They call it baodao or “treasure island.” I knew it as the island of my maternal ancestors, a place I’d traveled to in my youth, where neon signs illuminated narrow alleys, ancient temples housed giant smoking incense pots, and vibrantly-colored fruits and vegetables decorated cacophonous street market scenes.
This island called Taiwan was an enchanted place: people smiled broadly and warmly, friends brought fresh oranges to each other’s homes and offices, and tea was weaved into the fabric of everyday life.
When I visited Taiwan from America as an adult, my uncle greeted me on the island with friends and a gongfu tea ceremony. As we sat around his living room table, we watched his spectacular display of tea mastery. With precise, choreographed movements of hands and body, he scooped tea leaves into hot water, coaxing them into union. The aromas of the oolong tea filled the space of the room.
“Long feng cheng xiang,” (“The dragon and phoenix are in auspicious union,”), my uncle declared as he placed our upside-down aroma cups for smelling the tea into our drinking cups.
I grabbed my aroma cup and held it up to my nose. And in that moment, I knew that I had arrived at the exact place I was supposed to be: at home, in the East, among these people.
Now, so many years and so many miles away, the woody aroma of oolong tea still takes me straight back to that time and to that island. With a waft and a whiff of freshly brewed tea at Tea Station, I’m back in Taiwan among stunning mountains, orange sunsets, and terraced tea fields lined by palm trees.
Written by Stephanie Karlik