During the summer of 2018, the summer after my freshman year at Lowell, I studied abroad for a month in Shanghai, China. I visited my mom’s hometown in the southern Guangdong (Canton) province 3 times when I was younger, but it was my first time visiting northern China and also my first time traveling without my family at the age of 16. I heard of CIEE (Council on International Educational Exchange) from my first year Japanese class and ended up enrolling in the Chinese Language and Culture Program. I learned more about my ethnic heritage while practicing my Mandarin skills, exploring different traditional arts, historic locations, and traditional foods. I attempted throwing a bowl on the wheel (pottery), painted paper umbrellas, and tried my hand at Chinese paper cutting. Some places I visited were Yuyuan Garden District with its traditional buildings and beautiful garden; the Bund with its breathtaking views of the Shanghai skyline; the historical water town of Zhujiajiao; and in a nearby city of Hangzhou, the iconic West Lake (Xihu). I ate hearty Northern breakfasts and dinners cooked by my host mother, tasted traditional mung bean cakes from Zhujiajiao, and tried this interesting spicy noodle-like dish from Hangzhou. But the highlight of my trip was learning about the wonders of tea.
In the United States, drinking tea was an occasional thing for me. I would only have it when I went to yum cha, a Cantonese tradition of a brunch consisting Chinese tea and dim sum. It would usually be a dark colored oolong tea. I enjoyed the slightly bitter, malty taste, but didn't drink much tea elsewhere. My family didn’t have a habit of drinking tea. The turning point was the day I had an excursion to Tianshan Tea City, a marketplace where only tea or teaware is sold. I joined a few classmates in my first tea tasting where we were served Longjing (Dragonwell) tea from Zhejiang province. I watched as the shopkeeper warmed the glass mug that she was going to be brewing the tea with hot water and poured the water out on her Gongfu tea tray. Then she added some tea leaves into the cup and let us smell it. She continued by carefully pouring hot water into the cup in three additions. After the tea steeped for about a minute, she decanted the tea into another small glass pitcher and served the tea in small tea cups. The liquor was a pale yellow green with a light grassy yet sweet taste.
Learning more about the flavors of the tea and seeing the wide variety of tea in the shop sparked my interest in tea as a whole. I bought a few teas after the tea tasting, a black tea, a blooming flower tea, a milk oolong tea, and a few others that I forgot the names of. The flower tea consisted of a dried chrysanthemum flower with green tea leaves wrapped around it. It's a beautiful tea to brew in glass teaware so you can see it unfurl from a ball as it steeps. The milk oolong tea is a very interesting tea that doesn't refer to tea with milk added to it but an oolong tea that tastes very creamy and like milk because of the way it is harvested and processed.
Back home, I started to drink and buy more teas more frequently. Whenever I go to my local Asian grocery store, I’d always stop by the tea aisle to see whether there’s any tea I’d like to try or restock. I also received a variety of teas from Mindy, my favorites being the sweet floral Jasmine Tea, creamy and rich Milk Oolong, and the smooth Supreme Monkey Pick Oolong from Anxi, Fujian so far. I look forward to continuing my journey of learning about tea. It is very interesting how this one plant can be processed in so many different ways to get many different tasting drinks and foods. I want to learn more about the many varieties of tea, methods of brewing tea, and different ways to incorporate tea into foods.