Phase 3: Interpreting Information

Updated 1 year 3 months ago
In Phase 0, I have narrowed a series of inquiry topics down to one (or, in my case, two merged together), and have elaborated upon my prior knowledge on the subject. In Phase 1, I will complete sufficient background research on my topic to benefit my knowledge when I travel to Xizhou, and this is what Phase 3 will include. 
Background Information (from Phase 1)

Tea-drinking has been a vital aspect of culture in not just Yunnan, but the entirety of China, for centuries. Xizhou, a village at the western shore of Erhai Lake and 12 miles north of a better-known city called Dali with a name that means "happy town" [1,2], is no exception to this tradition. Most of the communities that reside there are part of the Bai ethnic group [1,2], the entire town consisting of a population of 2,500 with a laid-back day-to-day lifestyle [2] . 

As previously stated, the people of Xizhou are no strangers to the practice of tea-drinking. In the Bai people, five main types of tea are drunk: 滇红 [Yunnan red tea], 绿茶 [green tea], 普洱茶 [Pu'er tea], 紧压茶 [pressed tea], and 花茶 [flower tea].

  1. 滇红茶, or Yunnan red tea, is split into two types: 滇红功夫茶 [made with force/energy] and 滇红碎茶 [broken down, separate tea], and was presented to the Queen of England for decorative purposes. It could compare, as the world's best tea, to the Kenya black tea in Sri Lanka, India. 
  2. 绿茶, or green tea, consists of various types, such as 晒青 [sun-baked], 炒青 [pan-fried], 洪青 [baked], 蒸青 [steamed], and is mainly domestically grown in the south and southwest regions of Yunnan. [3]
  3. 普洱茶, or Pu'er/post-fermented tea, has been part of the Yunnan tradition for generations, its history tracing way back to the Tang and Song dynasties where it was mainly sold at Pu'er City—hence the name "Pu'er". It is able to be stored for long periods of time, and can be drunk to quench thirst, to refresh, or to be savored, but is also used for medical purposes [clinical studies prove that Pu'er is antibacterial, and can be drunk to lose weight, cleanse the body, and to lower blood pressure]. [3,6]
  4. 紧压茶, or pressed tea, is made by compressing and steaming leaves for a fixed outer shape and a long-lasting aroma. There are various forms of pressed tea, such as those with shapes of hearts, squares, pie-shapes, bricks, bowl-shaped, even those packaged in bamboo cylinders, that dispersed at contact with hot water. [3,6]
  5. 花茶, flower tea, is essentially tea brewed with flowers. There are many different types of herbal essence that can be used in the process of making tea: 三七茶, 绞股蓝茶, 雪茶, 古丁茶. Tea brewed with flowers and other herbal components have healing and boosting factors, such as refreshments, vitamins, benefits for bodily functions, organs, and systems, et cetera. [3,5,6]

One of the famous ceremonies special to the Bai communities is San Dao Cha, or Three Course Tea, or as the Bai people unofficially nickname it, 绍道兆 [shào dào zhào]. It is a popular method of savoring tea amongst the Bai people, especially towards significant guests or for celebratory purposes; the history of San Dao Cha stretches back to the Ming Dynasty, where the course is executed to entertain and welcome distinguished guests. The general style of San Dao Cha is known as "头苦, 二甜, 三回味", meaning that the first course is bitter, the second sweet, and the third leaving a lingering aftertaste. The three courses are brewed with the same tea leaves, but with designated temperatures and time lengths for each course to leave a different taste for the tea with each passing wash. [4,5,6]

