Pro­fes­sor says the study of leaves is now just his cup of tea

China Daily (Canada) - - LIFE -


in He­fei

Xia Tao, a 51-year-old pro­fes­sor of tea sci­ence at An­hui Agri­cul­tural Univer­sity, has been tak­ing four tea breaks ev­ery day for decades.

“T e a drink­ing used to af­fect my sleep when I was young,” he says, laugh­ing. He has a boom­ing voice with a hint of an An­hui ac­cent. “But af­ter decades of drink­ing tea daily, it does not have such an ef­fect on me any longer.”

Xia grad­u­ated with a ma­jor in tea sci­ence in 1983. He is now one of the lead­ing au­thor­i­ties in­China’s tea sci­ence field, es­pe­cially in tea pro­cess­ing.

Yet upon col­lege grad­u­a­tion, tea was some­thing he wanted to get away from.

“I was very in­ter­ested in fix­ing things, like wire­less equip­ment when I was a kid, and I was plan­ning to study agri­cul­tural trac­tors as my ma­jor,” he says.

Born and raised in­Chuzhou, a small city in east An­hui fa­mous for high-qual­ity tea, Xia says he was en­cour­aged to be­come in­volved in tea by his fa­ther, a tea fa­natic who workedin a post of­fice in­Chuzhou.

“My fa­ther made good ac­quain­tance with Chen Chuan, one of the lead­ing tea pro­fes­sors in An­hui, and be­lieved that tea sci­ence was worth study­ing,” he says.

At the time, Chen was teach­ing at a branch school of An­hui Agri­cul­ture Univer­sity in Chuzhou.

Fol­low­ing his fa­thers’ ad­vice, Xia re­luc­tantly took tea sci­ence as his ma­jor un­der the guid­ance of Chen.

“Through­out my col­lege years, I worked hard on other sub­jects, such as math and English, hop­ing I could get good grades and switch to another ma­jor when I ap­plied for grad­u­ate study.”

Af­ter fail­ing the grad­u­ate ap­pli­ca­tion in 1983, Xia stayed at his alma mater and worked as a lec­turer, teach­ing cour­ses on tea pro­duc­tion.

It was dur­ing that time he re­ally started to un­der­stand the beauty of tea.

“We mainly stud­ied ba­sic, sci­en­tific knowl­edge about tea leaves dur­ing the first four years in col­lege. I was not ex­cited about it be­cause I did not think there was much I could achieve in sim­ply study­ing leaves,” Xia says. “It was only when work­ing and study­ing with Chen, do­ing field­work and in­spect­ing lo­cal tea fac­to­ries in many prov­inces that I re­al­ized there is so much we can do as tea ex­perts.”

He says many tea farm­ers had lim­ited knowl­edge about tea grow­ing and lit­tle mar­ket ac­cess. Th­ese hap­pened to be the ar­eas that Xia found he could con­trib­ute to.

Xia’s main re­search fo­cus in re­cent years has been in tea man­u­fac­tur­ing, es­pe­cially on tea pro­cess­ing and its fla­vor chem­istry. Xia says Ja­pan has much to teach China in this area. He vis­ited the coun­try in 2009 and was im­pressed by what he saw.

“Tea pro­cess­ing is very im­pres­sive in Ja­pan, be­cause tea is al­most blended into your life, pro­duced as a dessert and in daily prod­ucts, such as soap and fa­cial masks. All of th­ese pro­cesses are very much stan­dard­ized,” Xia says.

Xia’s re­search takes him to many con­fer­ences and lec­tures, but he says field­work for stu­dents is also of cru­cial im­por­tance.

“Dur­ing our years in col­lege we got to visit en­chant­ing, beau­ti­ful places for our field­work, be­cause tea leaves grow on beau­ti­ful moun­tains and along clear waters,” Xia re­calls.

But to­day his stu­dents are not so lucky.

“The in­dus­try is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly mar­ket-ori­ented. Most tea com­pa­nies do not show much in­ter­est in ac­cept­ing col­lege in­terns as they are busy mak­ing profit,” Xia says. “The places our stu­dents can go forin­tern­ship­sareverylim­ited.”

To­day, tea sci­ence is the most pop­u­lar ma­jor at the univer­sity, and find­ing a job is no longer a prob­lem. Xia says the change is largely be­cause of the emer­gence of branded, high-qual­ity tea.

Xia’s wife, Gao Lip­ing, also en­joys drink­ing tea, but his daugh­ter, who’s in her mid20s, prefers cof­fee.

“Many of our stu­dents also pre­fer cof­fee and ice cream,” Xia says, laugh­ing. “Do not worry about that. Tea is some­thing that you need to take time to un­der­stand its value. It took me at least five years be­fore I re­ally in­dulged in it. They will learn to ap­pre­ci­ate tea when they are in a later stage of life. It’s pre­des­tined if tea will be­come part of your life or not.” Con­tact the writ­ers through zhangyue@chi­ Ma Chenguang con­trib­uted to this story.


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