This month I decided to start a Chinese language tuition service specifically focused on tea vernacular. Given that so much tea-related scientific research is published in Chinese, I figured that many tea people could benefit from broadening their skill set to include speaking and reading Mandarin with a tea vernacular focus so that they can gain tea knowledge through first hand channels instead of second hand channels. Also, when travelling through China for the purpose of hunting down teas, interactions with tea people are so much more fulfilling when both parties can speak directly to each other rather than through a translator (and I've seen many translators leave out a lot of information when translating from Chinese to English).
My tuition service is best suited to tea shop owners, tea bloggers and general Chinese tea lovers at either the beginner or intermediate stage. If you are interested in having me as your tutor, head on over to the contact page and let me know before places fill up.
In the meantime, I thought I would share some tips in this post on remembering three of the six different names for classifying Chinese tea.
In Chinese, white tea is 白茶 (bái chá). It's pronounced close to "bye char", but more breathy on the end of "char". You get the breathiness by dropping your lower jaw towards the end.
The second tone is used on both characters, so each character should sound like you are asking a question.
How can you remember the actual characters? The character for white, bái, is a combination of the character for sun - 日- plus a stroke on top. The character looks like a two-panel window. Imagine looking out the window of the sun burning so brightly that you see a white light.
The character for tea, chá, is a bit more complicated. The top part - 艹 - represents the character for grass. Imagine the horizontal line is the soil and the two vertical little lines are the roots and grass leaf blades popping out above the soil. Imagine the next part - 人- is the roof of a teahouse. The last part underneath is similar to the Chinese character for tree - 木 - symbolising a tea tree. The character looks like branches on a single tree trunk. Altogether you have a tea tree growing in the grass by a teahouse - and there you have the character for tea.
Wū - 乌 - is the adjective for dark/black as well as the noun for crow. The character kinda looks like a bird - a crow - perched on a tree branch. Wū sounds like when a ghost goes “wooooh,” but it is in the first tone, which we at The Artisan Tea hut call the “stick out your tongue tone”. Imagine that steady singular tone you make when the doctor asks you to stick out your tongue and say “aaaah”. It kinda sounds like that.
Lóng - 龙 - means dragon. Chineasy has a picturefied version of this character to help you remember it. It is pronounced similar to the English word “long”, but you push your lips out further as you say it. It’s a second tone, which means, when you say it, you should go up in tone like you are asking a question.
So altogether oolong tea can be translated literally to “black dragon tea”. Why is it called this? Some say it is because the dark, long, winding look of typical oolong tea resembles a black dragon. Others say the birthplace of oolong tea - the Fujian province - has a local dialect in the area where “wulong” has the meaning of “混混叨叨” and “误打误撞”, which has the sentiment of bumbling along and happening upon something by accident - which reflects the accidental process discovery of turning green tea to oolong tea.
What we call black tea in the West is actually called red tea in China - 红茶 (hóng chá). It is pronounced pretty much as you see it, with the second tones making it sound like you are asking a question.
It is said that the name for black tea came about in the West because of the colour of the leaves, whereas, in China, it was called red tea because of the colour of the tea liquor. Of course, there are some Chinese red teas that retain the red colour in the leaves as well, such as Big Golden Needles pictured above.
How to remember the character for red - 红? The left part - 纟- means silk (which looks like silk thread). The right part - 工 - means work/labour (which looks like the shape of an industrial steel beam bar). Anyone who has handled Big Golden Needles knows that the fine hairs covering the shoots make them feel smooth like silk. So imagine someone working hard on making a red tea as smooth as silk.
During the COVID-19 lockdown, I've dedicated the last several weeks to helping with the build of an undercover area to serve as The Artisan Tea Hut's back-up tearoom for rainy and windy days, among other purposes. Cuts, bruises and aching muscles aside, there's something really satisfying about building with your own hands and designing with your own mind.
As The Artisan Tea Hut gets ready to open its doors again once Stage 1 of the government's plan to ease social distancing measures comes into action, you may notice some differences on our website.