  1. The first course, bitter, is to symbolize that if one wants to get things done, they must go through the "bitter" first [要立业, 先吃苦]. The leaves are brewed from the fireplace, then rinsed with boiling water for a brisk, mesmerizing scent, until it tints to yellow, but does not burn. According to Bai tradition, a lot of alcohol in a glass is a respecting/honoring the drinker, yet a lot of tea in a glass is disrespecting/humiliating the drinker [酒满敬人, 茶满欺人]. This is because tea is made to be appreciated for taste, rather than quantity. The bitter taste of the tea is to reflect the negative, or "bitter" aspects of life, conveying that pain [bitterness] is only fleeting, but still to be appreciated. [4]
  2. The second course, sweet, is to symbolize that after the "bitter", comes the "sweet" [人生在世, 做什么事, 只有吃得了苦, 才会有甜香来]. It consists of a special ingredient made in Dali, called 乳扇, along with walnuts and brown sugar as seasoning. This, as opposed to the bitter course, can be savored in quantities in a large cup if not a small bowl. This reflects the sweet aspects of life, contrasting the previous course of bitterness, conveying that after the bitter, agonizing phase of struggle, conflict, or frustration, comes the sweet, a period of voluptuous happiness and exuberance. [4,5]
  3. The third and final course, aftertaste, is made with honey, small portions of ginger, cinnamon, and pepper seasoning, creating a sweet and spicy taste all at once. In the Bai language, the word "辣" is homophonic, or pronounce similarly, with "亲", depicting wealth, prosperity, good fortune, the feelings of affection between a couple, or the blessings and kindness between the guests and the host. This is to reflect the many aspects of life: the highs, the lows, the twists, the turns, the joys, the sorrows, et cetera. During these contrasting phases of life, one must maintain a neutral, collected outlook. When met with good, one cannot be overexcited. When met with bad, one cannot be too upset. Essentially, maintain an open-minded, clinical outlook to the past, present, and future. [4,5]

Information From Local Contacts

Mr. Zhao [3/8/2017] | Villager of Xizhou [7]

  • Repeatedly recommended the San Dao Cha procedure, though did not ever try the procedure himself
  • Drinks [green] tea on almost a daily basis; brewed in a thick, large mug, prefers a strong flavor
  • Drinks out of habit; when asked how he views tea, he says: "I drink tea like water. There is no meaning behind it. Tourists all like San Dao Cha, 一苦二甜三回味!"

Mr. Du [3/8/2017] | Teashop Owner [8]

  • Many tourists pick tea leaves that are known to have mellow, soft tastes: red tea, Pu'er, herbal tea
  • Wellness and/or spiritual beliefs on tea leaves whose sole purpose was to attract tourists; some of which are true, but most are deliberately exaggerated to be overly flamboyant and eccentric
  • Older, more experienced villagers tend to go for green tea; generally, those with stronger flavors, brewing time would be more prolonged; while tourists go for the direct opposite
  • Usually, the amount of tea leaves stay consistent throughout all brewing methods, mostly it is the amount of water and the time of brewing that makes a difference in the taste of the tea

Mr. Dang [3/9/2017] | Teashop Owner [9]

  • Many of his customers are tourists—they often regard the packaging more than the quality of the tea itself as it is mostly gifted to others; an insufficient understanding of tea and how it is grown
  • As opposed to villagers, who regard the quality and the taste of tea more than the general appearance
  • Many inexperienced people are establishing tea businesses nowadays, causing the prices to rise as both the quality and quantity of tea progressively decreases
  • Components of the quality of tea, such as the conditions in which it was grown, moisture levels, height
  • Personal opinion on tea: drinks tea without added ingredients, bitter, natural flavor; "when you add things to it, would you still call it tea? Take flower tea for example. You tell me—you call that tea?"
  • Personal opinion on San Dao Cha, along with other traditions of the like: believes that these traditions are superfluous, or just for show; "Tea is not tea unless you drink it for what it is. These ceremonies—they put handfuls of sugar, spices, and additives over the tea. It is not even tea anymore."
  • Thinks that San Dao Cha is also a very ostentatious tradition that does not stretch very deep into Bai culture; "Many people claim that this ceremony makes one feel spiritual, or an other-worldly moment. Like, your spirit flies out of your body or something. I tried it before. Nothing of the sort."

