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Tea: The Invisible Companion

by Winnie, Teance tea buyer and co-founder


Seven years ago, my buddies and I climbed Hua Shan, known to have the most treacherous trails in China. Expert rock climbers challenge themselves on this mountain, and 10 climbers apparently died there the week before we embarked. It is little wonder then that throughout history only Taoist hermits lived up there, tucked into caves carved out of the bare faces of the boulders. At 1,600 meters or so, Hua Shan is not really impossibly tall, but its scary verticalness challenged many.


The first day of climbing and hiking was a straight 11 hours. By the second day, we were in some pretty far reaches - no birds or even ants were seen anywhere. Pine trees jutted out of the crevices of the rocks. A sea of clouds was under foot.


We came upon a most intriguing cave dwelling: an inset on a sheer boulder the size of a closet, just tall and wide enough for one person to sit cross-legged. Straw bedding formed a comfortable cushion for the meditator. A thatched screen of some kind shielded the cave opening from the elements. I sat down on the straw mat and looked out into the sea of white clouds, the 5,000-foot drop churning my stomach. Moments passed before I noticed something to my side, a small stove powered by sticks of charcoal. A teapot rested on top, the tea inside probably a fermented one, like Pu-Erh.


I sat in the cave for some time but the hermit did not return. Was this his entire home? Possibly. We had passed many caves belonging to other Taoist hermits. They practice immortality by living on the dew drops of the morning. They can scale Hua Shan with the lightning speed of monkeys, and, indeed, I could barely see their straw shoes touch the rocky steps as I watched them fly up and down the mountain. They practice circulating their chi, and various esoteric breathing and internal exercises completely unknown to the modern city dweller.


But the one I did not meet apparently drank tea as part of his meditation. Did he subsist on tea alone? Or was tea his one and final worldly attachment? Did he travel to share his tea with another hermit or was tea his only friend? An old Chinese proverb came to mind: One can live without food for weeks, but not without tea for even one day! In seeing his teapot and imagining who this hermit was, I made an indelible connection.


Hua Shan is a mystical place. No tea bushes can grow on it, the rocks too bare and soil too sparse. But the spirit of tea is abundant, the idea of transformation, of cultivation and exploration of self.


If I could point to the defining moments that brought about the idea of Teance, this experience was certainly one. Tea is unlike other beverages. It connects invisibly through time and space to the past, and to others who find solace in tea, extending companionship beyond the cup.

With my tea, I am connected to the Taoists who live alone thousands of feet inside a cave on a cliff, wondering when they will find their next batch of tea, and when I am drinking tea at Hua Shan, I am connected to my friends in Berkeley, struggling with their last bit of High Mountain Oolong, wondering when I will bring back another batch.


Thus, Teance was created to connect the world of tea lovers by importing tea directly from these remote mountain regions where they grow. The city person can then share that universe of tea with their Taoist counterpart thousands of miles away, or with tea drinkers who lived thousands of years ago. Tea transcends time and space.