Music from Chinese lutes floats through the room; sunlight streams in from wood-framed windows and skylights and bamboo curtains create dappled patterns on the tatami mats. Green moss clings to the dark red-brick walls. In the small Japanese garden at the back, a spring bubbles quietly amid little ponds and stone tables.
The teahouse’s owner, Chow Yu, who resembles the wispy-bearded sage of Chinese landscape painting, performs a serving ritual, mixing teas and warming miniature pots and bowls with delicate and elegant gestures. Teahouses in imperial China, he explained, were places where the literati gathered. No other traditional culture venerates writers and intellectuals as much as the Chinese. Chow uses only the ceramic ware favored by the scholarly class in old China: Yixing, which best retains the flavor of tea.
Wistaria is connected as much to Taiwan’s eventful modern history as to the classical past. Built in 1921, the two-story building was originally Chow’s family residence. “Many writers and intellectuals would gather here in the 1950’s to talk about art and politics,” he said. “It was dangerous, because Taiwan was under martial law and we could have been accused of sedition.” After Chow turned the building into the Wistaria in 1981, it became the favorite watering hole of intellectuals and politicians who participated in the movement for democracy in 1987.