Who teaches the workshops?
Tea sommelier, Elaine Tsien develops and teaches all the workshops offered by SÙ LIVING. Elaine received the TAC TEA SOMMELIER Professional designation from the Tea Association of Canada in 2016. She graduated from the Certified Tea Sommelier program offered by George Brown College of Applied Arts and Technology in 2015.
Elaine started her training in the classical art of tea in Taiwan during 2014. Since then, she has been travelling to China, Taiwan and Japan every year to continue her study of the art from qualified tea teachers. At home in Toronto, Elaine takes regular lessons to study Chanoyu – the Japanese tea ceremony from the Urasenke school of tea.
Elaine has taught the art of tea appreciation workshops and classes for the City of Markham general recreational programs for adults since the fall of 2016. She started teaching private lessons in February 2017.
Where are the workshops held? +
They are held at the Hillside Ravines at Yorkmills, which is a condominium complex located at William Carson Crescent, near the Yorkmills subway station and Highway 401 Yonge Street exit. If Elaine teaches at other venues, details will be posted on our website and facebook page.
How big are the workshops? +
Workshops held at Hillside Ravines at Yorkmills are available to no more than six participants at any time. Workshops held in other venues may allow more participants, but usually limit to eight people grouped into two groups. This set-up is designed to provide each participant an opportunity to prepare tea, and to ensure adequate interaction between the instructor and the students while keeping each session relatively quiet and efficient.
Is there an age limit? +
While there is no age limit to our workshops, participants must be able to physically handle a kettle of hot boiling water and pour it from the kettle.
Are there any health or safety considerations I need to give thought to? +
We keep our water kettle boiling through our workshops using a small alcohol lamp inside a ceramic container. Depending on the types of teas, temperature of the water use for infusion may range roughly between 80 and 95 degrees Celsius. Students are advised to exercise caution in handling the water kettles, teaware and in consuming the tea at a temperature that is comfortable to them.
All teas consist of different combination of chemical compounds including polyphenols, amino acids and caffeine to name a few. While tea’s chemical compounds have been reported to provide health benefits, some people may be sensitive to certain compounds such as caffeine and tannins. We advise those who are sensitive to certain compounds to inform us in advance and drink moderately.
Generally, we feature six different types of teas on our tasting list for each of our workshops. Depending on the types of tea being infused, between two and five grams of dry tea leaves are used for three to four people. We will make no more than three infusions for each type of tea; and each infusion will yield about 25 mL per person. We recommend participants to use this estimate to judge how much tea they wish to consume during each of our workshops.
How do your workshops compare with related programs offered by tea shops and educational institutions? +
We aim to preserve and promote the classical art of tea as a form of art and a way of life. Since the classical art of tea, as we define, combines the long history and experience of tea enjoyment in China and Japan, the approach we have taken to develop our workshops naturally follows the Eastern ideal of seeking peace of mind and harmony with nature and others through tea. We strive to create an aesthetic experience for the senses and the mind rather than following the trend of approaching tea as part of a food and drink culture.
Given our approach, participants in our workshops will develop:
- tangible skills including the selection of materials, setup, preparation of tea, etiquette to share and appreciate tea with others; and
- intangible skills such as creativity, consideration for others, attention to details and poise to create a space where the body and the mind can be at ease to appreciate the peacefulness, elegance and harmony from enjoying tea alone or with others.
Tangible skills are relatively easier to develop because they can be learned through acquiring knowledge and gaining experience through trial and practice. Intangible skills, however, take time to form and strengthen and may evolve based on individual experiences, preferences, aesthetic senses, awareness and appreciation of his/her surroundings.
It is our desire to inspire participants to incorporate the goodness of the practice of the classical art of tea to shape their thoughts and action for leading a quiet, simple and natural way of life.
Why is it important to learn about the processing method and chemical transformation of tea? +
By learning the processing methods of tea, you will be in a better position to judge the quality of the tea you have purchased, and to decide how to infuse the tea and to make the appropriate adjustment to improve the infusion. You will also develop a better appreciation of the work of nature and craftsmanship in delivering a wide range of aroma and flavour for single variety tea.
An understanding of the chemical transformation of tea will help you to decide which types of tea are most suitable for you, depending on the season and your body condition. It also helps you to determine the best way to store your tea collection.
About the Tea Leaves
What kinds of tea are used during your workshops? +
We use a variety of premium quality teas, which cover all major categories in loose leaf form, cake form and powdered form, to enable you to experience and familiarize with the range of choices found in the retail market. It is our hope that you can broaden your knowledge and palate of single variety tea so that you can explore and enjoy a wide spectrum of aroma and flavour profiles and be confident in selecting quality tea for your own consumption and collection.
