We asked our long-time tea friend Wilson Chik about the role tea plays in his varied and active lifestyle, and how he came to develop a love for tea in the first place. Here is his story.
First of all, what do you do?
Right now I’m focused on finishing my PhD in Literary Studies. Writing a thesis is very cerebral, which means sitting down for long hours in front of books, papers and two computers.
To balance all that, I love moving around Hong Kong. Being quite active, I like going around on my scooter and my bike because it’s such a great way to experience the city. Seeing the streets when I’m not in a car or bus is so different. There’s less separation between me and the environment. One thing just flows and blurs beautifully into another. What a rush, as heavy air becomes light.
I also love swimming, running and hiking. Tea is always with me, especially on hikes. What’s most invigorating is being on the slow ferry after a day’s hike, sipping jasmine tea from my thermos, (of course, Jasmine Phoenix Pearls tea from Plantation!) Each sip soothes me. Plain water is great, but after strenuous exercise, tea cools, calms and regenerates.
"Tea is always with me, especially on hikes."
You've been an active member of our tea community for some time now. How did you first get into tea?
My family were not big tea drinkers. They are from Shandong in Northeast China, so the most prevalent drink was Qingdao beer. We would have it with boiled peanuts and dumplings. Growing up in Singapore, the go-to tea was Lipton from a tin canister. In the States, it was a frail teabag of English Breakfast in a Styrofoam cup. It wasn’t until I moved back to Hong Kong in my twenties, and travelled to Taiwan, that I became interested in tea.
Certain tea shops in Taiwan have a “scent.” That earthy scent of the ceramics combined with the aroma of the tea—it's magical. Drinking tea there invoked a deep personal nostalgia. Something felt familiar, like being re-acquainted after a long time past. It was that kind of magnetism that ignited my exploration of tea.
I remember walking into a little teashop in an alleyway in Shihlin district that only sold 老烏龍 Lao Oolong (Old Oolong)—that’s all they did. It's a very popular tea in Taiwan, the owners told me, especially with older people who drink it like a medicinal tonic. Sipping that tea, I felt the 回甘 huigan, that wonderful returning sweetness that lingers. With another flush of feelings, I was re-enchanted.
"Something felt familiar, like being re-acquainted after a long time past."
How did you start incorporating tea into your daily life?
I brought some Alishan Oolong and Baozhong tea plus a ceramic teapot back to Hong Kong, excited to share tea with friends. But at that time, in our twenties, none were really interested. Instead, they asked “Do you have vodka or something we can mix this with?”
Luckily, my friends who live in Lam Tsuen in the New Territories were also interested in tea, so they became my go-to tea people. A creek winds its way near their home, and naturally, that spring water became an important source for our tea sharing. With filtered, fresh water boiled in an iron kettle, my Baozhong tea tastes so much sweeter! Good water is key. To this day, over tea is how we catch up. When the weather is cooler, sipping tea outdoors is the best. Over the years, after (too) many cups of tea (no such thing!), our friendship has grown and so has our common love for tea.
Were there any memorable moments in your tea journey you’d like to share with us?
Back in 2000, I was in Paris and came across a little shop, much like Plantation Tearoom. Inside, the décor was Chinoiserie and an Asian lady greeted me in French. After exhausting the five French words I know, our French turned into English, and then into Cantonese as I found out she was also from Hong Kong and this little tea shop has been her business for more than 6 years. Over tea, we chatted the day away. She became less of a stranger, and Paris also, less strange, even though I didn’t move an inch. Evening brightened after a day well-spent connecting over tea, infusing my heart with a cheerful warmth.
"Evening brightened after a day well-spent connecting over tea, infusing my heart with a cheerful warmth."
Sipping tea in that Parisian tea house was pivotal. After that, the way I drank tea changed to a slower, more appreciative pace. Soon after, I came back to Hong Kong and Lantau Island became my new “slow” abode. I loved being out more in Mother Nature, in all her lushness, and I found nature in tea, too. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, “If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow; and without trees, we cannot make paper.”
So it is with tea. Each sip of tea connects us with the tea makers... their hands, their labour, their culture, the soil, the morning dew, the plants.
Are there any specific teas you’ve had memorable experiences with?
The first time I visited teakha… that masala chai, oh man. In weather like this, their iced chai latte is the best! Nothing (really) compares with teakha’s chai.
Each chai I’ve had in India, like Nepalese chai and Delhi chai and Mumbai chai, is a unique experience, each holds its own place in my memory and senses but they all connect with one another and build on one another until you have this layered appreciation of a single beverage.
Akin to the way an accordion folds and unfolds, the way it breaths, each tea experience is like a fold that expands and contracts in relation to other tea experiences. All breathing and fully alive.
I’ve also found unexpected similarities in my different tea experiences across the world. For example, when drinking yerba-maté in Argentina, they would have a sip and pass it to the next person to sip, and so on, from the same cup. It’s communal. Then when I was in Mongolia drinking Suutei tsai milk tea, they’d do the same thing. Pass the bowl around the circle.
Tea is a great way to connect with people. When I travel I always bring some with me to share with the people I meet along the way.
"Tea is a great way to connect with people."
How did the pandemic affect your tea drinking?
When the pandemic brought the whole world to a halt, tea became even more spotlighted in my life. I live in an apartment with a terrace, so sitting outside allowed for a heart-space to open up, to think, to comb through, to reflect on everything that was happening. Tea was there once again, like a good companion, grounding me and reflecting the sometimes forgotten beauty of life.
I was still able to share tea with friends in small groups in private settings, and across Zoom. It was great to have tea together even though we were far apart.
"Tea was there once again, like a good companion, grounding me and reflecting the sometimes forgotten beauty of life."
My relationship with tea during this pandemic has really flourished. I've also become more aware of its health benefits—each category of tea has its own qualities, character, and medicinal properties that have been recognised by Traditional Chinese Medicine for centuries.
More people are turning to things that are good for their health in the pandemic. It’s funny how we forget about these things when everything is okay, but in a crisis we start searching. That’s human nature, perhaps. We will all learn, I hope, to be wiser with our health.
With tea, for example, what I drink changes with each season. Certain teas feel great in winter, like black tea and a rich ripe Puerh. But green tea in winter is too cooling for my body. So I’m learning to listen to my body, change my habits and adapt.
"With tea, what I drink changes with each season."
What role does tea play in your life today?
Now I can say tea is a deep spiritual experience for me. Especially when I’m in a rush, having that first sip of tea, that warmth, is already a ritual. A ritual that constantly shifts my awareness.
At home, a wooden box holds many different tea cups. There’s one that I got in Japan that fits in the cradle of my hand perfectly. Sometimes I sit for a while, holding that cup and drinking tea. Just that gesture alone helps me connect first inwards, back to myself, and then outwards to my environment. There’s something about that warmth, that heat, both inside and out, that I find comforting and nourishing.
"There’s something about that warmth that I find comforting and nourishing."
And that Taiwanese Lao Oolong that I had in that tiny shop all those years ago? A couple of weeks ago, a tea friend gifted me a pack of it. It’s amazing how things come full circle in their own unique ways. That familiar taste still lingers in my mind, yet I wonder how it will taste this time round after so many years. I look forward to being re-acquainted once again!
PS- We went to Sunset Pavilion 日落觀瀾亭 to take some photos of Wilson drinking tea in one of his favourite tea spots. On the way down, we met a man picking longan fruit in a tree. We helped by holding his stash while he navigated his way down the tree and he gave us this bunch to thank us!