Tucked away in an idyllic Chinese Hakka fishing village in Tanjung Tokong, Penang, lies a quaint tea house owned by tea enthusiast Wilson Teh Wei Lin.
The 25-year-old is keeping alive what is evidently a dying cultural heritage in our local communities by offering tea appreciation workshops at his family home.
“We are gradually losing this time-honoured tradition in our communities. When I conduct my workshops, I find that there are actually more foreign tourists than locals who sign up for my classes. Many locals think that joining a cultural workshop is boring and pricey. It is such a shame to see that Westerners know more about our culture than we do, ” shares Teh.
“Tea culture is a local traditional heritage that dates back at least 1,000 years. Tea drinking is a meaningful way of life. It is a way to reunite and gather a family together at the table, ” he adds.
The Penangite’s propitious journey with tea began seven years ago when he stumbled upon a monk in a Buddhist temple in Penang.
“The monk taught me everything I needed to know about tea; from the different kinds of tea to the different brewing methods. I was intrigued by how something as simple as tea drinking could be done in such an artistic manner, ” says Teh.
After learning and mastering tea brewing methods from the monk, Teh decided to share his passion with others in July last year. The age-old tea house was purposefully selected to host tea workshops as it still retained much of the unique architectural features of a traditional Chinese home. For guests to have a more immersive experience, significant antique collectibles decorate its interior.
So far, Teh has conducted 65 workshops. Of all these experiences, he recounts a particularly striking one. “I recalled that it was a Chinese family from Kuala Lumpur who came to my workshop last year. Prior to that, I only had foreign guests at my workshops so I was quite surprised to see that locals were interested as well.
“It was an eye-opening moment for them. The family expressed that they had only seen tea ceremonies in weddings or dimsum restaurants, and never thought that it could be something so elegant and meditative, ” he says.
Teh reveals that there is a lot more to a good cup of tea than putting a tea bag in hot water.
“The first brew is not for drinking. It is just to awaken the tea leaves. To avoid having overly bitter tea, I would suggest filling only one-third of the teapot with tea leaves. The leaves would also need to have adequate space to expand in the teapot.
“Typically, in my workshop, I will brew three kinds of tea – Pu’er black tea, Oolong green tea and Wuyi tea. Each has varying steeping periods and uses distinct tea brewing tools, ” he shares.
As Pu’er black tea is quite a strong flavoured tea, Teh explains that it can be re-steeped up to 15 times. The steeping time for the first six brews is not more than 30 seconds each and increases to a minute for consecutive brews.
On the other hand, green Oolong tea has a lighter taste profile and as such, would only be re-steeped up to six times; the first three brews not more than 30 seconds each and increases to a minute for subsequent brews.
“Out of the three teas, Wuyi tea’s brewing method is the most unique. This tea has Teochew origins and the number three is viewed as a lucky number among its people. So no matter how many tea drinkers there are, Wuyi tea will always be served in three cups. In a ceremony, Wuyi tea will only be brewed up to three times for nine cups of tea, ” details Teh.
Another interesting fact is that each tea ceremony is actually carried out in different rooms. The individual rooms have their respective themes to reflect the cultural significance and history of the tea brewed.
Aside from conducting tea appreciation workshops, Teh also works as a freelance photographer and expresses that tea brewing has refined his photography skills.
“As a photographer, I need to be creative and constantly have new ideas. In this regard, tea brewing has indeed improved my artistic sense and enabled me to develop stronger attention to detail, ” says Teh.
For the tea lover, tea brewing is more than a ceremony or custom. In fact, it is already blended into his daily life.
“Tea brewing makes up a big part of my lifestyle. In a day, I would generally spend one to two hours to brew tea. This ancestral heritage has taught me to slow down and live in the moment as it is a good form of meditation and self-cultivation, ” expresses Teh.
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