China 2018 Day 1 & 2 | Shanghai | Chance encounters lead to firm friendships
Towards the end of my trip last year I met Chuanchuan in Shanghai. We spent just a few moments together but those moments were enough to ignite a curiosity in me around her and the community she is part of in Shanghai. I took her details and on returning to the hotel felt compelled to message her and ask if I could return for tea the following day. Her answer was yes and so I travelled across town to visit her again. A few hours passed in no time - not in fast paced quick fire questions and answers but in gentle honest exchange over tea. When I left I knew we would meet again. These last few days have seen us do just that.
When I started my life in tea I craved greater connection with people different from myself. I dreamt of travel that involved entering peoples homes, briefly being granted the gift of becoming part of their lives. Rob & I share a belief that in order to be granted these experiences we need to also offer them closer to home so we have worked to create spaces that we hope offer the same to you. Indeed our first Tea House is part of our home and we aim to make people feel at ease in an honest and intimate environment.
A life in tea has, as I had hoped, granted me [& Rob] unbelievable opportunities to meet extraordinary people through our travel. Through my time with them and through hundreds of cups of tea I have learned much about myself. Some of the ongoing lessons have been to slow down, to be comfortable in silence, to appreciate the present moment and of course to appreciate the nuances in tea - those that separate good from great. This journey will last my lifetime with moments of great joy and no doubt suffering along the way. As I have travelled along this journey I have learned to trust my instincts - and it is these instincts that led me to this beautiful part of Shanghai yesterday.
Just to walk down this road and enjoy the calm quietness was a joy. How else would I possibly have ended up there unless invited. I found the door and called Chuanchaun who invited me inside. I had no idea what format our meeting would take - something which a few years ago would have made me nervous - but today I felt calm - the unknown felt calm.
I was welcomed into a simple but beautiful salon with a sunny courtyard leading off. A brother sat in the corner meditating and in the other we sat. First tea. Then we talked...about how we had spent our time since we last met about our experiences with tea. In the building I had been invited to Chuanchuan meets, drinks tea, eats, debates....with her community - a large group of people who spend 'time practicing our heart' driven by a belief "that people who can be satisfied with the current moment can produce great simple things”. Each member seems to practice a particular skill and for Chuanchuan this is tea. She works under the guidance of her teacher JJ who joined us as the afternoon turned to evening. JJ herself has worked for many years under the guidance of her teacher - a highly regarded tea teacher with over 40 years experience.
Drinking tea & talking about life in the UK and in China we found many parallels. Busy, technology filled lives, few spaces in which to truly find 'space'. We also spoke in depth about tea. How to teach one-self in tea? JJ smiled - for her the answer is not in the endless study of what others tell us we should think but in the daily practice of drinking tea. Learning to appreciate tea through drinking and by experiencing the different effects of different teas on ourselves. The journey is personal and requires dedication - daily practice.
This is something I have always believed and personally experienced but in the West I have often been advised by people working in tea against too much emphasis on 'feeling'. Certainly [as Chuanchaun and I discussed] the environment where tea is being enjoyed and the relationship between people experiencing it has to be right to enter these types of discussions but as we experienced during the 7 hours we spent together this continuous practice allows the beauty of tea to present itself to us.
We drank our way through around 7-10 different Yancha Rock Teas. The group focus almost exclusively on Oolong tea - 'A good tea will create saliva in the mouth and a coolness in the throat' shared JJ - something I had previously experienced in my time in Wuyi. These teas were certainly doing that. 'you should feel comfortable to keep drinking infusion after infusion with little thought that you are doing so' We switched to a Dan Cong - bought into the community by a friend. Chuanchuan prepared the tea. The first sip was an awakening - an awakening to the quality of what had come before. My throat felt uncomfortable I was aware that another infusion was coming and I was not looking forward to it. 'How do you find it?' I was asked. 'Not so good I replied' JJ smiled - 'Now you see the quality of the tea we source'
A member of the community prepared dinner for us - a task which is shared between those working together here - and we ate together. People came and went - every new arrival welcomed to the table and offered tea. Discussion flowed, life issues, death issues were freely discussed - home truths given to those who needed to practice more dedication - for one evening in the heart of Shanghai I joined this family and the welcome was warm.
By 11pm I was full of tea and feeling the effects of the flight. I bid my farewells and gave my commitment to visit the shop the next day.
Here we drank tea once more with delicious dried mushrooms and talked of our future collaborations. Two communities on opposite sides of the world with tea at their centres. We discussed how we can bring some of the energy and learning from this space to our space in the UK for your to experience. For more details on that you will just have to wait a little longer.....but it will be worth it.