Most Puer tea collectors put a great deal of effort in trying to protect their prized teas from scents and unsavory smells, but let’s take a moment to investigate the world of scents and talk about the use of incense when drinking tea.
Incense (xiang in Chinese: 香; pinyin: xiāng; literally “fragrance”) have a long history of human use and were integral components of most all the great civilizations of antiquity. In China there is a history of incense use that goes back to Neolithic times and was initially probably restricted to religious and medicinal uses, however by around the Song dynasty Incense had reached new heights and become a component of everyday life in China.
Incense have many traditional and modern uses in China, everything from perfuming clothes to practicing music, but in general they are used to create a calm atmosphere, focus the mind, and promote general health and wellbeing. It’s not hard to see how incense can make a great partner with tea drinking and can even elevate the taste and enjoyment of tea.
On this most recent trip to China and Taiwan I gained a deeper appreciation of how incense can be used in combination with pouring tea. In Yunnan and Taiwan I met and drank tea with many people who enjoy burning incense with tea, In TaiChung and at the National Palace Museum in Taipei i was able to see many various incense burners from different periods of Chinese history and i also made it a priority to visit FushanKodo’s only store in Taiwan to see and experience all of their amazing incense.
My recommendation for adding incense to your tea drinking is similar to my philosophy about Puer; The most important thing to consider when selecting incense is cleanliness. You want an incense that will burn clean and isn’t produced with cheap (sometimes toxic) binders or chemicals. Natural, high quality incense that won’t overpower the tea is what you are looking for when choosing an incense to pair with your tea drinking. Traditionally agarwood (沈香; chénxiāng) and sandalwood (檀香; tánxiāng) are the most popular in Chinese culture to burned with the consumption of tea, but now there are many scents and materials from around the world available, so it’s really up to one’s personal preference.
My personal preference, and currently the only incense I will burn while preparing tea, is FushanKodo. FushanKodo is a Taiwanese company that uses only high quality woods and natural materials in their incense. Their products are a of a very high quality that i haven’t seen matched by any others and the aromas blend wonderfully with tea drinking. Unfortunately FushanKodo’s products can be hard to get a hold of in the West but I am working on offering more of FushanKodo’s products in the future.
Be Happy. Drink good tea (and smell good incense too)
Incense burners side-by-side with teawares in Yingge, Taiwan
An old way of burning incense where aromatic wood powder is placed into a grooved stone and burned. Seen in an antique market in Taichung, Taiwan.
Precious Agarwood pieces at a famous wood shop in Sanyi Township, Taiwan
Smelling the delicate fragrances at FushanKodo’s shop in Taipei, Taiwan