Mr. Yang [3/9/2017] | Linden Center Worker [10]

  • Believes that cultural ceremonies of the Bai minority are gradually being washed away
  • Nowadays, some of the older people drink tea out of habit, perceives tea to be as common as water, while the younger people do not drink it as often as their elders; he believes that is how tea progressed from being drunk by people of all ages [past] to mostly the elderly [present]
  • Tibetan phrase: "Three days without meat rather than one day without tea." The Chinese picked up parts of the meaning of that phrase as well during the days of the Tea Horse Trail
  • Tea used to be a drink of high prestige; as time passed by, the drink walked into the daily lives of civilians [家中无茶俗人家; if a home does not possess tea, it lacks homeliness]
  • Personal opinion on San Dao Cha: important part of Bai culture; a pity that it is being washed away
  • In 700 A.D, there were several sacred ceremonies performed in temples and spiritual grounds, viewed to be a holy and well-respected procedure that required masters and apprentices, which evolved over time to turn into something that now is only performed for show
  • For different occasions, the order could be altered as well as the number of courses—for a wedding, the sweet course is served, while for other occasions, maybe the bitter will be served
  • "寒夜客来茶当酒, 竹炉汤佛火初红; 寻常一样窗前月, 才有梅花便不同。" 杜耒《寒夜》
  • Tea is perceived to be of the similar position to alcohol—"寒夜客来茶当酒" means that in the context of welcoming guests [does not have to necessarily be midwinter or midnight], presenting the newcomer[s] with tea is the general established norm

Ms. Dong / 董阿姨 + Ms. Zhang / 张阿姨 [3/10/2017] | Golden Flower Restaurant [11]

  • Tea is easy to get ahold of nowadays, as opposed to earlier on; the procedures to making tea was very detailed—fixed amount of specific ingredients—roasting, brewing . . . 
  • Drank tea only after her 30's and 40's, thought the flavor was too strong when she was a child 
  • Drank for various purposes; one of the most significant ones was for wellness purposes: anti-inflammations, ridding bacteria, and generally cleansing the body and strengthening wellness
  • Drank tea casually, almost on a daily basis, so much it becomes a habit; another purpose of drinking tea was relieving thirst: after working on the mountains, one drank tea to cool down from workload
  • Drank green tea; brews it [water with leaves] and drinks it pure, strong flavor; without additives
  • Personal opinion on San Dao Cha: has never tasted it for herself, though encourages tourists to taste it
  • Thought it was expensive to taste but easy to brew; it only needed these ingredients, and in her perspective, it was so easy to brew she could carry out the ceremony in her own house, so to give all this money for something that she could easily make herself was not worth it

Ms. Wang [3/13/2017] | Teashop Owner [12]

  • Some of the flower teas consist of only flowers, while other types of tea are brewed with half flowers and half leaves [visible through the packaging; usually the flower petals are concentrated towards the front to attract tourists, while the tea leaves are also visible when one turns the packaging over]
  • Many methods of packaging visible—沱茶, which is a way of compressing leaves [and, in this case, dried flower petals] into a ball and/or circular shape, 茶饼, which is a way of compressing leaves into a pie shape, hence the name, and also flower tea packaged in a can, box, or cylindrical bottle
  • Most types of flower tea are packaged with Pu'er leaves; according to Ms. Wang, Pu'er would make a good combination with the flower petals, as they all contribute to a soft, flavorsome scent
  • All flower tea's main purpose, especially rose tea, is 美容 [beautify], 消炎 [anti-inflammatory], and 养生 [wellness and balance], also to appeal with light, sweet taste
  • Appealing to tourists; more often, tourists visit and purchase flower tea than locals or villagers; "Villagers prefer stronger flavors. They rarely buy flower tea because it is too sweet for them."
  • Tourists like the bright and flamboyant packaging as well as the general appearance of the flower tea leaves, as the main purpose of them purchasing such tea is to gift them to loved ones, et cetera; "They just like the packaging; they want to gift it to people. It is really pretty—the dried flowers and the Pu'er leaves. That is why most of them buy it."
  • Describes flower tea as beautifully scented; when brewed, ["像泡开了花似的"]

