A celebration of tea

Tea gathering is the literal translation of 茶會/chá huì in Mandarin Chinese and 茶会/chakai in Japanese. Depending on the cultural orientation and many other factors including personal preferences, tea gatherings can be presented and appreciated in as many ways imaginable. That being said, they are united by the same purpose of people meeting to enjoy tea together.

Last year, I had the opportunity to attend a number of tea gatherings. I want to highlight three of them (in a three-part blog post) to express the diverse nature of tea gatherings in a vibrant tea environment of Taipei, Taiwan.


A celebration of tea

The title of the tea gathering was 十二金釵, a description typically used to refer to the twelve beautiful female characters from the Dream of the Red Chamber, one of China’s Four Great Classical Novels originally published in 1791. The twelve subject beauties (teas) featured in this tea gathering took over a year to source from Wuyi Mountain located in Fujian province of China.

The featured teas represented tea tree varieties native to Wuyi Mountain with a history of as little as a few hundred years to as long as a thousand years. Despite their history, many of the featured teas were rare and not commonly known because of market dynamics, which escalated the price and therefore the supply of certain varieties such as 玉桂 a.k.a. 肉桂 Ròu Guì comes at the expense of sacrificing the diversity of varieties in their natural habitat. To raise awareness of this phenomenon was the key motivation behind this tea gathering initiated by teacher 張宜靖 Cheung Yi Ching.

This two-day event took place in January and occupied two boutique art galleries and one antique shop, which were steps away from each other on the same alley located in the Yong Kang Street neighbourhood – a small area with a disproportionately large numbers of tea retailers ranging from fashionable bubble tea to historical tea brands.


The twelve featured teas were presented across four separate sessions over two days. Admission to each session entitled guests to experience three presentations with each featuring a different tea. All of the presentations took the form of the gong-fu style of infusing tea with boiling water and small teapots of clay (terracotta) and silver. Each presentation served tea to four guests, who enjoyed three infusions in very small porcelain cups, typical of appreciating the aroma and flavour of wulong tea from Wuyi Mountain.

I had the pleasure of attending two sessions of presentations and enjoyed six featured teas including 鐵羅漢 Tiě Luó Hàn, 不知春 Bù Zhī Chūn, 金鎖匙 Jīn Suǒ Chí, 大紅梅 Dà Hóng Méi, 金柳條 Jīn Liǔ Tiáo, 瓜子金 Guā Zi Jīn. I also brought home a small quantity of 金鎖匙Jīn Suǒ Chí, 大紅梅 Dà Hóng Méi, 瓜子金 Guā Zi Jīn.

Before I began writing this blog post a year after the event, I took them out for an infusion at home in Toronto. I was totally surprised that my preferences had changed from a year ago. 大紅梅 Dà Hóng Méi, which was the least of my favourite a year ago became my favourite. 金鎖匙 Jīn Suǒ Chí, on the other hand, became my least favourite.
I wondered what had contributed to the change of my preference. Transformation of tea chemicals due to aging? A change of my taste? Water? The cup I used? A silver teapot not at my disposal? The environment? Timing of each infusion? Any one or all of those factors or even more could have contributed to the difference.

Just as I was trying to assess each variable, a Japanese expression of 一期一会 Ichigo Ichie suddenly came to mind. The expression, which is commonly associated with Japanese tea ceremony, immediately reminded me of treasuring the unrepeatable nature of each moment. Even if a tea gathering was replicated, the experience derived from it would have been different for so many reasons unique to that specific moment. Hence we need to cherish each tea gathering as a once-in-a-lifetime experience with a genuine heart.