Fo Tan is not really the trendiest neighbourhood in Hong Kong.
It’s one of the quieter stops on the East Rail line, home to industrial buildings, old hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurants, and long-abandoned spaces.
Located on the 14th floor of a very old and shabby-looking industrial building is yú teahouse.
I took the elevator up and arrived on a very unfinished looking floor. At the end of a very grungy corridor full of gated construction sites was a set of double doors that opened into a spectacularly quiet and minimalist teahouse.
In short, I fell in love.
The owner Catherine offered a complimentary cup of that day’s cold brew Chinese tea blend (called Mist and Clouds), and then introduced all the different leaves available for us.
I went with my favourite 東方美人 (Oriental Beauty) in the end, and she demonstrated the proper steeping methods on the tea set for us so we could properly brew the subsequent refills for ourselves.
It was the loveliest afternoon I’ve had in a while.
茶道 is equal parts knowledge, habit, taste, performance and presentation.
I don’t know much about Catherine, but watching her make tea felt like catching a glimpse of some place inside of her. There’s something about a person’s familiarity to a craft, the way the wrists know how far to bend, the slight pressure of fingertips against the lid of a pot, the patient wait for hot water to drop 10 degrees, and an understanding of how leaves steep water into different shades of green, brown, or red.
All ceramic pots and cups used for brewing were hand-painted, and crafted in 景德鎮, a place in China well-known for their pottery. The sets came with wooden filters, and a tiny little cultivated plant (like Bonsai but modern). Every piece was placed on a wooden tray covered with a wooden mat that let water through – for you to heat your cups and wash out the leaves during the first steep.
Every tray is a perfect balance of aesthetic and functionality.
When tea is brewed with all the pieces present, the cup of tea is infused with a long history. Old tradition and old knowledge alive with new technology and practices. This is tea that is experienced, and not just consumed.
We sat and had tea until the sun went down.
Cup after cup: brew, filter, pour, drink; rediscovering the art of tea in a forgotten industrial district of Hong Kong.
More information at http://www.yuteahouse.com/