Niccolo Chengdu is capitalizing on the rich history in cultivating unique artisanal tea in its city with the addition of a new tea sommelier to its staff.
Lily Zhou will lead a personalized Tea Ritual experience for guests at the hotel's Tea Lounge, set in the glass box entrance to the hotel. Zhou will ensure that guests understand the value of traditional, locally sourced teas, many of which are one of a kind.
The Tea Lounge also serves its own organic green tea from plants grown in the local Mengding tea mountain. The first harvest proved to be quite popular with guests, as the Lounge ran out of the specific tea within a few days. The next harvest will be next year in April and will yield a much larger amount of tea, the hotel promised.
Born into a family of tea farmers, Zhou from the age of 12 worked on her household's tea plantation, where she learned the intricacies involved in tea cultivation and consumption. Throughout the next decade, she further advanced her knowledge of tea, which included learning authentic techniques to extract flavors from the tea leaves.
Studying under Wang Guofu, one of the world's youngest tea masters, Lily brought her skills to Chengdu. She is skilled at identifying and recommending tea leaves, taking in multiple factors such as weather, season, gender and physical appearance. Guests also have the freedom to choose one of the 36 different types of tea for Lily to serve at the Tea Ritual. The graceful performance includes explanation on the tea-pouring process as well as allusions to ancient poetry and stories about tea.
Lily is currently finishing her training and will be completing her tea sommelier studies in August, after which she can share her talents and skills with guests of The Tea Lounge.
Like a wine expert, a tea sommelier is a person who has training on how teas are made and brewed as well as what their potential effects are on the body and mind. A well-trained tea sommelier can recommend a tea to someone who doesn't know much about the subject, based on what other foods and drinks they enjoy. It takes years of tasting, training, knowledge and lifelong learning to become an expert in tea. Most specialists come from families who have been in the tea industry for generations and were exposed to the tradition at young ages.