I was first introduced to Chinese tea by my good friend, Mr. Lin, who is the owner of a printing company. I met him when I moved to Taiwan five years ago and we have enjoyed a good business relationship and friendship ever since. His natural enjoyment of drinking tea together whenever we met had an effect on me. Although, at the time, I didn’t necessarily enjoy it as much as he did and drank tea with him more out of courtesy and respect, I did start to get a “feel” for it. Sometimes, he would give me a small gift of nice oolong tea. Then one time he gave me a hand-made earthenware Chinese tea set, which I treasure and started to use to experiment with Chinese teas. Soon I began to practice on visitors whenever they came by.
It wasn’t until the Tea Expo in December 2009 that I really went “all the way.” At this Expo, I was fortunate to be introduced to many tea masters and artisans of the Chinese tea culture world. I was invited to drink tea, learn, and enjoy the experience. Although I felt like a real novice around these experts, it was a very warm and enriching experience. It wasn’t just the tea – although I tasted some excellent teas – but it was the fullness of the experience that really won me over. I came away from some of those sessions almost as though I was high on some kind of drug – but with my mind crystal clear. I have since enjoyed tea sessions like this with Chinese tea masters, friends, and tea aficionados on countless occasions with similar results. I’m sure most tea lovers experience this type of enjoyment to one degree or another and agree that it is more than just the flavor or taste or health properties of tea alone that makes it such a popular phenomenon.
The Chinese tea ceremony can be very simple – just two or more people enjoying tea together, usually drinking gongfu style – or it can be more elaborate. Although there is a ”correct way” for the tea master or host to conduct the ceremony, I like the fact that the Chinese are very versatile and pride themselves on being different, each having their unique way of preparing and serving tea. The main ingredients for a good experience are the right climate and ambience – such as a nice setting, wooden furnishings, and some creative artwork, paintings, and tea-related items on display, such as nice earthenware canisters. Soft music is also good. Then, of course, good company – folks who are there to relax and enjoy the occasion. How the tea is made and served, which teas are chosen, and which teaware is selected constitute a whole other subject.
Perhaps above all, the experience must be unifying and bonding. I’ve often come to a tea shop and the owner will invite several strangers to his or her tea table to enjoy some nice tea together. Afterwards, we all feel as though we have known each other forever. New friendships develop easily this way. This is probably the most wonderful thing about tea. Some people call it the “qi” of tea. It is more than just appreciating the health benefits or the good taste or the aroma or color of tea. Sometimes I have come home from enjoying a great tea and later made some of the same tea, but it just didn’t “feel” the same. Of course, it still is wonderful to drink tea alone and I often do and the benefits are many. But the cool thing is we can have all this, plus use tea as a wonderful vehicle for sharing and experiencing a richer, fuller, and more pleasant quality of life with others.