The Tea Master of Hukou

Photos by MJ Klein

We residents of Hukou are fortunate enough to have our very own Tea Master – our good friend Mr. Gan. Hui-chen and I visited Mr. Gan’s shop in downtown Hukou and interviewed him about his history, family and profession.

Hukou’s very own Tea Master, Mr. Gan, pouring tea for guests in his shop

Mr. Gan’s early career was with a bottled gas company. He used to deliver gas bottles himself, and he proudly proclaims that the gas bottles never touched his shirt because he didn’t want to cause laundry problems for his wife. This required considerable strength and effort to accomplish. The gas company for which he worked eventually merged with another gas company and to this day he is still a stock holder. The appeal of delivering gas soon wore off, and Mr. Gan began to investigate the inner workings of the Taiwan tea business.
Mr. Gan’s father was keenly interested in tea and his love for tea is what fueled Mr. Gan’s interest in tea culture as a youth. Mr. Gan began to study the ways of tea and eventually opened his shop in downtown Hukou, 27 years ago.

A Taiwanese of Hakka decent (like many people in this region), Mr. Gan is a recognized authority on local history and culture, having contributed articles to many historical publications. Mr. Gan has brought his son into the business and he plans to retire next year when his daughter completes her studies in Japan.

When you visit Mr. Gan’s shop you will see this unassuming teapot that he has been using for years. It has a “dent” in the side of it that just adds to the character of the pot. Mr. Gan is a humble man, extremely generous and is very well read on a variety of topics. One thing that I really appreciate about this man is that he can converse authoritatively on so many different fields of interest that one never feels bored in his company, nor the need to be particularly interested in, or educated about tea. You may sit down in Mr. Gan’s shop and talk about just anything and everything, over a cup of his legendary oolong.

Mr. Gan preparing tea in his favorite teapot

Mr. Gan is a Taiwan government licensed Tea Master. This means that he is qualified to teach courses on all aspects of tea. As I said before, he is a humble man and didn’t really want to hold these certificates for a photograph. In fact, these certificates are not even on the wall in public view, but rather in a folder on the shelf.

Closeups of the previous 2 certificates

In Taiwan, “DIY” means that you can do something yourself. In this case, this particular certificate says that Mr. Gan is qualified to actually ferment and produce his own tea. I have had the pleasure of drinking tea made by Mr. Gan for one of his classes and I found the flavor to be excellent. Of course he brushed it off as just something he did for his class and nothing special. Keep in mind that Mr. Gan had given me a huge bag of this home-brewed tea and it lasted for months. In that time I didn’t buy any new tea from him. What I found interesting is that the tea he made was a hybrid with an extremely interesting aroma. Very enjoyable!

I finally did get him to pose with the last certificate.

Oh, please note that I chose to not use flash on these photos of Mr. Gan because I just don’t like flash portraits outside of a studio or a well set-up location shoot. There are some deep shadows of course, but when you are sitting in Mr. Gan’s tea shop you will have the same visual experience as seen in these photos.

Hukou Tea Master

This photo shows a government publication that Mr. Gan contributed to.  Mr. Gan is a noted amateur historian on the Hukou area, where his family has lived for generations.

Hukou Tea Master

Mr. Gan proudly showed us this page in the publication, which shows the original Gan family home, and the Gan family tomb.  Much of what is written in this section was personally authored by Mr. Gan.

Hukou Tea Master

This bottle is some kind of special alcohol that Mr. Gan makes.  All I can tell you is that it tastes very good!

Hukou Tea Master

Mr. Gan has a wide range of items in his shop.  This teapot is worth approximately US$3,500!  The script is real and all done by hand.

Let’s take a look at his shop:

Hukou Tea Master

View of his shop from the front door

Hukou Tea Master

Hukou Tea Master

Hukou Tea Master

If you happen to travel near Hukou, be sure to visit Mr. Gan’s tea shop.  You won’t be disappointed!

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  1. Enjoyed that post very much. He looks like a friendly guy and I bet he has a few stories to tell ! You ought to get some of those stories down on audio (and or video). Twenty years ago my step-father did some audio interviews with some of the more senior members of our town, including my grandfather. He typed up the transcripts and ended up with quite a substantial oral history of the town. Absolutely fascinating stuff and often quite moving. I wonder if there are any similar oral history projects in Taiwan? Blogging would be the perfect medium for that kind of project, especially if lots of people got involved.

