Today I found a small stash of oolong tea left over from our last trip to Taipei in 2016. I had purchased this at a small shop in a low-key shopping arcade in Da’an District. While the paper wrapped around the packet has seen better days, the hand-calligraphed characters “茗心茶皇” have remained intact between the red-ink stamps.
I first came across 茗心坊 when researching for independent tea shops in Taipei. During a previous visit to the city, I had visited Wang De Chuan which makes good tea. For the return trip, I wanted to try something less mainstream, something more artisanal and personal.
The name of the shop, 茗心坊, literally means “tea heart shop.” The owner, Mr Lin Kuei Sung (林貴松）, opened 茗心坊 in 1990. A certified tea master, he carefully chooses pesticide-free tea grown by small farms around Taiwan and roasts them to exacting standards to bring out their aromatic flavours.
It was Christmas eve the day we decided to go to 茗心坊. We weren’t sure if the shop would be open but fortunately it was when we arrived half an hour before closing time. Mr Lin was chatting with some customers who appeared to be regulars. After they left, he invited us to have a seat at his work bench which was surrounded by tea ware, calligraphy brushes, business cards and books.
His dedication to producing high-quality Taiwanese tea was apparent once he started preparing some for us to try. He shared how he sources tea from producers on the island, how the weather can affect the quality of the tea and why some teas cause abdominal discomfort. As Mr Lin didn’t speak much English, I translated what I could to AB so that he could follow our tea-fuelled conversation.
Just as striking was how much Mr Lin enjoyed his work. How his eyes lit up when he talked about certain things he learned about tea production. How he would take pleasure in the moment and being present.
Time passes quickly when enjoying tea in good company. We got ready to leave when we realised that it was past the shop’s closing time. I bought a few bags of tea plus a small clay teapot and he mentioned that he writes the name of the tea on every label as calligraphy art and tea appreciation are complementary activities.
“Would you like to join us for dinner?” Mr Lin asked as his wife was setting up the table at the back of the shop. As we had no dinner plans, we said that we would be happy to do so. We joined him and an elderly lady at a round table while his wife brought out several homemade dishes. As we chatted over food, we talked about living in Hong Kong and how this compares to other places, from the cost of living to the languages used.
While I cannot recall much about our conversation, their kind hospitality will always stick in my mind. 茗心茶 is a fitting name for Mr Lin’s shop for it is a welcoming place for all to enjoy tea.