I first heard about a Buddhist tea house in Camberwell indirectly. A friend was raving about this place which was bringing Taiwanese tea culture to South London. This piqued my interest to some extent and by chance, a few weeks later, I came across Namasia Tea House on Instagram. The owner, Ophelia, agreed to explain the philosophy behind her business.
Ophelia speaks of appreciating the look of a teapot, the taste of tea and so on. In my house a cup of PG tips is valued to about the same extent as the butter on the toast which accompanies your morning brew- it’s fascinating how something considered everyday and inconsequential in one culture can hold enormous importance in another.
What are the main cultural differences you have noticed between London and Taiwan?
I came to England to study in 2009. My host family asked me
“Would you like to have a cup of tea?”
“Would you like milk and sugar within your tea?”
I wasn’t quite sure about her questions.
In Taiwan, when we ask guests to have a cup of tea, we serve them tea from loose tea leaf after brewing it with a proper tea pot. Definitely no milk and sugar, as we prefer to taste the pureness of tea. Tea drinking is very common to see in Taiwan, you can see a tea store every two streets.
What gave you the idea to bring the ‘art and culture of Taiwanese tea’ to London?
After living in the UK for a few years, I still liked to have a place to calm my mind and blank my busy life for just a minute. Of course there are many lovely cafés in Brighton, yet I couldn’t relax in café’s or when drinking coffee. So I went to yoga, and meditation class in the Buddhist centre; I was looking for a peaceful place to rest my soul. However, I still couldn’t relax.
What processes does the tea go through which makes it so special?
The process of tea making requires the experience to define the timing of brewing the loose tea and using which types of tea pots. The tea ceremony brings you into another space which you can’t find in café’s or being alone at home. You might have a similar feeling as when you do meditation while you are having the tea ceremony. Most people told me that they have found a peaceful mind while they have it.
Why does tea play such an integral role in Taiwan?
The tea helps us to breathe better. Breathing is not only through nostrils but also from the pores. A cup of warm tea enables our pores to open naturally which helps to mediate the body’s respiration. The tea also make us awake; concentration is an indispensable element for doing anything. Drinking tea also helps us to relax, which is an action to be done with peace, calmness and serenity. Furthermore, drinking tea also reduces the obesity, ageing process and lower blood pressure naturally by the two main ingredients: caffeine and potent antioxidants called catechins. Both of them are well-known for the improvement on weight burning and body performance.
Can you tell us something about the history of tea?
Tea was originally from China, and it used to be medicine at the beginning. It was not affordable to the majority owing to the limited amount of loose tea. Tea used to be drunk by the royals and wealthy people. Gradually it became a tea ceremony in China, and it also has been popular to the artists and philosophers.
How have you interlinked Taiwanese tea to art? What’s the important of tea in relation to art?
I found that art is also a way to bring people into another space, whereas tea ceremony is to bring the peaceful mind back to life, the art is taking people to see the worlds from artists’ eyes and their art works.I would say that tea ceremony is great to help the artists and inspire them about life. Tea benefits your health and introduces you to another culture. My ideal place to have a tea ceremony would be sitting around various arts and drinking the tea. The tea ceremony is not just tasting the tea, you also see the beauty of the tea pot and cup and accessories of tea table. They are all made by the artists as well. You are drinking the art.
You are actually in the world of Art.
Interview by Alex Howlett