Cha Dao 茶道 (The Way of Tea)
The Chinese character for tea looks like this: 茶
It is composed of three parts. The top represents plants. The middle one represents human or person. The bottom one means wood or ‘being rooted.’ Thus, the true meaning of cha or tea could mean something like, ‘the plant that gives humans a sense of being rooted or balance.(Towler 2010)
Like the start of all good love stories, my passion for tea began as happenstance. It was August 2010, I was 19 years old and I had just arrived in Taiwan; my first big move away from the United States. Only a few days after my arrival, I got onto a bus to head to an orientation for the university classes I was planning to take there. About twenty minutes into the bus ride, I realized I was on the wrong bus! I was heading to tea planation over an hour outside of Taipei city with nobody I knew. Having never really tasted tea before, I welcomed the opportunity and happy mistake. At the plantation, I was introduced to Oolong teas; Taiwan’s most popular kind of tea. I picked tea and learned the process of making tea from plant to cup. Since then, my love for tea has only grown. I collect tea from every country I visit and enjoy immersing myself into the tea culture wherever I can.
Cha Dao– the way of tea is a practice and an art. Rooted in the Chinese philosophy of Daoism, the art and practice of drinking tea has been directly connected with oneness with life, finding beauty in our everyday, finding a sense of grounding, and being flexible. For myself and many others, tea has been a companion on all sorts of journeys, it has been something to share and talk over, something soothing and comforting, a medicine, a gift, an art, a point of friendship, fuel for productivity, an adventure and a meditation, a piece of nature, a reminder to slow down, and a way to measure time.
The Story of Pu’erh Tea | 2018
All of these photographs tell the story of one particular kind of tea called Pu’erh. Pu’erh is primarily found in Southwest China (Yunnan province). It is a dark tea with a bitter, then sweet taste that changes with time. Aging the way that wine does, pu’erh goes through a fermentation process. With a wide spectrum of flavors and so many variables (storage, age, altitude, soil, time, etc.) affecting the taste, it’s best to try this unique tea a number of times before making any judgements.During my most recent trip to China, I took on the task of documenting pu’erh tea as I hiked along parts of the surviving trails from the ancient tea horse road. I stayed with tea farmers and helped with the most recent harvest, took classes on tea etiquette, and sat for hours enjoying cups of tea over countless conversations with new and old friends.Why pu’erh? Aside from my own preference for the tea, pu’erh is interesting because of its great variety, health benefits, and popularity. It is also one of the costliest teas and has recently seen a financial boom. In fact, many people are investing in pu’erh tea rather than putting their money in banks. There have been tea bricks of about 10grams, about a century old being sold for around 10,000USD! This photo story begins with the tea farms and the migrant laborers coming from Laos to work during the peak harvesting season. In hot and humid climates, hiking up steep mountains, the tea harvest is done with precise timing during the months of April andMay. It details the harvesting process and moves onto the production and packaging.Tea leaves are pressed into round “tea cakes” or long tea bricks as a way of packaging the tea; originally used for convenience and ease on long journeys dating back to over a thousand years ago when tea used to be traded for horses between China and Tibet.The tea porters would travel with 130-198lbs of tea on their backs through a network of caravan paths that could easily take them well over a year to reach their destination.Finally, the photos move onto the art and ceremony of serving and drinking tea. As a passion and hobby for many, tea has become a formal affair with a rich and intricate culture attached to it.My purpose for documenting pu’erh tea and the story of it through my own experience in China, is to shed light on the history and current events surrounding tea. We often move through our days without even thinking about the life worlds attached to our consumer culture. Without being given the opportunity, we miss out the experience of seeing the beautiful mountains where tea grows best. Few of us would ever get the chance to see or meet the farmer or go through the process of production; and we might totally skip out on the ceremony or celebration of life that can be found in a single steep when we gulp down our drink and rush onto the next part of our daily hustle. As a photographer, I share stories with the intention of inspiring others to slowdown and consider their connection with the rest of the world, raise awareness, and reflect.