It is important to stress that our study and practice is focused almost entirely on single variety tea produced in China, Taiwan and Japan. This is because of our respect and desire to appreciate the work of nature and generations of craftsmen, who have applied their skills and experience, to deliver us a product that is both wholesome and naturally aromatic and flavourful. Although tea is being produced in many parts of the world, we dedicate our focus on three historically important production regions namely China, Taiwan and Japan because of their authenticity, heritage and relationship with the classical art of tea.
We do use scented tea to illustrate the traditional scenting process, which combines fresh flowers such as jasmine to partially processed tea leaves to create a final product. We do not use blended products, which combine finished tea leaves of different varieties, regions or with additives such as dried flowers and fruits, aromatic oil or any types of extract or flavouring. We also do not use decaffeinated tea.
Do you use organic teas? +
Organic teas are grown without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides or herbicides. They are available in the market with or without organic certification, issued by certifying agencies such as the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and the European Union.
There is no regulatory requirement for teas that are organically grown to seek organic certification. Teas that are certified organic pay a fee to a certifying agency for the service and the inspection required at the time of certification, which is then repeated periodically. Teas that have been organically grown for generations may choose not to seek organic certification because of business reasons and or market economics. Among the business-related factors, cost is an obvious and relevant one, particularly for small producers. The lack of demand for certified organic tea, particularly among local customers who are already familiar with the traditional farming method that is safe and eco-friendly, have confidence in the quality of the tea produced, and are willing to pay a good price for the products, gives producers another reason not to seek organic certification.
We support organically grown tea with and without organic certification. When we select tea, quality is our top priority while certified organic is of lesser importance. We select teas that represent premium quality in terms of aroma, taste, craftsmanship and sustainability for multiple infusions. Among the teas that meet our selection criterions, only a few are certified organic. Please refer to the tasting lists that are distributed during our workshops for specific information.
How do you source and select tea? +
We source almost all of our teas directly from China, Taiwan and Japan. We rely on a few respectable and established tea retailers to source teas from India and Sri Lanka which are used for our study on the history and development of red/fully oxidized tea. Those retailers include Camellia Sinensis from Montreal, Capital Tea Limited from Toronto and THÉ Beauté from Taipei. We also source from Tao Tea Leaf from Toronto and Sakurai Japanese Tea Experience from Tokyo to bridge certain gaps to enhance the diversity and depth of our tea library.
Every year, we travel to China, Taiwan and Japan at least once during spring to gather and collect tea samples of different varieties and seasons for our workshops and tea gatherings. Quality is our number one criteria when it comes to tea selection. We select teas that represent good quality in terms of aroma, taste, craftsmanship, grade and sustainability for multiple infusions. Some of the teas we select are endorsed by instructors of the classical art of tea we study from in Hangzhou, Taipei, Kyoto and Toronto. The teas we have selected have all passed our taste test for quality and safety.
Are the teas used in your workshops available for purchase? +
We purchase small quantities of teas of various categories, varieties, seasons, refinement methods, characteristics, age etc. for use in our workshops and tea gatherings. We may offer limited amounts of selective tea samples used in our workshops for students to purchase from time to time. Although quantity is small, students can acquire selective materials for their own practice and or enjoyment. Please inquire with us about the teas that are available for purchase.
We visit China, Taiwan and Japan every year to study the classical art of tea and to buy tea. We are happy to assist students who want us to purchase certain teas for them or trust us to select teas for them based on their interests and needs.
What kind of water are used? +
We use fresh water filtered through our reverse osmosis system* which removes contaminants, impurities and odour to yield clean water that is slightly acidic (ph level < 7) with a low mineral content measured by mg/L.
*Puronics Micromax 7000 Reverse Osmosis System
What kind of water kettle is used?
We generally use clay kettles to boil water during our workshops because they yield water with better taste and mouthfeel than stainless steel and glass kettles. All of our clay water kettles are handcrafted with most of them made in Taiwan and a selective few from Japan.
We use iron kettlesmostly for Japanese tea, particularly maccha or powdered green tea, because of our respect for the traditional practice of using iron kettles in maccha. A quality iron kettle is capable of delivering water with good taste and mouthfeel for tea infusion.
What kinds of teaware are used? +
Common teaware used in our workshops include gaiwan (a cup with a lid), tea bowl and teapot for infusing tea. Pitchers are generally used to serve tea to teacups, which are about the size or smaller than an expresso cup and have no handles found in Western style teacups. The teawares we use are made from various materials including glass, porcelain and clay.
Where do you source your teaware? +
We source our teaware and kettle from manufacturers, retailers, antique shops and ceramic artists from China, Taiwan and Japan.d clay.