Mr. Cheng [3/13/2017] | Teashop Owner [13]

  • Sold Pu'er tea; split into two categories: 生 Pu'er [uncooked] and 熟 Pu'er [cooked]
  • Uncooked tea leaves are usually drunk by younger folks; cooked tea leaves are good for elderlies
  • Drinking Pu'er on a daily basis allows one 
  • 生茶: many young customers + tourists purchase 生茶, as one of the main beliefs associated with 生茶 is that it has fat-burning and weight-losing components; along with strengthening blood flow, metabolism, stimulating digestion
  • 熟茶: 暖胃, 安神 [warming, soothes nerves, strengthens bodily functions]; along with many of the previously mentioned benefits of 生茶, often savored by elderlies; has beneficial points such as preventing possible illnesses or deficiency in one's health, regulating blood pressure, sore throats

Mr. Huang [3/15/2017] | Teashop Owner [14]

  • "If you want to participate in an industry, you have to like what you are selling."
  • Believes that if one wants to engage in something, one has to do it wholeheartedly
  • When asked about the number of customers that are tourists compared to villagers, he had said: "If someone genuinely likes tea, they come to me; otherwise, they are all people from my friend circle."
  • Usually, quote-on-quote tourists purchase 滇红 and 普洱 tea; lighter flavors with prettier packaging
  • Personal preference on tea flavors: "like most men", he prefers stronger flavors
  • When asked about what type of flavor [sweet, bitter, et cetera], he responds that tea is complex, and the drink is not just a fixed flavor throughout the time one is drinking it, rather it is a fusion of a variety of diverse flavors that are brought out at different times with different types of leaves
  • Has never heard of San Dao Cha before, most likely because he is new to town
  • When asked about his habits and preferences to drinking tea, he believes that the purpose of drinking tea is to socialize while drinking [ex: "sitting around and sipping tea while engaging in small talk"]
  • Likes tea without additives: "放了太多东西就喝不到原味了。"
  • When customers purchase tea to drink for themselves, they generally look for something of a better quality/higher price, but when purchasing a gift for a friend, they would go for a cheaper price/quality

Ms. Zhou [3/16/2017] | Embroidery & Tie-Dye Shop Owner [15]

  • Occasionally drinks tea for detoxification, thinks that drinking too much would be stimulating
  • Believes that the tea leaves grown in Cangshan and areas close to Xizhou are their town's specialty
  • Even though she does not drink tea on a daily basis, she prefers tea over many other things:
    1. Tea over coffee, because tea leaves are grown naturally without necessary artificial procedures, while coffee has many additives added before it is drunk [ex: milk, sugar, chemicals + additives]
    2. Tea over smoke, because tea leaves are much more beneficial for the body than cigarettes, which, on the contrary, is severely harmful; she would rather doing something beneficial for leisure rather than something that would have a long-lasting damage
  • Personal opinion on San Dao Cha: a pity that it does not exist in everyday life anymore
  • The procedure holds a lot of meaning to her; along with other somewhat elderly folks, their early lives were bitter, then it was sweet after the suffering, and more times than not, they would find themselves thinking back to those periods of struggle and cherishing their positions today [the aftertaste]
  • Drinks for calming one's emotions, regulating wellness and physical + emotional wellbeing
  • Strongly believes in the balance of one's wellbeing in all aspects

Mr. Wang [3/20/2017] | Driver [16]

