It’s afternoon. I’m in a beautiful ‘tea village’ called Xiamen in China. I walk around with my camera and capture pictures of all the tiny, gorgeous houses that have been preserved for hundreds of years.

tiny stools

In each room tea is sorted and there’s signs hanging outside with ‘come drink tea with us’ written on them. Everyone shares here. Nobody asks money for a cup of tea. I’ve received cups of tea for free all journey long. In each place they only want to share. It’s so beautiful to see. Really beautiful. People share everything. I am met by endless surprising things over here. The people here have really different habits and customs. I walk past an elderly lady. I look at her. She points at the chair by the table she’s sitting at. I think I’m allowed to sit down. Together we sort tea in silence. Sitting on tiny stools. Together we are focused, and sort tea for quite a while.

teaching without words

All of a sudden she gets up, gets a tea kettle. She is gonna make me some tea. It’s these things which surprise me most. I’m a stranger. Not only do I speak another language, I look different too, with my massive backpack and camera hanging around my neck. Yet still, she knows that I have come to watch her do her thing, teaching me the secrets to a good cup of tea, in both flavour and smell. She is teaching me. Just by doing it for me. So simple. So there we are, sitting and having tea. In another room, the rain is seeping through the roof, but we are focused on our tea. Slurping from out cups. And she keeps pouring in more when I put my cup down. It’s time for me to go now, I stand up, look at her, and leave. I thank her inside my head and look at her once more. She’s smiling, all while working on steadily.

so much fun!

In the late afternoon it’s time to taste. I would like to buy tea and have arranged for different tea samples to come to me so we can taste them. It’s convenient that my guide can explain things about the appearance of a leaf. The rest of it, like taste and smell I would like to be the judge of myself. It’s also convenient that all I have to do is explain to her what I am looking for, and she looks it up for me. And sends it. She’s a good taster and I keep telling her all the things I’m looking for. I know exactly what I want which makes her job easier. I know what I want to do with our tea line, and which flavours suit the audience and assortment we offer. We taste tea for the rest of the day. It’s different to coffee, which came in 70 types, and made me feel like I was able to take on the Olympics. This is much more relaxed. We sit, I get a cup of tea, keeping in mind what I would like for Crusio Tea, then pick the teas I think will suit best. I listen to what my heart tells me to do. Prices are noted, negotiations put on hold, I’ll do that later. First I need to pick what I want. And oh, what am I enjoying myself her! Me, on the other side of the world, sitting at an official tea table, bloc note by my side, noting down everything. Heaps of tea surround me. People bring samples to me. I taste and pick. This is so much fun!

a giant with big shoes

Then its time. Time to leave. I can;t be late. I am going to follow lessons at a ‘tea school’. Sounds funny, I know, because everyone can set tea right? Everyone in their own way. But there is an ‘official’ way to set tea. We go to the special school, and I take my guide along with me, she’s gotta translate everything. I enter the classroom, filled with tiny tables and even tinier stools. I feel like a giant with big shoes, as if I’m really tall. So imagine how tiny my teacher was! Kinda like a mini human compared to me. On one side of the classroom, there’s a full length mirror. You’re supposed to look into it, and study your posture. She starts the lesson. Oh, she’s quite strict.  She shows us what your posture should look like first. Then she goes off, talking about 100 steps you need to take as a precaution, in Chinese. She’s really elegant and is able to move her hands in a way I can’t. I start getting irritated with myself, for not being able to imitate it perfectly. Fortunately, this is a good sign when being eager to learn something ;). I seem to have a hard time getting my posture right. I love watching tea being made, which results in me, sitting forward. That's not how it’s supposed to be. So they end up putting a broomstick in the back of my sweater! Now I can’t move forward. There I am, sitting with a broomstick in the back of my sweater, looking like half a scarecrow. At least I’ve made the teacher happy, by the looks of it. I follow all steps, even though they’re hard to follow or to remember, trying to copy each movement and guideline to perfection.

follow the ritual

I learn a lot of reasons behind why things are done in each way, and I’m able to apply many of them to my current way of setting tea. I follow the whole ritual once more, and towards the end, it gets much better. I’m going to keep practising at home. It’s nice to work on the styles of tea for a change, and hopefully keep developing them further.

This blog is about No.022 - Da Hong Pao