When Hsieh Hsiao-man (謝小曼) decided to leave the corporate world, she went back home — literally. She is the owner of Hsiao Man (小慢), a teahouse, restaurant and clothing store that operates in her childhood home near National Taiwan Normal University (國立臺灣師範大學, also known as Shida, 師大).
Though Hsiao Man is just steps away from the bustling Shida night market (師大夜市), the quiet space seems like it is a world apart. Located on the ground floor of an apartment building, the exterior of the teahouse is lined with a slate tile overhang; a short stone path leads up to a wooden door hidden by small trees and flowering shrubs. The only way passersby can tell Hsiao Man is a place of business is an unobtrusive wooden sign and tiny table with a small batch of name cards.
“My guests always tell me that they walked by Hsiao Man for years without even realizing we are here,” says Hsieh, adding that most of her customers find out about the teahouse through word of mouth.
Opened in 2007, the teahouse’s name is a play on Hsieh’s given name and literally means “little slow.” The building was constructed about 40 years ago and Hsiao Man’s stone floors and wooden beams are original. Its interior is furnished with a mixture of antique pieces and tables custom-built from recycled wood. Aside from a few lamps that cast a warm glow, most of the light filters in from large wood-framed windows.
“I want to create a place where guests can come in, experience a relaxed, slower-paced atmosphere and have to a chance to breathe,” Hsieh says.
Before opening Hsiao Man, she spent seven years in Japan, where she studied fashion design and worked in marketing and research at Seibu Department Store. After returning to Taipei, Hsieh was employed at a bank when she attended a gathering of tea enthusiasts. Seventy-eight booths were set up, each featuring a different type of tea and decorated to reflect the host’s personal aesthetic.
WHAT: Hsiao Man (小慢)
WHERE: 39, Ln 16, Taishun St, Taipei City (台北市泰順街16巷39號)
OPENING HOURS: Tuesdays to Sundays from 10am to 10pm
TELEPHONE: (02) 2365-0017
ON THE NET: www.wretch.cc/blog/hsiehxiaoman
“That event had a huge influence on me,” says Hsieh. “I found out that tea could not only be good to drink, but also beautiful and quiet at the same time.”
To Hsieh, sharing tea with friends and taking the time to enjoy its subtle aroma are small acts that represent a larger attitude toward life.
“It’s about wabi-sabi,” says Hsieh, referring to a Japanese term that means focusing on the beauty in imperfection. “It’s about simplicity. I want to use tea as a way to create an experience and a lifestyle.”
On a recent visit, Hsieh and a friend brewed high mountain tea (高山茶) in a small ceramic pot and served it in tiny porcelain cups, each of which held only two or three sips. Each pot usually produces five rounds of tea and guests are encouraged to note the difference in flavor as the steeping time increases. The material the teapot is made out of, the quantity of leaves and the temperature of the water also influence the taste and aroma of the beverage.
Most tea served in Hsiao Man is brewed from leaves grown in Taiwan. Hsieh visits areas known for tea production like Lishan (梨山), Alishan (阿里山) and Lugu Township (鹿谷) in Nantou County, where she buys leaves from farmers who grow tea in small quantities using traditional seeding, harvesting and preparation methods.
Hsiao Man also offers lunch and dinner based on Japanese-style home cooking and made with seasonal ingredients. The space recently began carrying linen and cotton clothing by Jikonka and handmade sterling silver and brass jewelry by O2O2; both brands are run by designers Hsieh met during return visits to Japan.