  • The process of making tea depends on the type of leaf, but the general process involves four steps
    1. 杀青: in which the leaves go through a churning tunnel to remove 1/2 of the moisture
    2. 磨/揉: in which the leaves go through a machine that causes them to be dried; the reason that only 1/2 of the moisture was removed was that if all of the moisture is gone, the leaves would crack
    3. shāi chá: in which the leaves go through a partial bacterial-cleaning process, ready for brewing
    4. 烘干/蒸干: in which the leaves are dried as the final step, using energy from charcoal and wood
  • Tea in the modern market ranges up to 1000RMB per 斤; in the old days, tea prices were not high
  • Elderlies cherished tea for wellness and drank it often; tea was considered a healing herb for digestion and bodily organs as well as peace of mind

Answers to Previous Questions (from Phase 1)

The Opinions on Tea-Drinking, General Facts, and History section of my Big Questions was the one that was altered the least. The questions in this section focused around how the Bai community viewed tea as a whole and how the methods of drinking now differ from the past. Many of the locals that I had conversations with had tea so much it was almost an involuntary habit in their daily lives; they drank it so much it started to lose its difference with water [7,9,11]. For Ms. Dong from the Golden Flower restaurant, she drank tea to hydrate herself when she was younger and working in the mountains. After an exhausting day's work, one would be absolutely worn and would want a source of rejuvenation, and tea was the excellent solution. Like her, many of the other villagers had history with tea. Most if not all of them view tea as something to be drunk over light conversation [9,11,14]. Most but not all of the tourists, however, view tea as something to be giftwrapped and packaged to be presented to others, or something of more value and exoticism [7,8,9,11,16]. Tea prices in the market, according to Mr. Wang, tea prices have skyrocketed since the past, with prices that range up to 1000RMB per 斤 [16]

In the Various Types of Tea section, I kept both questions (noteworthy types of tea and wellness beliefs) but modified them to be more specific. Instead of following the original questions, I altered them to ask for the difference of these preferences between tourists and villagers. Instead of just asking about the types of tea Bai people like to savor, I instead asked about what types of tea the villagers liked to savor as opposed to tourists, and vice versa. From these questions and after days of discussions, I discovered that locals, especially the elderlies, liked the taste of bitter, green tea, where the taste is strong and flavored and more importantly, free of additives [7,8,9,11,12,16]. Many of the tea-drinkers that I had encountered despised additives in their drinks and appreciated tea for their pure flavor; Mr. Dang, a teashop owner, is no exception to this case. To this, he said: "When you add things to it, would you still call it tea? Take flower tea for example. Do you call that tea?" 

The process of brewing tea is not complex, either, in the eyes of many locals. According to Ms. Dong, the methods of brewing tea earlier on were much more specific and complex than that of now. When she was younger, the tea leaves would be roasted with a fixed number of ingredients before going through another series of events before it makes its way into one's cup. Now, it is just green tea leaves brewed with hot water [11]. Another case is that of Ms. Zhou's from the embroidery and tie-dye shop near SifangJie. She prefers tea over coffee because as opposed to tea, coffee has many additives and its most natural form, the grown beans, goes through many processes before being drunk [15]

For the Packaging and Presentation Methods section of my Big Questions, I initially started out with finding out the packaging and presentation methods frequently used by the village's community and the methods designated for special occasions. Both questions have been scratched as my background research have already answered those for me; I modified the questions to instead ask about the differences in which the tourists preferred their packaging versus the villagers. Tourists preferred physically appealing packaging of their tea as most of its purposes was to be gifted to others [8,9,12,14], while most villagers liked less flamboyant presentation and instead generally appreciated tea for its taste [7,9,11,16]. According to Ms. Wang especially, an owner of a shop that sells flower tea, many customers purchase her flower tea due to the vibrant appearance of the petals and the leaves as well as the colorful wrapping. 

