Kindness in Tea Culture

Take it easy, she said. A-Yi, a middle-aged Taiwanese woman, rushed us out the door. Go eat! Enjoy! Thirty seconds earlier we sat at her table and enjoyed the two different teas that she prepared for us. I tried to pay, but she wouldn’t have it. Take it easy.

Odd behavior for a woman who runs a tea store. We came in looking for some tea cups we wanted to buy, but she only had one left, and Leo wanted four.

Want to drink some tea, she had asked? We’d already had two pots, but it’s hard to turn down good tea.

We sat far an hour or so and drank two teas from Dong Ding, her hometown. We had a nice little conversation about tea, her store, and our lives. When my rough Chinese failed, she called her daughter’s husband to have him translate a few things.

Or maybe it’s not such odd behavior to refuse payment for tea, despite owning a tea store. These sorts of things happen all the time in the tea world. I can think of three times I’ve walked in to teahouses for the first time, had tea with the owner, and haven’t been permitted to pay. I can think of dozens of other times where I’ve been given extra tea or snacks.

And then there are less egregious, but still incredible occurrences. The previous day Leo had been invited to tea by St├ęphane, who he had never met before. He brought a beautiful antique tea set to a really cool park in Taiwan, and prepared a 30-year old Puerh for us while telling us about his teaware and the park.

I’m not sure if tea brings the best out in people, or if generous people are drawn to tea for some unknown reason, but I’m constantly struck by the kindness of tea people.

Sometimes people ask me why I like tea so much, and I feel a little bit ridiculous liking a simple beverage so much. But it’s moments like these that remind me that it’s not just about drinking cups of leaf-water.

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Photo is Leo and Stephane in the park. I was so focused on trying to speak Chinese that I didn’t take any pictures in the woman’s tea room. If you would like to visit it, it is called Chong Er and is in Taipei.

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