Ducking through the crowds of people that swarmed the streets of Tian Zi Fang, a younger me darted into an alleyway where no one followed. Heading up some stairs surrounded by blank, dirty walls to a hallway. Before me was a large wooden door with the golden characters for "Martial Arts School" written above it.
It was 2018, towards the end of my first year in China. Young me would go train at a martial art school in Tian Zi Fang a couple times a week with a Chinese man and a handful of foreigners. Sometimes after class, the teacher would be drinking tea. Simple glass cups, a tea pot, all on a tiny table. One day, I was lucky enough for the teacher to offer me a cup of his tea. I had heard that tea was a big part of China's culture. At home, I had drank a lot of tea. Lipton. Arizona. Various green teas. Going further back to my childhood are memories of my dad brewing exotic teas in a glass pot. Together sipping on the bitter mixture after training or study. Tea has followed me throughout my life.
When I accepted the paper cup from the master and took my first sip; I was surprised.
The golden elixir was refreshing. Heat flowed out from my stomach, covering my tired body in a comfortable warmth.
"What kind of tea is this?", I remember asking him.
My ears listened attentively, as my Chinese knowledge was in it's infant stages. I will always remember the name.
"铁观音, Tie Guan Yin".
I didn't know what it meant or even what characters to write, so I memorized the sounds on my way home. The tea was different than others that I had drank. Not bitter like most Green Teas brewed at home, not overly sweet like the stuff found in stores. This was different. It was like I had tasted a new flavor.
As I continued to live and train in Shanghai; My dad would bring home teas from business trips. We would try them together, exposing myself to more kinds of tea flavors. One time, I went to a tea ceremony with a stranger. Within the small confines of that tea shop, I saw how the "Tea Person" brewed the various teas in a gaiwan and pot. That dingy Shanghai tea ceremony showed me my first tea pet. A color changing Buddha.
It's funny to think back, I had no idea about any types of teas, or the ways to brew them. I knew nothing about actual tea making except put the bag in a cup. Then, fill with hot water.
Then, my knowledge would stagnate. For the next couple years, I focused on Kung Fu. Simply buying teas I came across. Brewing them my own ways. Through simple exposure I learned about "tea water", buckwheat tea, jasmine teas, Pu'er teas, and Oolong tea. Yet, with living in China, buying teas, eating out. I still wasn't exposed to "tea culture".
When I came back home, I took the opportunity to study Tea online. Watching videos, reading articles, and even going through a few tea courses. This helped build up my "foundation". Exposing myself to the various tea types and methods of brewing was great. It really showed me how much this "art" had to offer. I was just missing my own teaware to practice all that I had learned. I was also missing my own tea.
Now, tea goes hand in hand with my adventures. Each day, I try to learn more about this hobby.