Daniel Hong’s whimsical online profile picture has him adorning a Charlie Chaplin hat with an oversized black cardboard moustache. Chinese millennials don’t usually do whimsical, so I thought I might soon be meeting an over-the-top eccentric. Our online exchanges, on the other hand, had me worrying that I could soon be meeting one of those annoying types that delight in constantly correcting your inconsequential subjective opinions. I’m not a big fan of either type of personality, but I am a fan of Daniel Hong – a very big fan. Hong’s online persona was quickly displaced by his in-the-flesh impression – warm, curious, attentive, and possessing a tremendous talent for being present in the moment. I was quickly put at ease.
Hong has turned his passion for tea into his day job. Raised in the tea drunk Chinese province of Fujian, he takes his tea very seriously. He is on a spice-free diet to keep his palate clean so he can savour the subtleties that tea has to offer. He approaches his study of tea with a scientific rigour (which I had earlier mistaken for nit-pickiness) that has enabled him to possess an encyclopaedia-quality of knowledge, including all the off-the-record political gossip that often goes together with Chinese tea. He also regularly tries to invent his own teas. The creation he is most proud of is a sweet oolong tea he calls Black Swan, which is a production method-homage to Taiwan’s most famous oolong tea – Oriental Beauty.
Whilst Hong’s passion for Chinese tea culture is palpable, he laments the problem of patchy professionalism in China’s tea industry. “Our industry is still developing, just like China itself,” he said. “Some people are drawn to the industry just to make a quick dollar and they don’t care about the tea itself. Our industry needs to attract the right type of people – not people who are drawn to the money, but people who see tea to connect with history, nature and the human psyche,” says Hong.
“That is why I started my own tea company. I want to understand the history and culture of my homeland, and for that reason I need to understand tea. I also want to be able to greet all strangers I meet with ‘Let us share a cup of tea, shall we?’ After that, we will be tea friends. The more tea friends I can make from around the world, the better,” he says.
(Note: This blog post is a revised version of the original full-length feature in Tea Journey Magazine.)
About the Author
Jaq James is the Founder of The Artisan Tea Hut and is a Contributing Editor for Tea Journey Magazine. She splits her time between China's tea regions and Australia's capital.