TRANSLATION | Eugenia Yang
The Comfort of Tea Tasting
From Yongkang Street in Taipei to Chajia Tearoom in Beijing, it seems to be an endless journey. Like what Professor Tseng said—“Never try to understand Shuyun Li”—because once you think you’ve understood her, she becomes a new mystery. Special thanks to Meihua Kung for this opportunity to get to meet Ms. Li through her pupils, I had a glance of who she is in the eyes of her students. By using tea as words to express the aesthetics of life—like “The Classic of Tea” by Tang Dynasty writer Lu Yu or Song Dynasty’s practice of whisking tea—the culture of tea representing each time period becomes a microcosm of the era. So what role does tea culture play in this modern society? And how does it affect the materialistic and spiritual life of mankind? With the truest heart, enter the world of tea to savor the ancient charm in the teacup and listen to the treasures of tea recounted by our contemporary tea artists.
First time arriving at Zih Ru Cing An tearoom, I assumed these tea experts to be very particular about the study of tea. And yet, Hsiaoju Lin and Meihua Kung—two of Ms. Li’s major pupils in Taiwan—didn’t dwell on any overly complicated etiquette or formal greetings. My initial agitation was a puff in the air as I was greeted by their easygoing and down-to-earth personalities. “The steps of tea tasting are more about simplicity and comfort now.” I couldn’t help but wonder if this could also be applied to how people are trying harder and harder to settle down in this unsettling era, just like practicing the art of tea.
The Aesthetic Design of Tea
“The bond between tea and tea ware are like the deep-rooted genes developed since childhood. The childhood memories, the motherly warmth, the scent of soil. It is a kind of beauty.” Translating lapis and porcelain into a manifesto of space, the owner of In Between Tearoom insisted on always working in job fields in relation to art and design. The calming of emotions after learning tea craft allowed him to reinterpret the meaning of design. Nowadays, designers often try to pursue more creative and versatile designs, and tend to ignore the needs and functionality for the users. Chao-Yu Ho, who is also an interior designer, also emphasized that it takes time to understand the connection between people, tea, and tea ware in the process of learning tea. In today’s complex society and having a busy work schedule, happiness to Chao-Yu Ho is to be able to sit down, enjoy a cup of tea in peace, and appreciate this short moment of comfort—simple as that. “Design is not merely about how you plan the space, but also about the experience of living” This is what Kuei-Hsiang Chen, creative designer of 31 Design, believes in. A wonderful tea party reimagining Non Solo Tea’s gathering at Huashan twelve years ago that replicates the tea tables and the withered tree, and reshapes the temporality and spatiality of the life of the owner. Just like the way the National Theater’s tea party changed the lives of these tea artists, as beautiful as melodic poetry.
Build a Stage with Tea
To enter the realm of aesthetics, we start with education. CEO of Chong Hong Culture & Education Foundation, Julia Lee allows children to discover themselves through “tea education.” Speaking of the study of tea, the bonding of emotion gave her this extra poetic edification. Sipping on a cup of tea, the sweet aftertaste doesn’t just stay in the mouth, but travels down to the heart. Reserving a space for tea both at home and at work, Ms. Li taught her students in their early stages of tea education to think about tea ware from a functional perspective, then gradually shift to a softer point of view in order to sense the aesthetic bond between the material, season, and art of space. In Taiwan, tea tables are everywhere to be seen, while tea is also readily available. Smiling, Julia Lee wishes to strengthen the familial bond with brewing tea, letting the tea table return to a place where friends and family can share their happy moments.
Merging of Tea and Music
“It’s not just a cup of tea that touches the heart, but also music.” Only by quietly savoring a pot of tea with the truest heart can one escape the nuisances of this troubling world. With elegance and leisure, she loves music and tea, but sees herself as undisciplined—her name is Su-Feng Shao. Not just a lover of tea, but also tea wares, she enjoys drinking tea alone and with friends. Try to tell the difference between the same type of tea brewed with waters of different quality or tea pots crafted with different materials—it is almost like a challenge to one another’s skills when it comes to making tea. If several friends are at the same table, they would take turns to play the piano and drums, sing A Capella or traditional Chinese opera, or even start acting out an impromptu mime. To Su-Feng Shao, “tea” and “music” are both art forms about time and space. In my eyes, her so-called “undisciplined” is an alternative persistence that asks a question regarding the modern day efficiency—what exactly are we searching for in our lives? Perhaps the answer is to be a tea artist with infinite possibilities and potential.
Second Generation Tea Families
The aroma of brewed tea lingers in the old-fashion house, the beauty of each cup of tea hidden deep in the heart. With thirty years of experience, tea expert and daughter of the founder of “Chen-Wey Tea Garden,” Gaga is destined to dedicate her life to tea. When asked about the most memorable lesson taught by Ms. Li, Gaga describes how she always taught with a serious, detailed manner that broke the conventional framework. Ms. Li would ask her students to bring their favorite containers, fill them with the same kind of tea, and savor it with their taste buds and their heart. In this limitless tea ceremony, life is like a tea leaf that is wonderful because of the float and peaceful because of the calming lessons of tea education.
A Marital Tea Ceremony
“Once you enter the world of tea, you wouldn’t want to leave.” It was hard to imagine a jewelry designer would say this. She is Nirvesha Pien, who cultivated her dedicated personality from learning about tea ever since she was a kid. A patient work ethic and the meticulous pursuit of the best gradually became her design style. Her encounter with Professor Xie from Qing Xiang Zhai Tearoom sent her on a journey of learning tea and meeting an array of tea enthusiasts. Engage in a dialogue with tea, and you will discover that everyone has different hidden treasures residing deep in their heart. The interior designer, Huang Chen Hsu, also known as the CEO of the tea committee, is the husband of Nirvesha Pien. Having studied the art of tea for almost two decades, his design style changed from the original Baroque style to a contemporary style of Japanese folk art. Emphasizing that tea ceremonies are all ichigo ichie—meaning “once in a lifetime” in Japanese—the married couple is glad to have understood tea in the same way. With empathy and resonance, they savor to better understand themselves and to become calmer and more tolerant.
Seeing the Life in Tea
“Tea whisking should still embody that modern fashion, even in the process of inheriting.” In the process of passing on the aesthetics and concept of the Song Dynasty, tea whisking is not limited by human emotion and creativity. It is safe to say that the practice had perfectly achieved the merging of traditions and the current life. In the journey of learning from Ms. Li, Kuo-Ping Lee says that his main takeaway is obtaining her sentiment towards tea and her perseverance that never wavered along the way. Thus, he followed the same conviction and transferred it onto bamboo, from the art of tea to the making of tea pots. To describe Kuo-Ping Lee’s lesson with one quote, it has to be the one from “The Grandmaster,” which says—”Never forget, for the voice in your head will one day become an echo.”
The Taste of Oriental Beauty
Reviewing the epitome of time, like the water in the stream, life is not striving to be the first, but to make the strive itself endless. From inheritance to development, the spirit of these tea artists stemmed from perseverance. In the interviews with these tea experts, when asked about the top recommended Taiwanese tea, they all chose Dongfang Meiren tea, meaning “oriental beauty” in Chinese. The black tea lingers with the sweet aroma of honey, like the famous Queen Elizabeth, who always added a drop of brandy into her tea, making the taste more playful. Tea can be amorous, or quiet and elegant—it really is your choice. To the younger generation, to become a tea artist no longer means strict standards. Who knows? Perhaps enjoying tea with happiness and ease is a lot closer to the true meaning of Zen than we’d assume.