Episode 29: Tea Drunk + Chinese Tea for the Modern Day

From left to right: Shunan Teng, Wai Yu Lam, Tea Drunk Interior, Tea Drunk Exterior. Photo credit for photos 3 & 4: Yuxi Liu

We’ve talked about tea on the show before, specifically matcha and Taiwanese bubble tea (which NY Times Business Section somehow just discovered last month). But for this episode, we go back to where it all began: Chinese tea. The very knowledgeable founder and CEO of Tea Drunk, Shunan Teng, talks to us about what we need to understand about Chinese tea in the modern day. Plus, a bonus interview clip from Hong Kong-based organic tea company, Yisheng Organic!

Our usual segment on what's the best thing we ate in the past week is back. Lynda enjoyed some poke and pineapple soft serve at the new location of Chikarashi, while Iris indulged in her love of lowbrow snacks with Thailand's larb and tom yum goong-flavored Pretz.

Iris then introduces a concept we're bringing back on FMW -- interviews with the F&B professionals of Hong Kong! For our first Hong Kong audio clip of the season, we hear from Wai Yu Lam, Operations Manager of Yisheng Organic. She talks about why the company got into organic and fair trade tea and what you need to think about when tasting tea.

Lynda then introduces Shunan Teng. Not only is she the founder and CEO of Tea Drunk, a NYC-based tea house that has become a destination for those seeking exceptional tea and tea knowledge, she is also an avid educator on the subject and travels to historic tea mountains in China every year. Check out Shunan's work with TedEd in this awesome video of the history of tea.

Shunan tells us about the concept and mission of Tea Drunk, and the meaningful reasons by the name. Lynda asks Shunan where one should even start to unpack a topic like this, and Shunan reassures us that in China, there is very structured knowledge of tea. She starts with the main categories of Chinese tea: green, yellow, white, oolong, red, and black -- though Chinese black tea is not the same as black tea in the West. What's the next step after you understand these categories? Mindful tasting.

Shunan then explains the seasonality of tea, for both growing and enjoying it. We were surprised to learn that tea plants can live over a hundred years, even several hundred years!

31:03 "In China, we always say that through drinking tea, the goal is to find your true self. And the true self is supposed to be a relaxed self. So drinking tea is trying to find that pure child-like innocence in you."

Next Shunan tells us about some of the etiquette surrounding tea. Don't try so hard when doing the two-finger tap, guys. Play it cool. Lynda then asks about the challenges of selling Chinese tea because it can be seen as so culture-specific and can be intimidating to people outside of Chinese culture. Shunan talks about some of the misconceptions and stereotypes of tea, and why tea can be for anyone. She then differentiates the famous, historic teas of China from the teas that have been around for a long time but haven't enjoyed fame outside of its region until recently, like pu'er. 

We could have continued talking to Shunan for just about forever, but we already went over time! Make sure to stop by Tea Drunk in the East Village and hopefully she'll be back in the studio with us soon.

Just a reminder that Heritage Radio Network has so many amazing shows, including some brand new ones this Fall. You can also help support this show by becoming a HRN member today!