Greetings Tea Friends,
I hope that you’re all well and somewhat adjusting to the forced domestic life. The situation for each of us is unique. If we find ourselves in a relatively stable place, let us remember to reach out to friends to chat, and potentially offer comfort and aid. Simple human connections that seemed little before could be very big for one of us right now. As I contemplate the new life, the life that will be the new normal in a year’s time, I am drawn to the idea of rediscovering snail mail traded objects like letters, mixtapes, cookies… Heck, why not tea? What if…
April Tea Trade Game:
Let’s all find an online tea buddy and set up a tea trade. A 1-2 kinds of tea, 20g each kind of thing. Then, after both parties get their tea, they can drink the exact same tea together in a video chat. If any of you do this, please let me know and I will send prizes (care packages!) to all involved! Also, if you want to choose me for your trade buddy, don’t be shy.
Trading tea through the mail is a great way to quickly expand your tea tasting experiences. You get trusted info on why your friend bought it, brewing notes, why they potentially don’t want it anymore, and whether the tea is a good representation of its type, cultivar, region, etc. I will forever be indebted to IG users @lesvoiesduthe and @steepology for not only being the only intrepid tea friends to take me up on my trade offers last year, but for being so, SO generous with the teas they sent me. Their selfless sharing of their fine teas left a very strong impression on me, and that experience serves as a motivating force behind everything we do at Spiritwood. The universe really does want you to taste Good Tea — those who have had it can’t help but share it with other tea friends. Now, go forth and share! (From the safety of your mailbox.)March Poetry Contest:
Last month’s newsletter-only giveaway was a huge success. A million thanks to the amazing poets who wrote in. Congratulations to the winner, @gongfu.ma!
After announcing the contest last month, I realized that I couldn’t judge it for fear of bias. So a panel of three of my closest tea friends convened to read and discuss the entries. They loved them ALL so much, and assured me that the decision was a difficult one. I was personally touched at the enthusiastic response and the top quality of the writing you guys cranked out. Your prizes were hard earned! And without further ado, the poems:
in my cup
hold me like I’m a child
Tea is for me
Kids will try to eat anything
You have to be careful, they say
Keep the things away from their mouths
You have to protect them this way
But looking back, I was a different sort
I was selective, you see
No plastics, electronics, or household goods
Only plants and fungus for me
And through the years though I've changed
My taste I did keep
Preferring nature to process
And earthy to sweet
So whether I pay for it,
Or whether it's free
I know what I'll drink
Tea is for me
The westerlies stream
ripples in my cup of leaves
- yet the cherry blooms
Gushu - my teacher
You bring me strength
With your calm energy
You slow everything down
You bring me to ‘now’
You fill me with wisdom of the past
Moments come, streams fall, tea leaves float
The Tea Art Corner:
One of our focuses right now is building a tea knowledge base. That means info about tea leaves, tea preparation, and teaware, but also something more. Tea culture, tea art, and their history are topics well represented in Asian libraries, but the western glimpse into these topics has so far been limited. As residents of Tainan, Taiwan’s oldest city and first capital, we’re quite spoiled. With all the tea history, tea culture scholarship and advocacy, connections to Taiwanese literature, and temples around every corner — it really is a paradise. And it is our pleasure to share with you all as much as the teachers and books here will tell us. So in that spirit, I present to you my own personal translation of an introduction to my teacher, Master Lizhen Chen. My translation work is quite poor, owing to the very dense, idiom-filled nature of the writing. This is the dumbed down “just try to make it make sense literally and allusions and allegory be damned” version, if you will. The text is an excerpt from the recently published book:
Tea Road: A Record of the Tea People of the Ancient Capital
Which was published by a non-profit group called 台南市茶藝促進會 (Tainan Tea Art Promotion Society). The book is a directory of sorts, giving a little background on the major players in the Tainan tea scene, with bits of knowledge about tea and Tainan history included, too. I hope to bring you some translated tidbits from Master Chen’s own books next time.
“Tea study is a lifetime of homework!”
