My mission is to ensure that everybody has a better cup of tea in their cupboard, and what better way to raise awareness about good tea than through tea and art? I was invited by the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA) to take part in an exhibition commissioned by world renowned artist, Cai Guo-Qiang.
Cai was born in the Fujian province of China which is home to some of the most respected tea in the world. Cai is best known for using gunpowder as his medium for his art, and was Director of Visual and Special Effects for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. Yep: the fabulous fireworks at the Olympics were his work! Inspired by a visit to Queensland, Cai created an exhibition to encourage us to reconnect with nature. The final part of the Falling Back to Earth exhibition involved a Tea Pavilion: a space created for art lovers to sit with family and friends to reflect on the exhibition they have just witnessed and what better way to reflect in amongst the Eucalyptus tree (the third part of the exhibition), than with a sip of tea.
The tea Cai wanted to have served in his Tea Pavilion was Tie Guan Yin (Iron Goddess of Compassion). It is an oolong tea which I love because it is the embodiment of Yin Yang. Whilst it looks delicate, it tastes quite robust in flavour, and I was ever so pleased when Cai suggested this tea to be served because I felt that with most folk who have been brought up on milk and two sugars tea, that this would be a great tea to introduce them to, to help them explore other teas in the future.
Cai wanted someone to perform Chinese Gong Fu Tea Ceremony, and that was when QAGOMA found me via Google. The Gong Fu tea ceremony I perform is my own interpretation. Whereas most Tea Masters in China conduct the ceremony in silence, I prefer to explain each and every step that I take in order to help Westerners understand why we do what we do during the ceremony. As a BBC (British Born Chinese), I feel I am qualified to be able to bridge the gap between the two cultures.
As a Brit and being Chinese I am used to sipping hot beverages in order to cool me down; however, being mindful of the sunny climes of Queensland, I suggested to QAGOMA that we also provide cold brewed tea (sometimes referred to as cold pressed or cold fusion tea). The tea was available throughout the day for art lovers to experience and during my Gong Fu Tea Ceremonies, I explained the steps to “mayking” homemade cold brew as a cheaper and healthier alternative to buying ready-made sugar loaded iced tea.
A press release was issued after the exhibition had closed to say that more than 200,000 people had seen Falling Back to Earth and up to 70,000 cups of cold pressed Tie Guan Yin tea was served and with my Gong Fu Ceremonies every Sunday for a couple of hours, I guesTEAmate that around 3500 cups of Tie Guan Tin Oolong was served. My mission to have a better cup of tea in everybody’s cupboard started in 2009 and continues to this day. Being part of a live art exhibition helped me to get closer to achieving my mission and together with the English Tea Store, we will get there: cup by cup.
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