for playing with color analysis software.

Some interesting things came up though...

Using our own Cha Xi photos plus some Cha Xi photos from our lovely volunteers Lion R. and Joseph B. (who had some GORGEOUS sessions), we plugged in some photos into a color analysis software, usually used for sorting pictures for fashion, home, and art webstores

Here's the results, with each column representing one Cha Xi:

Lion R:

Lion color breakdown

-

Joseph B:

Joseph color breakdown

-

Steven:

Steven color breakdown

-

Rie:

Rie color breakdown

So... these aren't very interesting colors or palettes, are they?

I'm not sure about you guys, but I remember all of these sessions being MUCH more vibrant in the photos than what this software is saying.

For example, the 3rd block on mine up there is the ocean+seaweed Cha Xi that I loved so much for its vibrant greens, but green shows up as a TINY sliver on the color analysis bar.

Same for Steven's bright red Cha Xi - it's a bit more colorful, but wasn't it MUCH louder than that?

Let's take a look at the analysis itself:

steven color breakdown

Steven's bright red Cha Xi, which was quite possibly the most saturated Cha Xi in the entire challenge, is only about 40% red, just a little more red than it is grey (34%). But red is such a BOLD color that it completely overtakes the session, making this session look much louder than it actually is, pixel by pixel.

And then my ocean+seaweed Cha Xi: what do you remember from it?

Rie cha xi submission

I'd call it a "blue + green" Cha Xi if I had to. I worked purposefully with the colors and contrast to make them pop. But the analysis says…

Rie color breakdown

I was wondering what this program was smoking until I really looked at the color map and see how it analyzed the color blocks. (Look at "Color Map Regions" above.) And it's true -- the green takes up such a tiny amount of the actual space, and yet it's responsible for so much of the look.

This doesn't happen just in my Cha Xi though. Let's go back to our lovely volunteers:

Lion cha xi submission

Above is Lion R.'s Irises Cha Xi. What colors stand out the most to you? How would you describe it? To me, I'd call it his "purple + pink" Cha Xi.

Lion color breakdown

But that's just our human perception, because pixel by pixel, the Cha Xi ALSO has just ~5% of these purple+pink colors, and just 2% teal from the vase. This is "purple + pink Cha Xi" to us, but our AI overlords say it's actually grey + red more than anything!

Another one from Lion:

Lion color breakdown
Lion color breakdown

In my head, this is Lion's "cornflower blue + matcha" Cha Xi. Blue and green define it for me.

AI overlords say it's "grey + black", and AGAIN just ~5% green and 5% blue, and mostly grey.

OK, so what's the point?

The point is that (A) human perception is tricky, so don't be too attached to what's "logical" to do: learn to play with your tools to create an experience. And (B) a little can go a long way. Sometimes it's the small details, and the accent colors, that make a Cha Xi memorable.

Seriously, where did all these colors go in Lion's palette (here it is again:)

Lion color breakdown

The most memorable things about his Cha Xi are TINY, but they're what makes the difference for the experience.

Back to our other lovely volunteer, Joseph. His palette:

Joseph color breakdown
Joseph color breakdown
Joseph color breakdown

We see the ~5% rule again in his Cha Xi, and even fewer colors than any of the other palettes. The amount that Joseph is able to accomplish with such few colors is crazy -- they're really dull colors on paper, but it takes just a few splashes color that BARELY even register in the software to lighten up the look.

So if you think you need an impressive piece of teaware or lots of options, think again. Use a little, and do a lot!

If you're interested in analyzing your Cha Xi photos, you can input them into https://labs.tineye.com/color/.

Anyway, that's all for May's Cha Xi Challenge. Thanks for reading, and congratulations again to our finishers!

CHA XI CHALLENGE 2020 FINISHERS

Tea Curious Discord

@NickS
@Nuev_Orden
@Sofar2fall
@VeggieDelphine
@teadragon
@Lion
@ChaBay
@kettle
@steven
@Bighappysmiles
@Teajay9
@JinAndTea
@Fish_NE_Where
@Eric the Carrot
@claire
@rie
@Everest

Instagram Friends

@the_purple_kettle
@jewelyoga
@tealeavesandtweed
@bylisachan
@camellias_treaty
@heidibemerry
@meme_aimee
@JinAndTea
@gofor_cha
@SinelliaTea

Congratulations, and thank you again for your beautiful and thoughtful work!!

Discord Contest Winners

Seriously, this was a tough one. We spent hours debating and agonizing over it. I fell in love with every single Cha Xi after reading them so closely (just ask Steven, he had to talk me into not just giving out awards like candy!)

Cha Xi Challenge - May 2020
Winner: @kettle Jeena H.

for the diversity, depth, resourcefulness, playfulness, and creativity of her Cha Xi. Thank you for teaching us how to build Cha Xi like little worlds: each session really did feel like its own little world, with layers of light, texture, temperature, and personal stories.

Congratulations, Jeena, and enjoy the Jingdezhen ceramic tea tray!

Honorable Mentions:
@NickS: For teaching us about simple, practical and yet heartfelt Cha Xi.
Christine S. @Sofar2fall: For teaching us to create super playful, resourceful, and diverse Cha Xi.
Joseph B. @Bighappysmiles: For teaching us to transform "ugly things" into beautiful tea sessions.
Lion R. @Lion: For inspiring the challenge in the first place, and teaching us about balanced Cha Xi, both practical and pretty.

Honorable mentions will receive some of our favorite teas from 2020 so far. Cheers, be proud of the tea practice you've done here, and thanks again for your participation! We always learn better together.

A picture of the author

About the Author

Hey there, I'm Rie and I'm a professional tea nerd. I share the techniques and strategies we've used to seriously level up our tea game so you can get super confident with tea too!