Master Chen Lizhen, a consultant of the Tainan Tea Art Promotion Society, has taught countless students. Her students have already become Tea Art teachers, as have the students of her students. Yet Master Chen still believes herself to be walking the path of tea practice. She often says, “The more you teach about tea, the more teas you encounter, the more you feel you still have a lot to learn, and are forced to go further.” Her enthusiasm and persistence have touched and inspired admiration in the next generation.
She owes her enlightenment to her teachers, the tea masters Tu Zonghe and Zheng Daocong. They let her know, understand, and fall in love with tea. It was then that she decided “I will spend my life with tea”.
In 1986, she opened “Beiyuan Tea House” with friends. The business was good and they opened a second branch. The teahouse stayed busy preparing tea, and Master Chen the tea lover continued her steady progress acquiring tea knowledge and promoting the principles of Tea Art Culture.
She was invited to teach at the Dongmen Art Museum, and thus began her path of teaching Tea Art. She’s since been invited to teach at the Jiayi Farmers’ Association, NCKU, YWCA, Tainan Community College, Zen Flower Tea Friends Association, Green South Tea Society, Go Eat Tea Tea Friends Association, Gangshan Presbyterian Church, and teacher workshops. She has students all over Taiwan.
Master Chen’s teaching philosophy has always been “Tea and life are one”. Studying tea and understanding its beauty will naturally lead one to fall in love with tea, and to find tea everywhere in one’s own life. She believes that one must learn more than just the beautiful motions of tea preparation, for if you can’t brew good tea, they are futile. If one wants to brew good tea, one must also learn the tea’s cultivar, unique characteristics, brewing parameters and suitable teaware. To this end, she has been tirelessly searching for good tea, researching tea, and developing all kinds of teaware to best present tea and create a beautiful tea space aesthetic. Her teahouse is called Jixiu ART. Though small, its elegant atmosphere and wealth of tea knowledge have made it a site of pilgrimage for many tea people.
Master Chen was appointed to take over as the 6th president of the Tainan Tea Association. She was appointed to be the Association’s 7th and 8th president, too, becoming the first person to serve three terms. In 1997, she successfully organized the “Tea and Life Special Exhibition” which has become the largest of Tainan’s tea culture events.
In order to promote the culture of tea art and provide a basic textbook for those new to tea, Master Chen wrote the best-selling book Hear Tea Talk. Her reputation is well known, and she has been invited to lecture and teach in mainland China. She has lectured at “Yi Yi Tang” in Xiamen, “Jingyu Porcelain Garden” in Jingdezhen, and Beijing Juli Auction Company.
“Now, at the start of each day, I drink tea. Drinking tea has become life’s most beautiful activity.” Tea is Master Chen’s constant companion, and she happily shares good tea with other tea lovers. A few years ago she held Tainan’s first Phoenix Dancong tea cupping, “Fragrant Orchid Tea Ceremony”, to selflessly provide a variety of good tea and introduce various tea traditions. [Translator’s note: Phoenix Dancong is mostly unknown in Taiwan, so here Master Chen is introducing a “new” kind of tea to Tainan’s tea lovers.]
She also introduced Wuyi rock tea locally, first at the “Misty Water Beauty Tea Ceremony”. She ushered in the current focus of local connoisseurs on the most flavorful Phoenix Dancong and Wuyi Yancha teas. In order to let tea lovers understand tea more deeply and learn about Wuyi rock tea, Phoenix dancong, aged Taiwanese tea, etc., she wrote One Leaf Fragrance in 2017. The book is an emotional expression of her love for these teas, along with tea knowledge, sensory and rational.
“The vast study of tea is endless. For each step we take, we find more things to learn about. Let's do it together… “ This heartfelt closing to the preface of One Leaf Fragrance shows her dedication to continual study, and to happily walking the tea path hand in hand with other tea lovers.
“Along this path, I am most grateful for my students. They are the driving force for my continued learning and progress. My greatest hope is to pass on this attitude of loving tea, and studying and brewing it with heart.” She also welcomes tea lovers the world over to make an appointment at Jixiu ART to share tea spirit and knowledge.
We hope your tea shelves are all stocked, and you’re all thinking about who to tea trade with
Have a great month. Be well. Remember to take care of yourselves. Wishing you many peaceful sessions
Peace from Taiwan~