After I met the Charcoal Roast Master Mr. Zhan in 2010, I was not be able to see him unitl 2016. Over the course of these years I would call from time to time to see if I could bring some customers to visit him. But they always turned us down, stating Mr. Zhan's health had not be good. The memory of that strong Chinese herbal medicine smell back in 2010 made me think of his troubled health condition.
In April 2016 my friends David and Jake went to Taiwan with me. I called Mr. Zhan's store and told them I am in Taiwan and I could go pick up the tea order I had placed.
The moment we entered the apartment Mr. Zhan was right by the door putting on some classical music (later we figured out his favorite music is Beethoven.) We shook hands, and the moment our hands touched I could feel he was weak. I don't know how to explain that, and from that moment I was doing my best to control my emotions. "Welcome! Please sit and have tea." Mr. Zhan said. I didn't expect to have tea with them that day, so I was very excited to be offered the opportunity.
Conversations started to flow and I was just so thrilled to drink tea with him again. I think we started with Charcoal Roast Dong Ding. The three of us were very happy to drink that. Then another Charcoal Roast Dong Ding was brewed. "That is our 4 Roast," he said.
"What? You have a four roast?" I asked.
"The tea base was very good and I was able to do it this way." I loved the 4 Roast! I continue to be amazed by this tea today. I will write another post on this Dong Ding tea.
|Mr. Zhan and I. Photo by Jake Knapp.|
With tea, conversations and laughter flowing, I noticed we were all opened up to each other, and a beautiful space was created. "I have parkinson's disease." Mr. Zhan said. I noticed how much his hand was shaking. A couple of times I thought he would drop his tea cup and yet he managed.
Then he asked his assistant to brew a certain Sheng Puer for us. After two infusions, he said, "Stop brewing this tea. This Puer is not showing up for them today. They deserve better." Then he asked the assistant to brew the next Puer.
"I understand some teas wouldn't open up certain days. I had experiences like this." However I forgot to ask him how he knew the tea was not showing up for us. Was it because we didn't say anything about the tea? I took a sip of the next Puer and I immediately felt something. It's not about how smooth the broth was (which was excellent) and it's not about the Cha Qi, or tea energy (which was clear and great). It was something else. It was a 'feeling'. I couldn't pinpoint it so I didn't say anything. After I sip the second infusion that feeling was still there. "What is this?" I thought to myself.
"This is a young Puer but it has an old soul." Mr. Zhan said very gently.
"What? Why?" I asked.
"When I drink this tea, I always feel a kind older sister's presence." he said.
"Oh my god! That's the 'feeling'. He knows!" I thought. I was compeletely blown away by the experience. I looked at him and then everyone else in the room. I looked outside the window and back in the room again. "Ah....He is the tea conductor" I thought to myself. I felt physically we were in an apartment in a city called Taipei, but we all managed to create a space together beyond the physical space. I couldn't possibly describe the beauty of it. I was simply inspired at that moment and thought, "could I accomplish this someday?"
I was extremely happy, if that's the right word to describe my emotion, with this tea session. It showed me a different level of tea drinking. At the same time, I was very sad to see Mr. Zhan's health trouble. In the next 30 minutes or more, I was trying to hide my emotions and became very animated. I poured out my Seattle life stories and how I didn't know how to resolve my karma in Seattle. His assistant and he listened to my stories with gentleness. Perhaps subconsciously I was trying to find an answer from him (I do believe he can read people's fortunes).
The conversation was switched back to tea and he asked his assistant to brew us a 70's Puer. It was delicious! We were all very honored that he gave us such a tea treat! "I would like to ask you a favor. When I come back next year, can I record and video tape your tea roasting? I love your roasting skills and you probably figured out I am crazy this way. I would love to record some of your skills. I mean, your work is amazing to me. You transform tea to a higher level. For nothing else, I would like to know a little bit of this technique and keep this beautiful part of you with me."
His eyes were closed for a while. Then he opened his eyes, "Yes, but only that and nothing else. I get tired very easily nowadays."
"Oh thank you! I am easy. When you are tired, just tell me to leave." I said. "Just one more question. What do you mean by 'nothing else'?" Everyone burst into laughter and he didn't answer the last question.
Still today when I think of this tea session, my heart is filled of gratitude for Mr. Zhan. I thanked him for showing me what he was capable of with tea and I thanked him for such a spetacular tea session. He gave me something to look forward to. I am also grateful to his tea assistant and my two dear tea friends. Their presence helped to create that moment. I will always hold those moments dear in my heart. And who could have known that request would turn into a Dong Ding Tea documentary project for Jake and me.