If members of the audience were surveyed after the taping of the NBC special The Illuisionists which I attended a couple of months ago, they would likely elect Anti-Conjuror Dan Sperry as their favorite performer. I am not a fan of tricks involving rodents or razor blades, but Mr. Sperry’s other acts, especially those employing our feathered friends, were so fast-paced, well-choreographed and surreal that one couldn’t help but speculate the use of ultra-sophisticated props in place of live flock…
Though tea is never seen in the art of conjuring and prestidigitation, tea-themed performances enjoy a long, storied history, at least in Asia. Once upon a time during China’s Tang Dynasty (618–907), literati were said to appreciate “tea sword” spectacles featuring kung fu practitioners and long spout kettles – probably an undertaking not unlike this entertaining modern-day performance:
Others believe these acts originated in the Song Dynasty (960–1279) when tea houses became ubiquitous and so packed with customers that long spout teapots actually fulfilled the practical purpose of replenishing, pouring and cooling beverages.
With more than 1.5 million views, this 34-second YouTube video, possibly the most watched tea-themed presentation ever, spotlights none other than Malaysia’s national drink teh tarik, or pulled tea!
Can’t you sense Mr. Teh Tarik’s effervescent temperament and joy while working at his teashop in Thailand? The New York Times article Milk in a Can Goes Glam describes the process most succinctly:
“It is a thick brew of strong tea – preferably Boh brand, grown in the cool Cameron highlands north of Kuala Lumpur – and condensed milk. (Fresh-squeezed ginger juice can be added to make teh halia, reminiscent of Indian chai.) The mixture is poured vigorously back and forth from one pot to another; this is the “pulling” process, which makes the drink smooth and gives it a frothy top.”
I recently caught an episode of a Japanese crime drama in which the culprit was able to have her victim, unknowingly, of course, brew two pots of coffee – one regular and one poisonous – using the same kettle, all the while she herself was on a business trip thousands of miles away! What would be a fun tea-related magic trick? Perhaps a magician pouring teas in different colors nonstop from one glass teapot on stage? What I do not want to see is a standup comedian sharing unfunny tea jokes.
I love it! Regarding the “tea sword” performance, while in Beijing about 10 years ago we attended a performance that included a remarkable demonstration of this technique. It was told that over 100 years ago, men would meet in tea shops to talk about private business matters and didn’t want to be overheard by the waiter so they evolved these long spouted tea pots. It was unbelievable what they were able to do. I remember thinking it just wasn’t possible to do their pours.
Thanks for always sharing something unusual with your stimulating posts Ifang.
Privacy – yet another reason to use such a strange-looking teapot…