I met the charcoal roast master Mr. Zhan back in May 2010 with my friend Jennifer. I remember his store was difficult to find because he was running his tea business in a second floor apartment tucked in a narrow alley.
When we entered the shop, he, his assistant and another woman were there. In the middle of a small living room sat a tea table, and boxes of tea were laid around the room. There was nothing fancy about the room and yet there was a feeling of serenity. That day the room was filled with Chinese herbal medicine smell.
We all sat down. His assistant brewed tea for us. In my mind I thought, 'wow, that was nice to have someone brewing tea for you.'
Since it was the first time they met me, I tried my best to communicate with them what I like in a tea. They listened when I expressed my thoughts on the teas she brewed. I remembered the atomsphere was very pleasant. After trying two different teas, despite the flavor differences, these two teas had something in common: very soft. "How long have you been brewing tea? You are very good at it." I asked the assisstant. "25 years" she answered. I looked at her and noticed she looked like she was 30 years old, so I said, "you started when you were 5!?" "You are too funny, Miss Tai!" she laughed. "OK, what kind of lotion do you use?" I asked. We all laughed.
Mr. Zhan sat there without saying much. But there is something about his presence that I really enjoyed. He left the room for a while. I asked the other woman if she is learning tea from Mr. Zhan. She said she is learning "Yi Jing" (The Book of Changes) with him, and she said he is very good at "Yi Jing". Mr. Zhan came out from the back. "I just heard you are quite a scholar of the Yi Jing. Do you tell fortunes?" I asked. He answered, "Yi Jing is not for that." "I know, but I am shallow!" I joked with him.
|charcoal roast dong ding|
The third tea was a Charcoal Roast Dong Ding, and it hit the spot. "That's the tea I was looking for! The broth is solid and smooth." I claimed. He looked at me and said, "Let's see the place for roasting tea with charcoal." "Righ now?"I asked and reached out to grab my bag. "You can leave your things here." I followed him and suddenly came to realize that it's in the apartment! A door at the end of the hallway was opened and the warm tea, charcoal smell gently rushed to my face. I thought I was in a dream......
|charcoal under the ashes|
The room was as small as a closet. A cement platform was built with two big holes for charcoal. Mr. Zhan was roasting tea that day. He showed me some of the tools in the room and told me it's very time consuming to roast tea with charcoal. I thanked him for doing it so that we could have great tea to drink!
On the way out I handed him my name card, which also had my name printed in Chinese. He looked at it and said, "your family name is heavy." "You do know how to tell fortune!", I thought, but instead I asked him what it meant. He looked at my face and told me what it meant. My friend Jennifer also asked him to read her. But I think I should skip our fortune tellings here.
That tea session felt very good. I didn't know at that time that Mr. Zhan and his tea will be a huge inspiration to me. More of his stories to come.....