Growing up in England, known as a nation of tea drinkers, my mum always admonished me to warm the teapot before making tea. Tea was brewed at the drop of a hat throughout the day and always, together with homemade cakes, at 4 p.m.
It would have been standard black tea. As was common in those days the milk was poured in first. In busy cafeterias around 4 p.m. you would see rows of cups, milk pre-poured.
Contrast this to a Chinese tea ceremony where every detail is important. The purity of the water, the speed and evenness with which the tea is poured, the peaceful state of mind and the gracefulness of the person performing the ceremony. Nothing is ever rushed or slipshod.
Nowhere else is this more evident than at NUAN Tea Room on St. Mary Ave. in Winnipeg. The founder and operator, Si Chen, started NUAN because tea is intrinsic to Chinese culture and when she settled in Winnipeg six years ago, it felt like a gift she could share.
With a Masters in Philosophy, she is well able to explain the underlying ideas and philosophies of the tea ceremony to those not versed in it. That would be practically everyone.
In fact, the depth of her traditional knowledge, her ongoing meditation practice and her generosity of spirit, free her to conduct tea ceremonies mindfully and gracefully.
As an avid meditator, she coordinates the Krishnamurti Foundation of America on a volunteer basis, and she understands how the tea ceremony can also become a mindful practice leading to excellence in self. She is able to easily explain this aspect of the tea ceremony.
Si has earned the tea distinction TAC Tea Sommelier, from both the Tea Association of Canada and the Tea Association of China. This further learning enables her to articulate the underlying notes in teas just as a sommelier would with wine. She also makes recommendations for tea and food pairings.
It’s estimated 4 out of 5 North Americans drink tea, with some purchasing their favorite kinds from David’s Tea and Starbucks, while others seek out popular brands at grocery stores, such as Superstore and Costco. In spite of the drink’s popularity, Si acknowledges many consumers actually know very little about tea.
For example, how many of us know the tea plant goes by its Latin name “Camellia Sinensis” and that black tea, green tea, white tea, yellow tea and oolong tea are all produced from two varietals of this one plant. The differences are in the processing.
Tea connoisseurs only use tea leaves that have been harvested within a year and never, ever teabags. According to Si, most tea bags from larger chains, such as my favorite green teabags from Costco, contain mostly tea dust left over after the higher grade tea leaves have been separated out for pricier brands.
Si is available at her Tea Room on St Mary’s avenue by appointment via email firstname.lastname@example.org. There are some changes coming to the Tea Room as she is bringing in teas and artisanal wares that are beautifully suited to the tea ceremony.
At present she writes for StiR Tea & Coffee News and World Tea News. This year, she is starting a new magazine called Tea Journey with Dan Bolton, one of the most respected coffee and tea journalists worldwide. The magazine, published by Dan, will be based in Winnipeg of course.