When searching videos about Zeng Xiaolong online, you might find a video with highest click rate, in which he is stepping on the stage in a long blue robe. When the music starts, he begins to twirl his long spout teapot back and forth, flips it high into the air and tosses it out in the next instant. At the very moment when the teapot is on the brink of slipping out of his hands, he grabs hold of it with a rush and retracts it swiftly. Then with a turn, he holds up the teapot body while lowering its spout: a jet of water rushes out of the teapot and right arrives in the covered-bowl tea cups on the table.
Sometimes, it seems as if he is dancing and sometimes practicing Kung Fu. Enshrouded in the stage lit atmosphere, the glittering long spout copper teapot is just like a sword when he wields it energetically that long spout teapot is nothing but his "weapon" that has shared weal and woe with him for ten odd years.
Daring to Dream Big
Zeng Xiaolong recalls that long spout tea performers were rare in number in 1999 when he was still a novice. "At that time, there was only one skilled performer for making tea employed by tea specialists, like the one upstairs in our restaurant." With his arms raised, he makes a motion of lifting up the teapot to pour tea.
Mr. Zeng, leaving Dazhou for Chengdu, once served as a busboy in this restaurant. However, instead of reconciling himself to a monthly wage of 300 RMB, he kept searching for other ways out. One day, while strolling alongside a river, he happened to pick up a newspaper. On it, he got a glimpse of a recruitment ad for some place for tea performers with an annual wage of 10 thousand RMB. "I thought to myself that I can do it, too!" Although 18 years have elapsed, he still exudes great joy when recalling the past.
Then Mr. Zeng resigned. Despite his background, he has an agile mind. He smiles, "When our manager asked me whether I can write, I said yes even though I couldn't. And speaking of putting up Christmas houses, I said yes again. I only took three days to finish it. Hordes of people swarmed to take photos." He never felt intimidated by his lack of tea mastery. Therefore, he bought a teapot to grope at the art of tea all by himself. "Most tea specialists only employ one motion and I wanted to make some variation. I kept practicing day after day." He, quite a late learner in tea art, participated in a tea art competition in 2001 and won the silver medal in Sichuan Province.
After that, he began thinking about working in Chengdu's best tea houses. Despite his original plan, he went to a famous local restaurant later. "When the manager of this restaurant called me (to offer me a job), I had thought it was the TV Station. At that time, when I was still socially inexperienced and keen to appear on TV, I decided to have a try." Then, Mr. Zeng began his work at this restaurant. At that time, his long spout teapot tea performance enjoyed great popularity among diners. In 2002, he earned over 7000 RMB for his first month of work.
Mr. Zeng, with his income on the rise, still wanted more. Consequently, he continued to participate in competitions and became the provincial gold medal winner. He learned from a friend that a Macao starred fine restaurant was looking for the best tea art specialist. "I had just won the gold medal. I said 'I am the best'." Several years on, he underwent the metamorphosis from an unreconciled young waiter to a champion tea art specialist with tremendous changes in his income, work and future.
A Genuine Self on the Stage
After these competitions, Mr. Zeng stepped into the tea art field. For a time, these young tea art specialists would have a gathering at Huanhuaxi Park to discuss tea skills. In Macao, China, by dint of his excellence in tea art, he received a tidal wave of applause from all dinners. However, he felt restless there.
"People said that I had the knack, but I felt that I did not live up to their praise." "Sometimes, when I teach some others a motion, they often quickly master it." "A knack means something unique to me. And I wanted to develop my own knack through practice."
Looking back, Mr. Zeng had quite a successful experience with competitions. But, he also suffered setbacks. From technical perspective, he has grown into a pioneer on the new generation of flair tea art. It is more than pure tea making. With a teapot in hands, he, just like a rush of wind, swiftly brandishes, twirls, tosses and wields it in a dazzling way. However, as half a year wore away, then a year, he felt no progress at all, though he never slacked off during practice.
"And I found myself at a loss when practicing tea art skills." Thereupon, Mr. Zeng turned to thinking differently. "Since it is hard to make progress in skills, why not better myself inwardly in tea art?"、
"My father plays flute and draws well. Maybe heredity works. Anything that you call art like drawing, music and so on is to my taste." When working in Macao, Mr. Zeng once heard stirring music from a hotel. Inspiring by that, he had someone make music clips for his performance, even with a variety of clanking knife and sword sound effects in some. When he was still a novice, he began to dip into calligraphy and Chinese painting. "Because of my background in calligraphy, after digging into my strengths, I decided to blend in tea art with calligraphy. It would be my special feature."
In 2011, Zeng Xiaolong participated in China's Got Talent and won a Silver Medal for most popular performance. Coming back to Chengdu from Macao, he gradually gathered a group of apprentices and established his own studio to teach tea art skills and to design performances. "Motions are not designed from nothingness and what matters most is practicing day after day. Sometimes, inspiration hits me in an instant, but sometimes, it takes a long while. Now and then, those gorgeous martial arts actions in films would marvel me. And with teapots in place of weapons, a new motion is created." Immersed in practicing skills, Mr. Zeng very much values tea art performance, "performing on the stage is an art."
In recent years, he has stopped being a regular in competitions and TV shows, and focuses his energy on creating improved long spout teapot tea performances. "Many people look down upon us for our lack of sophistication. So, I'm mulling over the injection of verses and poems." In a recent show called Hearkening to Spring, he has threaded in the classic story about the Huanhua girl through his show, thus adding cultural connotations to it.
"We, instead of dancing at whim, have our own rules." "To some, we don't belong in the mainstream tea art. But flair tea art has indeed become unique to Sichuan. People always think of Sichuan when seeing it."