    1. naruwan » you know, you are absolutely right about that. i’m probably not the person to do the interview because i’m not interchangeably fluent in Chinese. would you be interested in putting such a project together? Mr. Gan is not the ordinary shop owner. he’s been there nearly 30 years and his knowledge of the Hukou area is considerable. i’d hate to lose that resource…. you would love his stories!

      one thing that i appreciate about Mr. Gan is that i’ve taken many people to his shop and he never pushes a sale on anyone. in fact, he’ll make tea all night, totally free of charge and never once ask you if you want to take a look at something in the shop. he knows that if someone is interested, they will say so. he’s just a very cool person. come to Hukou sometime and have a chat with him. 🙂

  2. Great post MJ. I am a mug when it comes to tea. Mr Gan sounds like a very interesting person. What does his homemade alcohol taste like?

    MJ. Another question for you as you are experienced in this field, cameras.

    I am currently looking at upgrading, I want better quality pictures and the cameras I am looking at are:

    Canon EOS 40D

    Nikon DSLR 40DX
    Nikon DSLR 60D
    Nikon DSLR 80D

    Any comments, from you would be appreciated.

    Thank you in advance MJ.


    Brunty’s last blog post..Barn Nawk or Hillbillies Alive and Well in Isaan Thailand.

    1. Brunty » Mr. Gan is a hoot. he always comes up with something funny and observant.

      the alcohol is nothing like what i’ve had before. i cannot describe it. but it seems like i should go back and have some more and at least try to describe it for you ;).

      Nikon D40 and i’m not sure you even want the “X” model. Ken Rockwell (dot com) has reviews of all these cameras. The D80 is a dead issue by now. the D40 has the latest software and all you have to do is look at Todd’s photography to know it’s a world-class rig. but, if had to do it all over again, i would get the D300 – when you need to make absolutely sure that whatever you shoot gets captured. the D300 is like a shotgun – you sorta aim it in the direction you need and pull the trigger. done deal. which ever one you get, make sure you get some good glass to go with it.

    1. Brunty » that’s what i like to hear, my friend. for some reason many people dis Ken because of his practical views of photography. he’s not considered a “real” photographer by some in the community, but i suspect it’s a case of professional jealousy. Ken is very successful and that irks some people. i find myself agreeing with much of what he says on his website (the technical stuff i mean). please by all means let us know what you get!

      btw, i want to sell my D80 😉

  3. Kens photography is realy, really good and his reviews are honest and straight forward. He gives the D40 a big thumbs up and is one of his main cameras He uses it a lot and the picture quality top notch, sadly probably better than the D80, so I have to pass on you offer, ha ha.

    I read his reviews on the D40, D60 and D80 and he recommends the D40. I I also like your recommendation of the D300 and ken also gave this camera great reviews as well. I am going to get prices locally and then in Bangkok when I go there next week. So now I am looking at the D40 or D300.

    Thanks for the help and the heads up MJ.

    Brunty’s last blog post..A Scratched Car, A Dead Chicken and more to Come. Thailand.

    1. Brunty » as you know, its not the camera but the skill of the photographer that gets the job done. btw, there’s going to be a huge difference in the price of the D40 and the D300. the D40 does not have a focus motor so you have to use certain lenses but you shouldn’t find that to be a limiting factor. take care.

  4. Great post and photos. I’m also a closet tea buff–in fact, the Wysteria here in Taipei was my must-visit sanctuary every weekend until they closed for renovation over a year ago. Hopefully, they will reopen this month.

    I’d also like to visit Mr. Gan should the opportunity ever present itself.

    Prince Roy’s last blog post..Eddy Burrito: a guy, a gal, and a hotplate

    1. Prince Roy » you should make time some weekend afternoon…. i’m sure you’d agree afterwards that it was well worth the effort.

  5. A huge difference in price of the cameras. The D40 around 25,000THB the D300 is around 65,000 THB. Like you said it does come down to the photographer. I have been reading Ken’s site and he has sold me on the D40, he gives it big wraps and pretty well swears by it. I have read other peoples reviews and many say the same. Thanks mate.

    Brunty’s last blog post..Songkran or Water Festival. Thailand.

    1. Brunty » Todd has a D40. i was going to get one for HC but she said she didn’t want an SLR. she likes her point and shoot. let us know what you’re gonna get Brunty, even though we can take a good guess!

  6. hey guys,,,i hope you won’t mind if i tag along as well??? hmmm,,am not a photographer though….am just interested on the tea shop!!! LOL…

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