Meet Li Shu Yun 李曙韻

The affairs of tea are the affairs of life and living.

Photo by Li Shu Yun.

Photo by Li Shu Yun.

"I used to be scared of people. I had no fear of spirits or things I couldn’t see, but I was terrified of people. One day I decided that I needed to break out of it — I wanted to bring myself to be able to serve others — so I got myself a job where I had to interact with a lot of strangers. My very first job was in tea, and it was at Tea Chapter.

I left Singapore for Taiwan when I was about 20, and left Taiwan for Beijing a few years ago. It’s just my nature — I cannot stay in one place for too long. Every time I move to a new place, it feels like I have a new lease of life.

When I moved to Taiwan, I was often asked, ‘Singapore is so clean, why did you choose to come to Taiwan?’ Then when I moved from Taiwan to Beijing, people asked, ‘Taiwan is so clean, why would you choose to come to Beijing?’

I like Beijing — the energy, the attitude of the people, and the whole landscape. I feel that my character is very suited to the north.

During the Song Dynasty, 四司六局 (four departments and six divisions) were in charge of the planning and execution of a banquet. Each corresponded to a particular role or service. A 茶人 (charen, tea person) should also possess various skills to put together a tea banquet. That’s why I named my tea room 茶家十職 (the ten duties of tea practitioners).

Photo by Li Shu Yun.

Photo by Li Shu Yun.

Tea belongs to the world, not to China or Asia. China may have the most expensive tea in the world, but not necessarily the best. One of the most memorable teas I’ve ever had was in Darjeeling. I recommend everyone to visit Darjeeling at least once.

Having a 茶席 (chaxi, tea banquet) with no light source except for the flame of a candle is a remarkable experience. You see only your own hands and cup. The rest of you, your tea guests, and everything else fade away in the darkness, and suddenly you are reminded of your temporal nature. It’s incredible, and I’ve only had this encounter thrice in my life.

I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary to have a teacher in tea. Personally, I never had one, and everything that I achieved was through hard work and diligence. Without a teacher, you must be prepared to face a lot of disappointment and walk the arduous journey alone.

In tea, you can choose not to learn, but if you choose to learn, you realise that there is so much more that you do not know and cannot understand. Learning never stops — even now, I'm constantly making new discoveries. At the end, I think the question is not about learning per se, but about whether you have a companion on the journey."

Photo by Li Shu Yun.

Photo by Li Shu Yun.