Emily B. is a fangirl tea
who kindly agreed to discuss with me
the unique beauty of her longtime hobby,
which we’ve printed he
re for ye to see.
Jei: How would you describe your tea setup/collection?
Emily: Portable. I have moved around a lot in the last few years, and every time there is a little more stuff to inventory, pack, worry about, etc. So when I buy something it has to be portable. My collection of teaware is mainly implements for brewing gongfu cha (gaiwans, a tea tray, a bunch of tiny cups) though I also have the means to throw an adorable English tea party. Not bragging, just being honest. The teas themselves are also, for the most part, either Chinese or Taiwanese, and most of those are oolongs in some form. I think my favorite thing in my tea collection is Wuyi Shuixian and the yixing teapot I have been brewing it in. People give me tea as gifts a lot and don’t really know what they got me, so I always have mystery tea as well! I am a huge fan of mystery tea.
Jei: What first turned you onto tea, and what about it maintains your interest?
Emily: I don’t know if I can describe when I first got into tea but I can pinpoint it to one of two moments: first, being small and made tea by my grandma, who used pink sugar from France and called it “Rosy Lee.” Second, being a little bigger and buying small cakes of puerh and dropping them into the bone china teapot my mother let me take with me to college (I inevitably destroyed it, as I have destroyed much of my own teaware through clumsiness or foolish neglect). I would drink it all night while I worked on my senior thesis for art history. I stay with it because it changes every single time. There are basically hundreds or maybe thousands of oolong teas, all with differing variables. Every individual type of tea varies from year to year depending on the harvest, and every time you brew the same tea it will be slightly different, ideally better because you learned something the last time, but maybe not! And then you learn something this time! I am also supremely awkward and often brew tea for my friends as a way to show that I like them.
Jei: What is your biggest tea-related pet peeve?
Emily: Other tea people on the Internet. Not all of them, there are definitely a few blogs that I love (T Ching and Mattcha are two that come to mind). But I remember once seeing an argument in the comments on a blog post about whether or not you should brew such-and-such tea at 86 Celsius or 85. Whaaaaaaaaat? If your major concern when brewing tea, to the point where you are arguing with strangers about it, is one degree in an arbitrary measurement of ‘hot,’ you are missing the point and you have learned nothing. I do not use measurements or temperatures when I brew tea and I have been just fine, thankyouverymuch. Tea snobs in general tick me off–what’s it to you if someone wants to dump a bunch of milk in their green tea (I do not recommend this but I will not stop you) and call it a day? You don’t have to drink it! They make tea people look bad, and unfortunately they are all over the discussion people find when they first dig on the Internet about tea. On the other side of the coin, I get a little offended when people used to tea from bags act like I am being high-falutin’, but if their usual run ins with tea people are from tea forums I think I understand.
Jei: I understand that you perform tea ceremonies—can you tell us a little about that?
Emily: Yes! I almost exclusively do gongfu cha, which is the Chinese tea ceremony. I’ve also heard it called Lao Ren Cha, which means “old man tea” and is a bit of a slangy way of calling it old-fashioned. It takes about forty five minutes and I do it every morning. It is done on a wooden tray with slats in it to catch the excess water, and very small teaware. The idea is to steep the tea seven or eight times quickly, so you use about double the tea you normally would, decant it into a “fairness pitcher,” and pour it into small cups, where you drink it down. Oolong tea is the best tea for this. The dry leaves are rolled tight and unfold a little more each time you steep them. Gongfu cha is intended to be reverential, but also practical. It encourages mindful movements and considerate brewing. I break things constantly so I haven’t mastered that aspect yet. I have been trying to make the case for an English tea also being a kind of tea ceremony, not to diminish the meditative and calm nature of the Chinese tea ceremony, but to point out that there are tea rituals and customs in any culture that drinks it. English tea is a little more social than spiritual, perhaps. Recently I’ve been exploring traditional Russian teas, but a samovar is hard to find cheap. I’ll admit I am mostly just weak for Russian tea cakes. Aw yiss.
Jei: You maintain a tea blog at tuochadoucha.wordpress.com. What would you say is the mission statement of your blog?
Emily: I started tuochadoucha because, like I said, I was frustrated with the talk I already saw on the Internet about tea. I wanted a blog that would cover how tea culture reflects our ideas about the world, or how the spread of tea can mirror the spread of other ideas in history and be indicative of international power (consider: Qing dynasty laws against learning foreign languages for the express purpose of protecting the Chinese tea industry). I am hoping that my blog can serve as a voice about the nature of tea brewing rather than the instructions/reviews/vaguely tea centered personal blogs that a lot of tea blogs are. Other than that my only goal is quality over quantity, which means a month might go by with no writing, or maybe just pictures. I try to do pictures whenever I can, usually on my iPad. Tea is straight up pretty.
Emily Bolton is in the MLIS program at the iSchool. She is from Lake Stevens, Washington, where her best friend growing up was a horse named Chuck. She got a BA in art history with a focus on contemporary Chinese art in 2012 and is interested in museum librarianship as well as tea.