When I was looking through the questions in the Traditional Customs and Celebratory Procedures section, I have noticed that all of my questions in this category have been focused around the procedure and history of San Dao Cha, which was fair. Since then, I have dropped all these questions since they were all more or less answered by my mere background research. I have replaced these initial questons with new ones that asked on the community's opinion on San Dao Cha. It is safe to say that the people here in the community have contrasting opinions on this apparently sacred Bai tradition. Many of the villagers have heard of it but pays no regard towards it, though recommends tourists to try it [7,11]. Mr. Huang, a teashop owner, has never heard of the Three-Course Tea as he is relatively new to the village; however, he prefers his tea without additives which insinuates that he would not love San Dao Cha, whose main objective is to create varying flavors by adding in miscellaneous ingredients and spices [14]

Mr. Dang, however, has a different opinion. Like Mr. Huang, he prefers his tea in its pure flavor. When I had visited him, he had offered me some tea. It was green, brewed consistently, with a strong, bitter flavor. After I tasted it, it told me a lot about what people here generally preferred as he was drinking the tea along with many of his friends around a small table. He believes that these traditions are superfluous and does not stretch very deeply into their culture. He has tried San Dao Cha before, and felt nothing of the proclaimed "spiritual, out of the body sensation". According to him, "Tea is not tea unless you drink it for what it is. These ceremonies—they put handfuls of sugar, spices, and additives over the tea. It is not even tea anymore." 

For Mr. Yang from the Linden Centre and Ms. Zhou, things were different [10,15]. They appreciate the course tea and the meaning that it embodies. Mr. Yang was intrigued in the history of tea in the Bai culture, and said that it was pitiful that the course was being washed away from Bai culture. For Ms. Zhou, the course held a bit more personal significance. The first course, or the bitter, represented the hardship one must endure; the second course, or the sweet, represented the sweet after the difficult times. This was important to her personally as her past was not the easiest, and the life she is leading nowadays is so much more happier compared to that of the earlier times. Last but not least, the aftertaste, or the third course. This, in her perspective, meant looking back on her life so far and appreciating the ups and downs, twists and turns, and to truly appreciate how far she has come and how much experience she has gained. 

In Phase 3, I have gathered the information I need for my final project. In Phase 4, I will be organizing my notes and filtering out the bad information as well as sketching out a storyboard and/or blueprint for my final product. Follow my journey. 


1. Fallows, James. Village DreamersThe Atlantic. October 2009 Issue.
2. Horton, Chris. Getting Away: XizhouTravel. Published September 14, 2011.
3. 云南茶叶种类中国咖啡网. Published April 10, 2012. 
4. 三道茶Baidu Baike. Accessed Jan. 23, 2017.
5. Yan, Lihua [Grandma]. Brief interview hosted by Angela Chen, January 24, 2017.
6. Chen, Minghui [Mom]. Brief interview hosted by Angela Chen, January 25, 2017. 
7. Zhao. Personal conversation hosted by Angela Chen, March 8th, 2017. 
8. Du. Personal conversation hosted by Angela Chen, March 8th, 2017. 
9. Dang. Personal conversation hosted by Angela Chen, March 9th, 2017. 
10. Yang. Personal conversation hosted by Angela Chen, March 9th, 2017. 
11. Dong, Zhang. Personal conversation hosted by Angela Chen, March 10th, 2017. 
12. Wang. Personal conversation hosted by Angela Chen, March 13th, 2017. 
13. Cheng. Personal conversation hosted by Angela Chen, March 13th, 2017. 
14. Huang. Personal conversation hosted by Angela Chen, March 15th, 2017. 
15. Zhou. Personal conversation hosted by Angela Chen, March 15th, 2017. 
16. Wang. Peronsal conversation hosted by Angela Chen, March 20th, 2017.  

Hi! My name is Angela and I am a student from Shanghai American School. I was a part of the Superior Microcampus group, and staying at Xizhou for the all of March in 2017 was something I will never forget. It was one of the most difficult, frustrating, uncomfortable, and unforgettable opportunities I will ever have the honor of experiencing. I had learned so much values and knowledge over the course of those 28 days, and these lessons are what I will be carrying with me for the years to come.