The image above is an array of tea pots carved from coral forming the character for the word Bai Fu, Chinese for “good fortune”. It is by Lu-Chih-song, not only a great artist but a polio survivor; she spent 2 years carving each tea pot – the smallest being 3mm in length and only capable of carrying one drop of water. This piece is a part of a greater exhibition in Beitou Museum, as a tribute to the aesthetics of tea;the museum is showcasing over 300 objects used in the tea ceremonies of 13 countries, including Tibet, Japan, China, Turkey and Taiwan. A Tibetan tea churn made in the 1900s and a Japanese silver teapot from the Meiji period are among the rare pieces in the exhibit. In order to further pay tribute, the walls are decorated with calligraphy, photographs and paintings with the same theme. Saalih Lee , director of the Beitou Museum, describes the importance of an exhibit like this,
“There’s a whole culture and history behind tea drinking, especially in Taiwan, where tea making and the tea trade date back many generations,”
Tea isn’t a recent thing for patrons of Beitou Museum. Taiwan began cultivating tea as early as 1717. Plantations were small in scale and farmers grew tea only for their own pleasure. It was only when John Dodd, a British tea merchant, began exporting oolong tea overseas in the 1860s did Taiwan gain fame for its tea. One part of the exhibition displays Taiwan’s role in the international tea market. In the past the nation’s tea leaves were sold under the brand Formosa, which is why the word Taiwan is rarely seen in old western posters or tin jars. Lee adds,
“If you think about it, tea drinking could be a living form of art that elevates life,”
and it is. Tea is is something that has become casual – served in paper cups and tin cans, when it is something that deserves more. It deserves history and ceremony and delicate beautiful china. It’s all well and good to get that tea fix on the go and let tea be the everyday and unglamorous, but don’t forget that tea is a beautiful thing and every once in a while, it should be put on a pedestal – much as it has been in this exhibition. Maybe in turn, tea will lift you up. So maybe not today, but bring that old tea set out of hiding and allow yourself to remember why you fell in love with tea in the first place.