The Master of Tea

2024-06-04 15:14:00 Source:China Today Author:Liu Jianchao
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People call him Cha Ye, literally meaning Master of Tea. His ancestors, for three generations before him, ran teahouses on Old Street, which is well-known in western Henan. 

He doesn’t seem to care how much money he makes, nor does he love the business. The reason Cha Ye insists on running a tea shop, he says, is nostalgia, i.e., the breath of air from his ancestors that seems to linger around the place. 

Cha Ye is familiar with The Book of Tea, but never praises tea too highly. Once, he was invited to talk on a TV program about the Chinese tea culture. Smoothing his beard, he leisurely commented that tea is a kind of plant that soaks in water, and drinking it often is beneficial, but not as fantastic as the ads say. He pointed out that Lu Yu, the great tea master from the Tang Dynasty who wrote The Book of Tea, drank tea all his life, yet enjoyed a life of only 71 years. 

Cha Ye sells a wide variety of tea, including black tea, green tea, yellow tea, white tea, dark tea, and oolong tea. However, he only drinks Maojian tea. 

He uses a large glass teacup filled with half tea and half water, and carries the cup with him everywhere. Cha Ye makes a cup of tea in the morning and sips on it until the end of the day, drinking and refilling, drinking and refilling, without changing the leaves in the cup. Then, before going to bed at night, he takes out the tea leaves and lays them out to dry. When enough of these leaves accumulate, he uses them as dumpling filling. 

Cha Ye is hospitable, often inviting people to drink tea. However, everyone on Old Street knows how particular he is about inviting people to tea. 

He has two methods. One is to raise his cup and say to you: “Come to my house for tea when you have time.” This is being polite. You can go, but you don’t have to go. 

His second method is more direct: “Come to my house, let’s have tea.” With this method, you are destined to follow him. Needless to say, Cha Ye’s great prestige and seniority on Old Street makes you feel it is a great privilege if he asks you to tea. 

It was a sultry day in July. As Cha Ye strolled down the street, he noticed a noise. It was Mr. Hu, boss of the Heshengzhai Antique Shop. 

Cha Ye walked into the antique shop, where he saw Hu holding onto a strong man’s arm, not letting him go. 

Hu explained that the strong man had come in and browsed around. When he turned to leave the store, the clerk noticed that an ancient gold coin was missing and prevented the strong man from leaving. 

The strong man, with his neck straightened in an air of confidence, spread out his hands and said: “Look at me. Do I look like I took anything?” 

Cha Ye looked at the big waist and belly of the husky man. He was stripped to the waist, wearing only a pair of simple shorts. 

The strong man looked at Cha Ye and said: “Cha Ye, if it’s not too embarrassing, I’ll take off my shorts and let them check.” 

The clerk mournfully muttered that, indeed, it was after the man came in that the ancient gold coin disappeared. 

Cha Ye took a sip of his tea, screwed the lid of the cup back on, looked at the strong man, and said: “Forget it. Go. Come to my house and have tea.” With these words, Cha Ye turned to leave first. 

Hu opened his mouth, but decided not to say anything. The clerk attempted to hold the strong man by the arm, but the man shook him off and followed Cha Ye outside. 

Cha Ye’s house was next to the octagonal building, a typical courtyard house on Old Street. There was a root carving tea table in the center of the courtyard. 

He led the strong man into the courtyard. The two of them sat in front of the tea table while Cha Ye’s wife placed a large copper pot of tea and a big white porcelain bowl patterned with orchids, on the table. 

Cha Ye filled the bowl with tea and said: “This herbal cool tea is especially prepared in my house. It includes prunella vulgaris, honeysuckle, lotus leaves, mulberry leaves, licorice, honey, and rock candy. It can clear up pathogenic heat in the heart, soothe the liver, and ease anger. Here, drink it.” 

The strong man, who had large beads of sweat trickling down his cheeks due to being hot inside, the hot weather, and walking fast, took the bowl and eagerly gulped down the tea. 

Cha Ye smiled slightly and filled the bowl again. “Come on, drink more. Take your time to speak.” 

The bowl went bottoms up, again. 

As the two men drank and talked, the pot of herbal tea was soon drained, solely by the strong man. 

The strong man rubbed his chubby belly and said: “Cha Ye, I need to use your toilet. I can’t help it any longer.” 

Cha Ye pointed in a direction and said: “Go ahead.” 

As the strong man stood up, there came a small rustle of noise. A golden ancient coin fell out of the strong man’s pants and rolled to Cha Ye’s feet. 

Cha Ye bent down to pick up the coin and said: “Hands are slippery in such hot weather. Look, you didn’t even notice that this coin slipped to your waist. Go give it back to Hu. Then, come back and drink more tea with me.” 

The strong man stood motionless and blushed. He took the coin from Cha Ye and bowed to him before he left. 

Cha Ye’s wife cleaned up the tea set and said: “I immediately knew he had hidden the coin in his belly button. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have pulled up his shorts so high. He couldn’t hide the coin there any longer since he drank so much tea.” 

There is another story. 

Hua Wen and Hua Wu were twin brothers who ran a photography studio on Old Street. When their mother died last year, they inherited property from her. However, the twins fell out with each other in a dispute over distribution of the demolition compensation. They even fought. 

To resolve the dispute, Cha Ye invited the brothers over for tea and said: “This pot of my green tea helps clear your eyes and mind. A clear mind can remind you of something. Do you remember anything from the summer when you were seven years old?” 

One day during the summer, when the brothers were seven years old, they were playing on the bank of a gurgling river. The younger brother, Hua Wu, accidentally slipped into the river and began flailing and screaming in the rapid current. 

Seeing this, the elder brother, Hua Wen immediately jumped into the river and grabbed his brother’s hand. Hua Wen was holding onto Hua Wu’s hand when, fortunately, Cha Ye passed by and pulled them out. 

“You can’t swim,” Cha Ye said to Hua Wen that day. “Why did you jump in the water?” 

“I’m the elder brother. I won’t let my younger brother die,” Hua Wen said. 

Cha Ye asked the two of them: “How can you forget such a story about your own flesh and blood?” 

The two brothers drank their bowls of tea and then gazed at each other, held each other’s hands, hugged, and wept silently until they ended up wailing in each other’s arms. 

Cha Ye took a sip of tea, stood up, and walked out the gate with his hands behind his back.  


Selected from A World Away from Fairy Tales, compiled by China Flash Fiction Society, and published by New World Press. 

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