Every story has a beginning

From The First Tea War: a History

The following extract is a transcription in modern English of the unpublished memories of Zhèng Hai Dong, a Chinese scholar that finished his apprenticeship at the beginning of the First Tea War.

I opened the door silently not willing to disturb my Master. As I walked in, I see him on the right side of the window writing with a pencil on a table full with scrolls. As always, he is dressed with yellow clothes, the only outstanding thing on it being a embroidered dragon, one with 4 claws, his uniform as he calls it but mostly the symbol of his charge. Right now, he seems to focus on the characters he is drawing at the exclusion of anything else. For now, my own dragon is without any claw but this is why I am here, to learn and to one day be like him in a way with claws on my embroidered dragon.

Through the window a little wind blows that makes the flame hesitate as if it wanted to disappear. A mighty roar can be heard outside, one that seems to give back strength to the fire that sparkled with what seemed to be the strength of a thousand matches.

A pot made of clay is on the fire and boils producing a little music heard in the entire room, a room that I know well, full of books, scrolls… on shelves, on the floor, on tables… Someone looking at this room for the first time might have thought that it was kind of a mess, perhaps an organised one for someone but a mess nonetheless.

Walking towards the pot and bringing shining green leaves within a small jar, I was ready to use forceps to take some leaves out to pour them into the clay pot when I heard a deep voice that stopped me right in my tracks

“Did you read all the treatises I gave you to read?”
“Yes Master.”
“Tea has intrinsic aroma…“

Why does he always try to test my memory? I remember everything I read here from the beginning, every words he told me.

“But tribute tea manufacturers like to mix small amount of Dryobalanops aromatica camphor, supposedly to enhance the aroma. The local people of Jian’an never mix any incense into tea, afraid to robe the natural aroma of tea.”
“If you can quote Cai Xiang’s works why didn’t you check the leaves you were going to take. They smell like they were badly stored and I think I can even smell some mushrooms in them.”
“Master I know you are a tea expert but no one could smell something like that from where you stand.”

Turning towards the door, my Master looked saddened at me with eyes whose colours were shifting from one to another, bringing fire to them but what looked like a weakening one, a thing that always bothered and frightened me. I know it has something to do with his powers and that one day if I succeed, I will be like him but I find this frightening.

“Did you listen to anything in the months you were here, young one?”
“I listened to everyone of your words.”
“Did you learn anything from what you listened to or from what you read?”
“A lot, I can tell you the whole list of Emperors from the Three Sovereigns and the Five Emperors until today.”
“And yet you learned nothing about who we are and how things works.”

At this moment, I hear them both, speaking at once, the deep human voice of my Master and the mighty, so human and yet so inhuman voice of … how should I call Him? I know how He is calling himself and how others calls Him but is it His true name?

“Because We are One and one day you will too become One.”

At that moment, his eyes turned back to normal and I could only hear one voice and a roar in the distant but his voice was empty, sad and tired as if he was missing something or someone and wanted to get back to where he was.

“But We are also two and we have to.”

* * *

Later that day, I heard my Master calling me and when I came back into his library, I saw he was packing things up.

“Hurry, go to the stocks and bring me the usual selection of teas for travelling.”
“Where are you going?”
“WE have been summoned and we will obey. After you go to the stocks, I need you to bring me the true Dragon Well leaves, those from the imperial bushes that the Quianlong Emperor wisely protected. I will prepare them myself as any error in the tea would have tremendous and unwanted consequences for me. And don’t forget after to pack some more just in case. I don’t know what will be expected from us but I am worried we might not be able to get back home anytime soon.”

And this is how our trip began, a trip that would lead us to wars, to battles and sufferings, to great losses and to great discoveries, through Asia for the greater good or so we thought at that time.

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