The key to tea

Updated: 2012-12-24 13:24

By Sun Ye (China Daily)

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The key to tea

[Photo by Fan Zhen/China Daily]

"My father used to keep the cans on the shelves, out of reach. I think that was what made tea appealing to me in the first place."

She studied teaching Chinese as a foreign language at college in 2007. At that time, tea was first used as a teaching prop in class, before it developed into a real interest.

In her words: "I combed all elements of traditional Chinese culture and felt tea was the thing for me."

Zhou then delved into all the literature she could find on tea, and took up tea drinking.

"Half a small cake of Hunan bailiang black tea a day kept me warm, refreshed me and kept my weight down."

She also started learning and practicing the art of the tea ceremony as an unpaid volunteer at a Harbin tea shop.

"While my friends were out doing part-time jobs and earning money, I was working at a tea-shop without pay, just to be able to observe."

The key to tea

A very merry cookie Christmas 

The key to tea

Rainbow dumplings 

She then studied under Han Yihai, the national senior tea master, and tea took on new meanings.

"My first lesson with my master was not about tea rituals, but about living life and respecting its timing. It's the same. He showed me there was no such thing as must-drink or must-do. He always gave me choices and let me follow my instincts. That's how you make peace with yourself and the world."

The renewed understanding changed how Zhou looked at things.

"I used to ask for the best of everything. But then I learned to respect whatever comes my way," she says.

"I see her becoming calmer and much more settled. She's already the brightest of all my students, with a very rare gift of understanding the profound," Han says.

Han still keeps track of his student's progress. "I think she's on the way to really knowing the Taoism of tea."

In 2011, during Harbin's deep winter and over pots of dahongpao oolong tea with her master, Zhou learned about Chinese traditions, the rituals, the distribution of tea varieties and about tea house management.

She gradually realized that her life would be devoted to tea, and her mission would be to help people understand and enjoy the beverage.

She is also working hard at understanding what her guests need, perhaps even before they realize what they want themselves.

"Choosing the proper tea is like interacting with people. Tea caters to your palate, cares for your mood, relaxes you and cheers you up. You just have to know what's right."

She looked at me and picked a tea with leaves that resembled silvered needles for its soft, "peaceful" flavor - a calming infusion for a novice with a short attention span. Zhou is not just a tea sommelier, she is also an uncanny judge of character.

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