feature: Chinese Tea Guide
Tea is more than just a drink in China – it’s a way of life. The drink is so important that one Chinese proverb claims that “It is better to be deprived of food for three days, than tea for one" and tea is included on the list of the seven necessities of Chinese life (alongside firewood, rice, oil, salt, soy sauce and vinegar). The historical origins of tea have their roots in a series of myths and legends involving an emperor and an accidental brewing of a tea leaf. What historians do know is that tea was first brewed in the Middle Kingdom more than 4,000 years ago and was popularised by the imperial family during the Tang Dynasty.
The Tea Master
In recent years, Chinese tea has crossed oceans with more regularity as orders from foreigners come flying in, fuelled by scientific studies linking tea consumption with a host of health benefits. But for the lucky residents of Shanghai, we’re just a train ride away from some of the best tea fields (and tea masters) in the world.
Ian Hanks, a Texas native who lived in Shanghai for years before relocating to Hangzhou, is something of a Chinese tea connoisseur. Working as a consultant in Shanghai, Hanks was introduced to the drink by a friend, but it wasn’t until he headed to Hangzhou’s greener pastures that he really began to delve into the complex world of tea.
“I moved out to the Lingyin Temple neighbourhood because I was looking for a quiet place to live,” says Hanks. “I didn’t realise I was actually moving into a community of tea farmers.” The tucked away village is where he met Mr Hu, the neighbourhood tea master, (pictured above) who introduced him to the art of tea drinking.
Hanks and his friends often hang out in Mr Hu’s meditation room, which sits above the store where the devout Buddhist sells tea to the monks and tourists from the temple. The walls of the room are lined with aged pu’er tea, Mr Hu’s personal favourite variety of Chinese tea, and an impressive tea table surrounded by simple pillow cushions takes up most of the floor space. Young monks and tea enthusiasts will gather here to study at the master’s feet, and Mr Hu is at his best sitting comfortably zen-like behind the tea table, pouring out cups of tea while waxing lyrical about the culture behind the drink and how it has penetrated every aspect of his life, including his marriage.