by David Duckler, Certified Tea Expert of Infinitea Teahouse
When people ask what convinced me to spend the last year living in the tea-growing regions of China and train in the art of tea, I always think back to the same story. A few years ago I was sitting in a farmer-woman’s tea shop when she asked me if I had ever heard of white tea. “Of course,” I said. White tea is well-known in China as beautiful silver buds once reserved as tribute for the emperor himself.
“No, I mean real white tea.” I was a little indignant at this point. Either I had completely overlooked a major branch of Chinese tea in my research, or this woman assumed that I knew nothing. She continued, “Years ago, before we had imperial grade this and tribute grade that, people served tea to their guests as a gesture of hospitality. Sometimes, there would be famines, and the people were too poor to buy tea leaves. They would prepare a pot of boiling water, and go through the same motions of serving each cup. They would then invite their guest to sip white tea.”
That story of hers is what I love about tea-drinking in Asia. The main point of tea is to bring people together, and show hospitality. Drinking a pot of tea with friends is something special. There is the feeling of shared experience, there is the wonderful opportunity to refill each other’s cups.
Great tea is enjoyed both in times of plenty and hardship. The fact that Indian chai is so creamy comes from the fact that the tea leaves once cost so much money that using half milk and half tea was a more affordable drink. Japanese genmaicha began when people discovered that adding toasted grain to green tea made the leaves go further.
While there is snobbery around tea in certain circles, this betrays the true significance of a pot of tea. Around the world, gracious hosts are preparing the best tea they can afford, and enjoying it to the fullest with their friends and guests.