(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 boarded 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. Unfamiliar with tea, I welcomed the opportunity and happy mistake. At the plantation I was introduced to Oolong teas, Taiwan’s most popular variety. I learned the process of making tea from plant to cup. Since then, my love for tea has only grown. 

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, discovering beauty in the mundane, 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, 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 China's Southwest 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. Pu'erh has a wide spectrum of flavors and many variables (storage, age, altitude, soil, time, etc.) affecting the taste. Throughout my time in China, I have documented the process, production, and culture related to 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 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? Pu'erh's great variety, aging, and health benefits make it popular in China. It is also one of the most costly teas and in recent years people have chosen to invest their money in pu’erh tea rather than banks. Some tea bricks of about 10 grams and a century old are 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 for packaging the tea -- the storage method was 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. The journey could easily take them well over a year to complete. 

Finally, the photos move onto the art and ceremony of serving and drinking tea. Tea ceremonies are a passion and hobby for many. They are often formal affair s with rich and intricate culture norms attached to them. 

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. My documentation is an attempt to give others the opportunity to witness the beautiful mountains where tea grows best, the process, and the life world behind each cup. 


The Way of Tea | La Biesta | The Naxi