05-02-2007 13:23

Drinking tea is an ancient tradition in east Asian countries. Green tea, red tea, wulong ("oolong") tea and tea scented with flower petals. In today's instalment of our May Day Special, we take a look at the tea story of Xue Tongyun, who has spent her whole life with tea. She has come up with new ideas to make tea that is to be enjoyed not only for its taste, but also for its appearance.

Xue Tongyun was raised in a tea family. Surrounded by the familiar fragrance of tea and playing with the leaves. For this lady, tea is life. In line with her long term passion, Tongyun became an accountant in a state-run tea factory after graduating in 1989. However, the good days did not last long, the tea factory stopped production after a short time, and Tongyun was forced to stay at home with nothing to do.

It was at that time that Tongyun's father started his own tea business. As the old man got older, he started to wish his children could take over his business. But ignoring the longing in his daughter's eyes, he handed over the business to his son.

"My father always took my brother on his business trips. At that moment, I knew my father had chosen my brother as the successor," says Xue Tongyuan.

Fu'an city where Tongyun lives has long been famous for its jasmine tea since the Qing Dynasty. But for centuries, women had been kept away from the business. Tongyun's dream seemed to be little more than a fantasy.

"I really hoped my father could someday ask me to join his business. I really did. But after a long time, he remained silent," says Xue Tongyuan.

Tongyun couldn't let go of her dream. But there's nothing she could do. In the meantime, she opened a book store. She painted all the walls in the shop into purple to try to forget the lush colour of tea. Although she was away from the tea she loved so much, Tongyun still often recalled how her father taught her to recognize different teas when she was a child.

Just when Tongyun was almost ready to give up, her father said something to her that later changed her whole life.

"One day, my father suddenly stopped me when I was walking past his desk. He said "daughter, come and run the tea business." I said "yes" without thinking. It's just that simple," says Xue Tongyuan.

Her father's tea business was suffering from a shortage of capital. He closed the plant and her brother left to run a gas station. It was at that time, that the father thought of the daughter who loved tea with her whole heart.

Tongyun's dream was coming true. But as a delicate girl without funds and support, how could Tongyun succeed in a business dominated by men? There were more problems than she had anticipated.

Tea processing is a labor-intensive and seasonal business. When Tongyuan took over the business, jasmine flowers were in bloom, time for a key procedure that infuses the tea leaves with the delicate aroma of the flowers. There's an old saying in the tea industry - the first three days of bloom are treasures, after that it's trash. To make nice jasmine tea, you can't miss that period. The workload was heavy.

"The special rake we use weighs nearly 4Kg. You have to rake the tea nearly a thousand times in one night. After that, you can't even straighten your back, and are covered in sweat. It even drips down from your eye brows, says Xue Tongyun's brother.

With 300 thousand yuan in debt, Tongyun has to work around-the-clock. She spent one sleepless night after another at the tea factory. Tired but happy.

After three years of hard work, the tea factory was finally back on track and even making a profit. Tongyun's brother also gave up his job at the gas station and came to help her. For Tongyun, it is not only a job, but also a great source of pleasure. One day, a simple conversation with her brother inspired Tongyun to develop more kinds of flower-scented tea.

"My brother said to me that drinking rose tea is quite popular now among women. Roses were quickly sold out when they arrived at the market. He asked me why not put some flowers in the tea?" says Xue Tongyuan.

With her female instinct, Tongyun believes rose tea will cause a stir in the market stimulating great demand. But the first trial was not so successful. The rose lost its shape and faded to a pale whitish colour when boiling water is added. But she was not to be discouraged. She found all kinds of roses of different shapes to try again and again. And finally, after numerous failures, came a breakthrough.

"When I poured in the hot water, a flower bud suddenly burst out. I was so surprised. It was so beautiful. My friend even asked me whether I've applied to patent it!"says Xue Tongyun.

Tea is no longer just for drinking, it's also a kind of art to enjoy and admire.

When the aesthetically pleasing teas hit the market, people were amazed by their beautiful color and charm. But just when Tongyun was busy with floods of orders, another unexpected problem occurred.

"After hot water was poured onto the flower tea, it's OK at the beginning. But after a short while, some milky white substance appears and falls to the bottom, says Xue Tongyun's brother.

Numerous trials couldn't rectify the situation. Tongyun found herself at a dead end. One day, she passed by a herbal medicine shop. A thought suddenly struck her. She brought her flower tea to the old resident herbalist. With just one glimpse, the doctor solved all her problems. Since ancient times, many flowers have healing properties and have been used as medicine. And some of them react with each other. That's the cause of the milky precipitation. Tongyun immediately adjusted the flower tea ingredients. The art tea also has medicinal benefits. Success at home also brought custom from overseas visitors.

When the honorary Kuomintang chairman Lien Chan visited the mainland in 2005, his wife drank Tongyun's flower tea at Laoshe tea house.


Editor:Chen Ge