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Art Tea

by Tara

With Tyler hard at work in our hotel room, I've bundled up for an afternoon of solo sightseeing. It's my favorite kind of weather for photographing old, aging places: grey and cloudy, not quite raining, but with a slight dreariness that throws into contrast all the gritty textures and colors of pockmarked stone, peeling paint, and mossy growths.

Art Tea, Hội An Folklore Museum Hội An Hanging Succulents Hội An Folklore Museum Art Gallery

In an aging courtyard behind Hội An's Folklore Museum, I've ordered tea. Sitting with cold stone chilling my thighs, I watch as water boils in a terra cotta kettle, caked in black soot from years on the coals. While grey smoke puffs and coughs and curls upwards from the vessel, the woman serving me is carefully washing her utensils with water fetched from a well created in the 8th century.

Woman Making Tea at Hội An Folklore Museum Black Tea Kettle The Jar Fills With Ba Le Well-Water Ba Le Well Explanation

When everything is ready, she ladles a pile of aromatic, dried leaves into a teapot and pours freshly boiled water over them. Breathing deeply, I smile as the subtle aroma of tea steeping wafts through the air. A few minutes later, my drink is ready. As I thank the woman, she smiles and nods, returning to her desk at the museum, leaving me alone to enjoy this experience in solitude.

Woman Making Tea at Hội An Folklore Museum Woman Making Tea at Hội An Folklore Museum

Next to me, light reflects on pearls of dew cradled in every petal and leaf's embrace.


The beverage is hot and fragrant, served in tiny shot glasses, accompanied by a hard, dry cookie called a "folk cake." Without the tea, it is nothing, tasteless, merely a shell of a cookie.

Hội An Tea Hội An Folk Cake in Ceramic Pumpkin Hội An Folk Cake

But with tea, the flavors come to life. The smallest nibble of that unassuming folk cake sends my mind reeling back to when I was a little girl and my mom would take me to tea ceremonies at Japan House. The atmosphere there was similar to how it is now: meditative, peaceful, quiet, intentional, poetic.

Art Tea, Hội An Folklore Museum

According to the customs of Vietnamese people, on moonlit nights, devotees set their boats on the lake and ponds when the lotus flowers are in bloom. They open the about-to-bloom lotus flowers and place a lot of tea inside each blossom, then close them with ribbon or string. Then they get the moonlit dew from the lotus leaves.

By dawn, the living scent of lotus impregnates the tea , and the gatherers have enough dew to add to their teapots. After a few hours of sleep, they enjoy a blissful afternoon of tea.

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