A tea-drinker all my life, I thought I knew tea. Growing up in China, I have memories of watching my father sip Gong Fu Tea as a young girl. In 1997, I started to learn tea tasting on Sundays from Master Ip, who is the owner of the LockCha Tea House located next to the Hong Kong Teaware museum. That tea-tasting class not only taught me the art of tea, but it also became a much-needed ritual to relax my mind.Back then, I was an expatriate living in Hong Kong and working for Sony Pictures. How much I looked forward to those classes, and taking that Sunday stroll through Hong Kong Park past the turtle pond to go taste and talk tea with fellow tea lovers.
recently returned to the LockCha tea house for a tea gathering, which included traditional Cantonese music and a tea poetry recital. It was such a memorable, joyous tea moment! Incidentally, LockCha in Chinese means exactly that: Joyous Tea.
This Hong Kong tea tasting meant so much to me. I have learned a great deal more about tea, while making a film that dives into the history of tea. However, tea is a deep subject worthy of a lifetime of learning.
Courtesy of LockchaTea House. Photo by Christy Hui.
About the film “9 Dragons Tea” — A Tea Documentary
Fast forward two decades later: I am selected to produce a 40-minute film about the history of tea. No problemo. I thought it would be a walk in the park! Production was anticipated to be complete within 18 months, tops. Well…
There was so much rich history to explore that this little film doubled in length and took an additional 12 months. I spent nine months doing research, which included several trips back to China, Hong Kong, New York, as well as Boston. Blessed with online access to many prestigious museums around the world, I found treasure troves of historical images that helped piece together this ancient puzzle.
In this video clip, “Let’s Talk Tea,” I’ll take you behind the scenes of the documentary from Wuyi Shan. Bruce Richardson, tea historian and co-author of “A Social Tea History,” highlights how tea impacted American history and sparked its independence from the British.
Filmed in digital 4K, “9 Dragons Tea” was shot in Wuyi Shan, Hong Kong, Boston (at the Old South Meeting House and the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum), as well as in San Francisco (at the Fairmont hotel). Visit the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum here.
For a glimpse of the Old South Meeting House, click here.
The Stream of Nine Windings, Wuyi Shan, China.
How Was Tea Invented?
How was tea discovered, made, and processed? Our story traces the origin of tea in ancient China and how tea evolved throughout the major dynasties.
A fan of loose teas? It was invented during the dawn of the Ming Dynasty, in 1391, when the Emperor decreed that all Tribute Teas, or Gong Cha, must be in loose leave form. And just like that, compressed tea-cakes, which were the form of all the teas in China since thousands of years ago, were abolished. The art of making loose teas would be refined and evolved by tea-makers from then. This makes loose teas about 630-year-old tradition.
Loose Tea. Courtesy of LockCha Tea House.
Tea Cakes In Various Forms And Sizes. Courtesy of The Tea Museum. Photo by Christy Hui.
Did you know that up until the mid19th century, China was the only country that knew how to make tea?
Image courtesy of ActionFliks Media. © ActionFliks Media.
China invented all six types: White, Yellow, Green, Oolong, Black, and Puer (or Puerh).
When Did the China Tea Trade Begin?
Recognize this picture? The Port of Canton (now Guangzhou) played a significant role in the tea trade between China and the West. In the mid-1700s, all foreign trade with China was restricted to the Port of Canton. This is a painting made by a Cantonese artist named Sunqua.
Courtesy of Wikimedia.org. Click the image for credit.
Tea’s Origins In India and England
So how did tea travel out of China? When did India start tea cultivation? How did the English tradition of afternoon tea begin? All these questions and more will be unveiled in this 90-minute documentary.
For history buffs and those who love tea, get ready for a long sip…
Map of Black Tea’s Journey From Wuyi Shan to the World. Courtesy of Lapsang Souchong Company.
An Endless Stream of Research
As I was researching for the film, endless questions kept popping up. It was like putting together a giant jigsaw puzzle, spanning a few thousand years with the missing pieces in different languages. Just when I thought I had all the answers, there would be something that didn’t add up in the timeline, sending me down yet another rabbit hole. Suffice it to say my head was swimming in tea for months!
Wuyi Shan — The Birthplace of Black Tea
Are you a fan of black tea? Say, English Breakfast, Earl Grey or Assam?
We were blessed with the opportunity to interview the direct descendant of Lapsang Souchong’s creator, Mr. Jiang Yuan-Xun, who is the 24th-generation tea-maker of the original Lapsang company.
In order to interview with Mr. Jiang, we had to first secure permission to enter into the Wuyi Shan Nature Preserve, which is prohibited for Westerners. The reason? Because this was the birthplace of Lapsang Souchong, and had many.
This allowed us to piece together the never-before-told story of the accidental invention of Lapsang Souchong, the origin of all the world’s black teas.
Lapsang Tea-Making Scenes of “9 Dragons Tea”. Marco Solorio behind the camera.
Wuyi Shan’s Nature Preserve — A Forbidden Zone For Foreigners, But We Were There.
Entry into Wuyi Shan’s Nature Preserve as well as the Lapsang Company is still prohibited to foreigners. Why? We were told there were lots of poisonous snakes or animals inside the wilderness. Hmmm… Anyhow, our crew went through hoops to get in, and was lucky to capture gorgeous footage.
The mystical Nature Preserve of Wuyi Shan. Photo by Christy Hui.
From left to right: Marco Solorio (DP), Christy Hui (Director), and Steve Eagleton (Editor).
We hope to share this documentary film with you soon! Follow our tea journey and you’ll discover how the tiny cups of tea from the legendary Wuyi Shan influenced Western tastes, drove trade, and changed world history.