Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Huawen Tea Party

From early September through November I took Chinese classes at Huawen. My teacher’s name was Stefanie. She ran Huawen alongside one other teacher. Over these few months Huawen organized a few different activities outside of regular classes.

The first of these activities was on tea culture. Stefanie was friends with a woman named 李莉 (or Li Li but from here on we’ll call her Lilly).  Lilly’s parents own a tea shop 星享茗茶, No.112-1, Luyu Chadu, Ziyang Road, Wuchang. Lilly studied tea for many years. She grew up in her parent’s tea house and later she went to school at Zhangzhou College of Science and Technology (漳州科技学院) a university founded by a tea company (http://www.tftc.edu.cn/). Lilly also has an online presence through Taobao, http://llilyteahouse.taobao.com. Unfortunately her online store is completely in Chinese but there are many pretty pictures there if you’re interested. Stefanie invited Lilly to Huawen where she gave a demonstration of tea culture. She brewed several different kinds of tea for us allowing us to try as much as we liked.

Tea has been one of my favorite parts of the Chinese experience from the moment I arrived. When Stefanie told me about the tea party I couldn't refuse. Any chance to drink free tea is something that I find difficult to resist. This is especially true when the tea is likely to be high quality. One of the great things about tea shops, which my friend Chris first pointed out to me, is that once you've bought anything from them they will remember you forever. Not only will they remember you but they will serve you tea for free every time you come to their shop. They don’t skimp on this either. It’s always the good stuff. I believe tea shop owners do this for two reasons. First, I think they've understood for a long time what online marketing gurus have been championing for the last three or four years. The best way to promote a business is to give things to your customers for free. The second reason is that I believe tea shop owners are genuinely enthusiastic about their products. They love tea, they want you to love it to and they want to show off the teas that they have. In the end they know that you’ll buy more from them later.

Stefanie and Lilly had arranged the conference table so that the two of them were sitting in the middle and ten of Stefanie’s students, including myself, were sitting around them. Lilly brewed all the tea. Between heating the kettle, pouring and serving Lilly would talk to us in Chinese. Stefanie translated. She served us Green Tea, Oolong and Pu’er. Over the past three years pu’er has been my favorite. She told us about the different kinds of tea and she made predictions about the different teas that she thought we would like. She suggested that the men would like the darker pu’er more and that the women would like the lighter ones. She was mostly right. She rattled off facts about different teas. One is said to be good for helping you sleep. Another is good for giving you energy. Yet another is good for aiding digestion. She cautioned not to drink too much too quickly because it could make someone light headed and dizzy. One of the women present asked what about it caused you to become dizzy. Lilly looked puzzled for brief moment before suggesting that this feeling of dizziness was the tea helping your digestion. As far as I could tell I was the only one who found this statement amusing.

While I don’t readily buy her explanation of dizziness being linked to aiding digestion I did enjoy her tea and in the not too distant future I will likely seek out her parents shop to buy some pu’er. I’ll need something to drink once I finish off the earl grey that the University gave me for Christmas.