What a coincidence, two days after the self-reflection about my life journey with tea the other day, Marcus in Canada caught me early this morning and asked if he could have an interview with me about my story with tea:
Q: I was born in …..
When I shared my migration story with the Red Star Line Museum in Antwerp many years ago, I started the migration and love story of my parents. My father was from Hunan and my mother was from ShanDong where there are more than 1,200km distance, if it wasn’t because my Dad’s troops were sent to Shandong to take over the territory after the surrender of Japan after the War when my Dad’s troops stationed at my Mom’s home property, the sparkle of romance of this couple won’t happened; in their romantic story there are love, laugh, sadness, tears and families. If it wasn’t because my parents followed the Chiang KaiShek to Taiwan in 1949, if it wasn’t because my biological parents gave me away for adoption to General Hsiao, then I don’t know how to ink my story from Taiwan to Europe in 1991 till today.
My father was a retired General and my mother was a full time Mom, my family basically have nothing to do with tea, but as the eldest daughter I enjoyed to prepare tea for my parents when I was about 8-9 years old. Due to the special health conditions of my Mom, so my first lessons about tea were about:
- Tea has many health benefits, but must consider the who, what, when and how, otherwise the damages from tea could be worse than benefits
- Be careful not to drink too much very strong tea
- Health sustainability actually is not that difficult, the basic principle begins with “eating less, drinking mild”
- Tea is not just about offering a cup of tea, but appropriate serving manners are very important in Chinese culture
Q: My medicine is …..
Instead of thinking of ‘medicine’, I thought about the what, which and how have supported me to survive from physical pains and psychological stress that I have been through in life.
Even though tea does provide me a lot of nutrient in daily diet with great flavors and tastes, but the medicine to sustain balance in body, mind and energy is more than tea but the combination of :
- the traditional Confucius moral teachings that my father taught me in my childhood, that gives me a very pragmatic process to reach the inner self through reflection & problem solving
- The purity, authenticity, honesty and respect to the Nature, respectful social behaviours and collective energy elaborated me when enjoying a complete tea moment
- The practice of Daoyin Qigong since 1985 has not only helped me to ease physical pains through relaxation and zen philosophy through moving meditation, but also helped me to realise the importance of ‘alignment” in body, Qi and Spirit for health in life.
These three seem all separately, but actually can connect perfectly together to enhance the lifetime learning attitude and practices in actions.
Q: But it was not always this way…….
Well, I can basically divide my journey with tea in different phases:
If you asked me what was my relationship with tea before 1985, I would introduce myself as a “Tea Likers” as my parents：
- As normal, if it’s not tea, then we drink boiled hot water
- I liked the fine flavors and tastes when I made tea for my parents
- I always ended up in tea fields when went for hiking with friends in the student time
- Always like to have a cup of tea after heavy meal with friends and colleagues
If you asked me this question before 1991 after 1985, I would introduce myself as a ‘Qualified Tea Lover’, because I was truly attracted to tea when I found my ‘healing corner’ in the tea mountain near Taipei where
- I learn how to brew the ‘Laoren Cha’ (the grandfather style of old traditional Caozhou brewing manner, which laid the base for ‘gongfu cha’ afterwards)
- Through the brewing and tasting, I discovered more about tea; the more I know about tea, the more I was eager to learn more
- When enjoy the calm and peaceful moment in the Nature with tea, I was able to set the stress aside, no planning, no desires for achievement, just me with tea while surrounding by the Nature.
- By knowing more about the tea picking and making processes, I was entreated by those hard working people and priceless values behind each tea leaf in the cup
I moved to Belgium in 1991 because of marriage, it was sad that I left the most important people who truly loved me (my parents) behind. I tried my best to integrate in local society, meanwhile have to find my own inner peace and strength when facing racism and discrimination. The way I cope with home sick was to invite friends for Chinese dinner, afterwards served them a cup of tea. At that time till 1995, tea became my ‘secret lover’ who I knew it wouldn’t hurt or disappoint me as long as long as I stick to the principle of pure and authentic quality.
A Belgian friend, Yves, who regularly came to visit me and enjoyed tea at my home, requested me in 1994 to give Chinese tea workshop when his Taiji Centre was ready at end of 1995.
Living in Belgium allows me to contact China directly. The trust from Yves became my responsibilities and motivations to learn more about tea through tasting. During that time, I spent nearly 14-18 hours a day to taste, to find out more information about tea and Chinese tea culture. That learning process opened the door for me to have better 360 degree learning about tea without commercial interference, and I am freed from any political or relationship constraints。
The first group of ladies who came for the tea workshop helped me to realise: they knew nothing about tea, don’t know what and how to distinguish quality and don’t know how to brew tea. The mission that I need to commit was crystal clear immediately that unless more people know about tea, appreciate pure & authentic quality, then there is no chance for Chinese Speciality teas; European appreciate culture, so the best way is through the promotion of Chinese tea culture. During 1995 to 2001, I did my best to participate all kind of cultural activities in Belgium. I became a ”Crazy Investor” to tea and Chinese tea culture, gradually received recognition as Chinese tea ambassador.
Unexpectedly I was forced into family drama situation started in 2001, when the Pandora box was opened in 2002, I have to make every adjustment that I could do to take care two young children meanwhile handled the legal fights against my ex-. Even though I lost my company to my ex- that I couldn’t make any financial investment on tea, but it did not stop me to invest my time and passion to tea. As matter of fact, promoting Chinese tea culture and speaking for tea gave me a lot of strength to cope with the stress & pain from physical violence threats, unspeakable psychological and emotional stress during 2002-2005. Devotion to tea and Chinese tea culture became my rescuer, and we need each others.
Later, with supports and encouragement from my husband, Ivo, Belgium Chinese Tea Association was born.
The tea market was growing since 1995, but the pure tea growing was still facing the bottleneck due to the following reasons:
- The priority for many tea shop owners is $$$ but not quality of tea
- The market growing has actually enlarged the knowledge gap because most consumers still did not have sufficient knowledge about tea to health, tea selection and tea brewing
- Numbers of tea sommeliers were (still are) increasing, but knowledge level was (still is) not increasing as the way the market was growing. Reasons? Simple, egoism, profit gaining and lack of collectivism are more important than the commitment to tea learning.
- Conclusion: Those who would like to become more qualified tea sommelier require more serious education program and coaching for tea.
Mei Lan received the recognition from China Teaman Friendship Association as the ‘best tea teacher and promoter’ award in 2018 and the Association is being appointed as China Teaman Friendship Association Belgium Center.
The mission to promote correct and authentic knowledge about tea and to stimulate the growth of tea culture in Europe, it requires collective efforts from European tea seeds, therefore in the last few years, Mei Lan is devoting more efforts in Tea Sommelier Certification Programs to those who would like to upgrade their capability to provide better quality tea, services and coaching.
Belgium Chinese Tea Academy provides the following training programs:
- Tea Sommelier Certification Program
- Tea to health workshops for health coach
- Chinese tea ceremony – basic
- Tea meditation
- Cha Jing Study
- Chinese Cha Dao