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Putting the tea into charity

Updated: 2012-08-24 15:30
By Yu Ran ( China Daily)

Putting the tea into charity

The Hongriting tea stand in a street in Wenzhou, Zhejiang province. It offers free tea to passers-by everyday to cool locals during the summer heat. The Hongriting tea stand has been open every summer for the past 40 years. Sun xinjian / For China Daily

Volunteers give free cooling cuppas to ward off summer heat

Wang A'nong has spent the past 20 summers offering free Chinese herbal tea to passers-by from a stall on a street in Wenzhou, Zhejiang province.

Wang, 75, starts making the refreshing beverage at 4 am every morning to ensure that anyone who passes by can have a free cup to fight off the fierce heat.

"I used to make tea for my neighbors and friends in the summer to kill off the heat. Now the habit has spread to become an act of street charity with help from volunteers," said Wang, the major organizer of the Hongriting tea stand, one of the most famous tea stands, which first opened more than 40 years ago in the city.

Wang added that all the people working at the stand are volunteers - mostly retired workers and young students.

The Chinese herbal tea, called fucha in Chinese, is a traditional drink made by boiling dozens of Chinese herbs including honeysuckle, self-heal and liquorice, which have a cooling effect on the body.

Wang is the one who has to spend about two hours every day mixing the dozens of herbs and putting them in tea bags by hand to make sure the tea is always fresh.

"In order to make sure the tea is properly boiled for drinking, we have to add water and stir the tea at the same time when we make the tea in the early morning," said Wang.

Supplying free tea during the summer is an old tradition in the countryside dating back to ancient times, when villagers put tea pots in summerhouses along the road for passers-by to drink. The tradition has been kept by Wenzhou residents for hundreds of years.

"There are many summerhouses in the city offering free tea in the summer. Our stand also supplies free rice congee to passers-by or the homeless to warm them up in the cold winter period," said Wang.

At Wang's stand there are about 50 people who work one day a week from 4 am until 6 pm.

Normally, five to six people are on duty every day, making about 16 buckets of tea and using more than five tons of water daily between June and September.

To keep the stand running, the organizers used to use their own money to pay for the herbs, water supply and dining expenses but now they also rely on donations from the public.

"We would like to have this kind of daily charity around us all the time. It's so touching to see people of different ages and from different areas busy working at the stand every day," said Huang Wei, the owner of a shop opposite who drops by to drink tea and offers to help when there is a shortage of volunteers.

On the streets of the city, there are hundreds of small-sized stands and summerhouses like Hongriting located either near residential communities or markets where crowds appear frequently. Shuimentou summerhouse is a small stand in a neighborhood where mostly volunteers are residents living nearby.

"My mother used to work in the stand as a volunteer when I was quite young and now I've followed her wishes to help because she's getting old," said Ying Xiumei, a 61-year-old volunteer at the Shuimentou stand, who has worked every Wednesday over the past 30 years supplying the tea.

Ying added that the feeling of helping others in daily charity work is so delightful she wants to pass the part-time work on to her children.

Every day, Shuimentou stand offers free tea to hundreds of passers-by and residents who consider the place to be more of a communication center or gossip stop than a mere tea kitchen.

"Drinking cups of fresh tea and chatting with the volunteers are on my daily schedule during the summer. I've enjoyed it a lot because I have made many friends since I retired," said Ge Guoming, a 53-year old retired worker who lives nearby and comes to the stand for free tea everyday.

Ge added that the precious tradition should be kept with hopefully more young people joining the group to take over the work and reinforcing Wenzhou's reputation as a city full of generosity and kindness.

Sun Yudan contributed to this story.

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