While we are still keeping our Introduction to Tea Culture and Introduction to Tea Meditation sessions free to the public, we have decided that it is time to start getting the balance books looking healthy. So we are making our Tea Culture Discovery Series and Guided Tea Meditation Series member-access only. For a short time, our membership fees will be at a modest $35.00 for each series. However, we do want to show our appreciation for our most enthusiastic supporters who have helped us with spreading the word about what we do, or have given us access to their social media platforms to promote our tea sessions. To these people - Sajhu, Helen, Annabelle, Steve, Scott, Paul, Debbie, Bridget, Adeline, Amie and Andy - we offer free memberships.
In addition, while I'm unable to return to China to resume my work there, I have decided to work on establishing a small tea farm and tea-making workshed so that in the future I can run weekend workshops for those who want to learn how to make their own tea. Naturally, given that the plants will need some time to grow, the workshops will be some years away, but I think Canberrans and Queanbeyanites will enjoy the idea that there is a hobby tea farm in their region.
I thought I would use this month's blog post to go into my reasoning behind setting up The Artisan Tea Hut under the sharing economy business model instead of a traditional business model.
My ultimate ambition has long been to find a way to introduce traditional Chinese tea culture into Australia and make it go mainstream. I initially had invested with a business partner to open up a standard teahouse, but that plan fell through when I discovered that China's logistic laws prevent most teas from being shipped out of China. I eventually found a loophole to get the teas to Australia, but I definitely could not scale it up. With a small supply of teas combined with the exorbitant commercial rents in the Canberra region, I soon felt my dream slipping away.
But every problem has an opportunity. I was listening to a business podcast that was talking about the sharing economy being the way of the future. For those who are unfamiliar with the lingo, the sharing economy is about taking excess unused assets and capitalising on them. This is what Airbnb does, where people can rent out their spare rooms, and what WelcomeOver does, where people can invite diners into their homes to share a meal with them. Naturally it followed that I could set up a teahouse in a similar way. So I got to work modifying some free space in a relative's residential premise just outside of Canberra. The photo above is the final result - my own beautiful, tranquil, cosy outdoor teahouse.
Under the sharing economy model, I am able to eliminate high commercial rents that so often cripple small local businesses unable to compete with the purchasing power of large corporations. Further, by being based in a neighbourhood environment, I am able to cultivate a genuine sense of community that corporations try to mimic, but often struggle to achieve. The sharing economy model lends itself perfectly to turning a mere transactional experience into an experience of social and local connection that so many people are pining for nowadays. This is one reason why I would like to see more people in the Canberra region entering the sharing economy to turn their passions into side hustles - whether it be cheese-making, artisan coffee or heirloom gardening. Imagine waking up on a Saturday morning and feeling like scones with cream and jam for breakfast. Instead of getting into the car and heading into town, you can just walk down the street to your neighbour's place - both convenient and a perfect excuse to get to know people in your neighbourhood.
The other reason why I would like to see more local sharing economy businesses is that, in the year of COVID-19 where we need to avoid large gatherings, a residential-based shop or service is a perfect business model for reducing the spread of the virus without sacrificing in-person social contact. This is something online businesses are unable to do. I can still keep The Artisan Tea Hut accessible to the public by arranging one-on-one appointments for tea tastings and tea purchases. In the year of COVID-19, many of us have also realised how important it is to diversify our income source, and a side hustle like a sharing economy business can help with that, albeit the model isn't scaleable.
I hope one day there will be many backyard teahouses across Australia just like my own sharing tea cultures from across the globe. A grassroots movement may be the most effective way to make traditional tea cultures go mainstream in Australia.
For anyone interested in starting up their own sharing economy business in the Canberra region and would like some advice, my door is always open. Just reach out to me through the contact page and let's chat over some tea.
This post is going to be one-of-a-kind for this blog, as it's not exactly tea-related. It's more for people coming here through a Google search who are wanting to do research on Impact Theory University before investing their money and time in it.
I enrolled with Impact Theory University's business stream and mindset stream a few months ago to help me with growing The Artisan Tea Hut. I was a bit trepidatious going into it at first, as the combined US$120 a month equated to AU$200 a month. It was another business expense I would have to factor into my product pricing, which conflicted with my ambition to keep the prices of my artisan teas as affordable as possible. However, after 3 months in both programs, I can see it is an essential expense.
