Story of a Tea Geek: Shiuwen Tai

Shiwen Picking Baozhong TeaI called myself a tea geek enough times that I eventually named my business after the phrase. However, I’ve never claimed to be the only tea geek. My hope is that through the efforts of myself, in conjunction with other tea geeks out there, the general public will gain more accurate information about tea, a greater appreciation of the teas they enjoy, and improve the lot of the artisan tea farmers around the world by understanding why great tea is worth paying for.

One of the tea geeks I have worked with, learned from, gotten tea-drunk with, and even worked for, is Shiuwen Tai of Floating Leaves Tea. I was at her shop this weekend and was teasing her about an episode that beautifully illustrates what being a tea geek is all about.

Shiuwen was fast approaching the birth of her baby (one false going-into-labor episode had already passed) and I was working in her shop part time to give her some extra time to rest. She called in about something related to the store and was making periodic wincing noises. Apparently, she was experiencing contractions right there on the phone with me!

Then she asked if there was anything else I needed to ask. I mentioned that a couple of boxes had been delivered from Taiwan. She winced again and said, “Oh. Have to go!”

Alarmed, I asked, “Are you going into labor?”

“No,” she said, “I have to go in and taste tea!” And indeed she did come in and sampled the new winter teas from Taiwan the day they arrived. And within two days, her baby had been born as well.

We had a good laugh about this (and other things), tasted some tea samples she’d received recently, and so forth. She told me she’d be closing the shop on Monday–again for a rest and spending time with her little son (well, enormous actually…20+ pounds at 4 months). But I forgot about it until I was calling Floating Leaves on Monday to do a little tea industry networking.

Shiuwen answered the phone. I said, “Wait a minute…weren’t you going to be closed today?”

She replied, “I am.”

“Then what are you doing there answering the phone?” I asked.

“New tea came in,” was her response, in a tone that clearly showed that she felt this was explanation enough for why a mother with a new baby would go to work on one of her few days off…a day off she had specifically planned so she could get away from work.

I think that may become our explanation for any kind of crazy behavior: New tea came in. Why are you going to work while you’re in labor? New tea came in.

Oh, and be sure to subscribe to my newsletter if you haven’t already because I’ll let you know when I get a chance to taste these new teas–maybe I’ll pick up something through her suppliers. Then you’ll have an excuse to order because, well, new tea came in.

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