I’ve been a lifelong tea drinker but recently my life has taken several twists that has led me to becoming a tea collector & enthusiast, and now a tea blogger.
I am Australian, but my ancestors were farmers from the south of Fujian, not far from the Anxi tea fields where Tie Guan Yin is now grown. I first visited China in 1998 and moved to Shanghai in 2004. I learnt mandarin, got a job in an advertising agency, and became captivated by the accelerating transformation of Chinese society. Being a part of the rapid modernization of this ancient nation was a once in a lifetime opportunity. As I was fond of saying at the time: “If you were born in the age of the Roman empire, you would definitely want to live in Rome!” I had to stay in Shanghai.
For the past 5 years I watched as the dragon shed its scaly skin, one by one the fading shikumen neighbourhoods peeled off its back, glittering skyscrapers & shopping malls sprouting in their place, luxury stores glistening like iridescent diamonds along its major arteries. My job in advertising gave me a front seat in this mad & colorful show, I witnessed the great wave of consumerism sweep over Shanghai and on and on, into the vast interior of the country.
China years are like dog years, the country never sleeps, is constantly being formed. Construction crews work around the clock. Jackhammers chatter from first light, falling sparks from arc welders illuminate the cranes turning in the early hours of the weekend. The industry I chose, provides the rocket fuel for accelerating China’s economic growth. Advertising execs burn the candle at both ends, and after 5 years, I needed a break. However, leaving the company I had worked so hard to build, was deeply unsettling. I missed the sense of community & purpose which the job had given me.
During my holiday, I started thinking about starting a business around something I loved. I wanted to build on my China expertise, and the growing interest of the west, in all things eastern. It dawned on me that there was one product which wore the “made in China” label proudly – tea!
Tea for me has always symbolized something natural & positive, a rewarding moment of relaxation, warmth & contemplation. For many years, my daily routine was to start the day with an injection of black coffee, quaff a comforting English tea before lunch, and enjoy a healthy green tea or herbal tisane in the afternoon. Any kind of tea was good, a counterbalance to my advertising diet of alcohol & late night takeaway. But my tea journey really started when I acquired my first kungfu tea set. I began researching obscure teas, teapots, gaiwans, and various paraphernalia until there was no more room on my cha pan (or coffee table for that matter).
The idea of starting my own business based on tea, seemed natural & exciting. What better excuse to combine friendships with business, travel with spiritual nourishment! Yet the more I learn about tea, the more I realize I am merely a student, at the beginning of a long and uncharted journey. This simple drink of tea leaves & water, has engendered more science, art, culture & ritual than I imagined. Yet the same stubbornness and desire for adventure that brought me to China, compels me to venture ever further into the world of tea, to humbly travel to distant mountains and villages in search of tea knowledge.For the past 2 months I have focused entirely on my tea studies, spending entire days in the tea markets, collecting different kinds of tea, experimenting with steep times, making tasting notes, holding tasting parties for my friends. So far, my tea journey has taken me to the tea gardens of Hangzhou, Wuyishan & Yunnan. I have met tea farmers, makers & distributors, to better understand the craft of tea. It occurred to me that very few people get to spend this amount of time immersed in the simple enjoyment of tea. I’ve been lucky to meet the most amazing tea people – so down to earth, kind, genuine & wise. I decided to start this blog to not only share my personal journey as I build my tea business, but also to celebrate my generous & patient tea mentors, and of course the amazing teas I have discovered along the way.
Eugene aka The Tea Urchin