Tom Bilyeu is the founder of Impact Theory University and is the developer and the deliverer of its curriculum. I knew that when it came to business, I didn't want to go through the traditional tertiary system because I was after practical advice rather than theoretical study. In this respect, Impact Theory University certainly delivers, no doubt because Tom and his lovely wife, Lisa Bilyeu, have co-founded a billion-dollar company - Quest Nutrition.
The best bit about Impact Theory University, compared to traditional universities, is that they aren't controlled by bureaucracy and formality, which means the team constantly adapts in real time to the needs of us students. There is also a Facebook group where the team is highly active and supportive, throwing our questions straight back to Tom to answer. I also greatly value the international connections I've made in the Facebook group. It's amazing how concentrated the levels of ambition, intelligence and kindness are in the group!
I did initially have criticisms of some aspects of Impact Theory University, but those criticisms have since been acted on by the team, so I really no longer have anything negative to say. If I could think of one downside, I guess it would be the aggressive delivery Tom sometimes slips into with the mindset classes, which would often leave me thinking 'Why are you angry with me? You're preaching to the choir here!' But I've since learnt that Tom uses aggression to fight his nerves, plus, in my one-on-one interaction with him, I saw deep down he is a gentle and empathetic person.
What's been the most helpful parts of the curriculum for me personally? In regards to the business stream, its been mainly the validation that I've been roughly on the right track with a lot of my business ideas. I also have to give Tom full credit for coming up with the superb names for some of my tea products - "Meditation in a Box" and "Artisans in a Box". In regards to the mindset stream, to my surprise as a self-help industry doubter, it's lifted my ambition, strengthened my self-belief, and broadened my interests. Probably the most powerful concept I've learnt from Tom is that humans are meaning-making machines. What follows from this is that, given there are few objective truths, we get to decide what meaning we attach to things and events. Such meaning doesn't have to conform to everyone else's if it doesn't serve us. As such, Tom suggests we constantly look at how to give a negative situation a positive meaning. Once you take on this mindset, it's crazy how much your life changes. You go beyond resilient to being anti-fragile, and then your whole world changes in unanticipated ways.
If you're contemplating enrolling with Impact Theory University, I would say don't delay, enroll today!
Big Red Robe is one of China's most famous oolong teas. Thanks to Wuyi University's Arts Department, the legend behind the tea has been illustrated. I thought I'd share the story here for those who haven't heard it before.
During the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907 AD), a scholar and his young companion passed through Mount Wuyi on their way to the capital where the scholar was going to sit for the imperial examinations. Due to the hot weather and the long trek, the scholar passed out on the roadside. At this same moment, an old Buddhist monk passed by. The old monk picked up the scholar and carried him to the temple to care for him.
At the temple, the old monk called over his trained monkey and handed him a bamboo basket. The monkey immediately went off to climb a high mountain to pick some tea leaves and hurried back. With the fresh leaves, the old monk brewed some tea and gave it to the scholar to drink.
After the scholar drank the tea, he quickly recovered. The scholar thanked the old monk for his care and bid him farewell, and the scholar continued on with his journey to the capital.
After arriving in the capital to sit for the imperial examinations, the scholar not only passed the exams, but got the highest marks of all. Now an imperial scholar, he decided to return to Mount Wuyi to formally pay thanks to the old monk for his kindness. Upon their second meeting, the old monk took the imperial scholar to the mountain to show him the tea shrubs that saved him, and gifted him a package of the shrubs’ tea leaves.
Later on, the imperial scholar saw a public notice from the emperor. The notice proclaimed that the empress had fallen seriously ill and urgently needed the help of someone with great medical skills. The imperial scholar decided to take the tea leaves he was gifted and pass them on to the imperial palace. After the empress drank the tea, she was cured from her illness.
Everyone in the emperor’s palace was jubilant, and the emperor sent out a red robe to clothe the tea shrubs that saved the empress's life.
