How the Art of Tea Preparation Makes Better Optometrists

The Confucius Institute held an event that taught a practical skill—tea making—alongside another, life-changing one.

tea ceremony
Lala Zhang, tea master

Many of SUNY College of Optometry’s students and doctors admit that one of the most satisfying aspects of their profession is the chance to interact with patients. Yet there is a skill that underlies this ability to effectively engage, converse and work with those under their care: patience. And so this August, the Confucius Institute for Healthcare (CIH) invited the College community to experience an unexpected way to foster patience—and learn practices that could ultimately make them better, more mindfully present optometrists.

Beyond the Tea Leaf: Gong Fu Cha Brewing was the opening event for the 2018-19 academic year by CIH. The institute is a joint project of SUNY College of Optometry and Wenzhou Medical University. Alongside an annual trip to China in which College staff and students get to experience a range of optometric care practices and cultural offerings, the College holds a variety of events. “In recognition of the mounting pressure students face as finals draw near in every semester, CIH proposed to set up a series of workshops to relieve stress through elements of Chinese culture,” says Dr. Guilherme Albieri, the director for CIH who is also the vice president for student affairs and chief diversity officer.

One such offering was this lunchtime gathering, where participants learned about Gong Fu Cha, a method of brewing tea developed in China more than five hundred years ago.

The ceremony was conducted by Ms. Lala Zhang, a tea master who runs two teahouses in Wenzhou, China. She is also the senior member of the Tea Appreciation Society of China. And as a (very cute) bonus, her two sons, ages 10 and 12, served the tea to attendees at SUNY Optometry.

Beyond teaching guests about Gong Fu Cha brewing, Beyond the Tea Leaf also explored the many different types of teas grown in China, as well as ways to unlock the full taste potential of each. To encourage participants to take what they learned at the ceremony and use it at home, it was suggested that guests bring (and use) their own teapots in the step-by-step demonstrations of preparation. It was, according to event organizers, an afternoon dedicated to the practice of “doing more with less.”

“In the field of optometry, some technical procedures, such as refraction and ocular health examination, can seem rote after performing them countless times every day. The spirit behind Gong Gu tea is applicable here—there is an appreciation for each motion at every part of the process,” says Dr. Albieri. “With patience and deliberate focus, this repetition enables optometrists to hone their skills and over time pick up nuances even in the simplest techniques, which makes their work truly both an art and a science.”

Approximately 20 faculty and staffers and 50 students attended the ceremony. One was Adam Rosner, Class of 2022. “I decided to attend because I was looking for something that would enrich me on a spiritual level in preparation for the months of rigorous study ahead,” he says. “A highlight was volunteering to pour the tea in place of the tea master, and subsequently drinking the tea that I poured. It really put me in a zen state of mind that I think back to often.”