Courses taught at universities across the country that offer real life knowledge are gaining in popularity with college students.
Among them a course introduced by Chen Iou-zen (陳右人), a professor in National Taiwan University’s (NTU) department of horticulture and landscape architecture, not only provides lessons on the art of tea and physical health, it also includes a weekly tea--tasting at which students can try four types of tea from around the world. The course has proved a big hit with students.
Chen, who is also known as “Doctor of Teas,” initially offered a course titled “Tea and the Tea Industry” available exclusively to students from the College of Agriculture and College of Life Science, with an upper limit of 15 students.
The course later sparked a frenzy among NTU students, when it became a frequent subject of online discussions on the university Bulletin Board Systems (BBS). As a result, there was a surge in the number of students wanting to attend the class.
Chen decided to make the course available to all NTU students four years ago, and more than 300 students have enrolled for the class every semester since.
“The course syllabus contains an introduction to the origins of tea trees and tea leaves, tea in China and around the world, the 10 most famous teas of Taiwan, the cultivation of tea trees and tea production, the relationship between tea and health, and the art of tea,” Chen said, adding that he does not conduct roll call in the class and students are not required to have a basic understanding of tea.
In addition to familiarizing students with the global tea industry, Chen said that he pays for the weekly tea--tasting out of his own pocket.
“In the course of a semester, students could try between 60 and 70 types of tea from Taiwan, China, Indonesia, India, Myanmar, Malawi, Kenya and South Africa,” Chen said.
He first organized the weekly tea-tasting event so that his students could observe up close the color, aroma and taste of different types of tea.
During each weekly session, Chen places different tea leaves, together with large barrels containing an infusion of each type of tea, in the four corners of the school auditorium, a venue used because of the large number of students enrolled in the class.
Waiting in line, students first place the tea leaves on a plate to observe their surface texture, fill a bowl with tea to examine its color, place infused tea leaves in a teacup and shake them to savor the aroma.
In order to ensure each student tastes all four teas on offer, Chen asks about seven postgraduate students to help out at each event.
They help him prepare the tea, arrange tea sets and engage students in conversation asking them their impressions of the different teas.
Noting the generosity of Chen, one student wrote online: “I am afraid professor Chen will bankrupt himself if he continues to treat so many students to such an array of different teas.”
Chen said that his main goal is to promote the tea industry.
An NTU department of finance student surnamed Hsiang (項), who is a former student of Chen, said the class taught her how to make a good pot of green tea, a passion of hers.
“I used to brew my tea with boiling water in a bid to speed up the brewing process. After taking the class, I realized that the process required the water to be at a lower temperature, about 60oC to 80oC, to make the pot of green tea less bitter,” Hsiang said.