The red robe flew over a thousand mountains and ten thousand rivers before landing on the tea shrubs, illuminating the shrubs in a red glow. From then on, the tea shrubs came to be known by the people as “Big Red Robe”.
Last year while I was strolling through the streets of Dali in China’s Yunnan province, I passed by a quaint little tea shop called Do Not Envy The Immortal Teahouse. Popping my head around the corner of the door to take a closer peek, I was immediately greeted with a warm smile from the owner and invited inside. The owner was a young woman named Chen Chen and we immediately liked each other for our shared admiration of rustic traditional Chinese décor. With regret, I wasn’t able to stay long as I was travelling with a friend who had zero affinity for tea, so I quickly added Chen Chen to my social media network and we parted ways. Later, to my delight, I discovered Chen Chen’s flair for photography, shooting some of the most beautiful tea pictures I’d ever seen.
Remarking on what traditional Chinese tea culture means to her, Chen Chen says: “By being fully present in the art of tea preparation, your mind calms down, your pace slows down, and your heart is mended by the peace and tranquillity. For me, clearing the mind and connecting with others are inseparable features of tea.”
Commenting on her photography, Chen Chen says: “I’m never satisfied with a photo that’s planned out in advance. A photo will only be touching and vivid if it is recorded whilst in the midst of an act of spontaneity. I’m a curious person who loves life and loves exploring the beauty of this world, and tea is an integrated part of that.”
Chen Chen also likes taking photographs of her son preparing and tasting tea. Asking her how she saw children benefiting from Chinese tea culture, Chen Chen responds: “It goes beyond the physical health benefits to the spiritual health benefits. Although we live in a technological era, we also must still connect with poetry, etiquette, history and tradition, and this can all be done through tea. Thus it is imperative that us Chinese people – both young and old – study and practice ‘the way of tea’.”
If you are ever in Dali and would like to visit Chen Chen’s tea shop, her address is: 云南省大理州大理古城玉洱路437号不羡仙茶舍.
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.)
The Artisan Tea Hut evolved out of The Artisan Tea Club - a social club with an idealistic vision that you could bring people together from all walks of life through a humble tea leaf, and you could enlarge people's social lives by encouraging them to become artisan tea advocates and start their own artisan tea club. We envisaged dozens, if not hundreds, of tea clubs like ours across Canberra and its surrounding towns.
During our 6-month run, we arranged free weekly artisan tea tasting gatherings to facilitate strangers meeting each other, expecting there would be enough voluntary purchases of our teas and teawares to help recover the costs of running and promoting the club.
Whilst we did receive a lot of positive feedback and happy moments, after 6 months of experimentation we finally decided to modify our vision due to 6 main issues.
The first issue was that only a few people were interested in advancing their knowledge of Chinese tea culture and refining their palate to obtain a greater appreciation for this amazing beverage.
The second issue was that, of those who were interested in tea culture, there were very few people who considered starting up a tea club in their own home. This was because most people were looking for social activities outside of their home and also, understandably, there were some safety concerns with having strangers in one's home.
The third issue was that very few people brought their friends along to our tea tastings. This meant it was harder and more costly for us to spread our message and vision, as we didn't have the benefit of word-of-mouth.
The fourth issue was that, with the exception of the Australian Tea Cultural Seminar, none of Australia's peak tea industry bodies responded to our requests for help with promotion.
The fifth issue was that the diversity of attendees' political views and cultural/religious values made it difficult to continuously maintain an inclusive and harmonious setting. Tensions would sometimes arise among attendees with opposing political views when conversation took an unavoidable turn to politics. Also attendees who were from a minority group within a minority group were reluctant to interact with attendees of a majority group within their minority group due to unwanted judgments and gossip within their small community.
The sixth issue was that there were not enough sales to cover the costs of running and promoting the club.
In the end we concluded that such a voluntary not-for-profit community development project was best suited for a community organisation with corporate, industry or government funding to cover the costs of tackling the above issues. In the meantime we have moved on - under a new name - to what we believe is a more sustainable business model.
For those who did support the vision of The Artisan Tea Club, we thank you and hope for your continued interest in Chinese tea culture through The Artisan Tea Hut.
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.