Traditional Hakka Craft: Caˇ Su (Tea Nest)

The traditional Hakka handicraft “caˇ su (茶壽, “cha shou” in Mandarin),” also known as “tea nest,” is a kind of insulation basket. This kind of heat preservation tool can keep a pot of tea hot or warm for more than 10 hours, which is equivalent to the function of a thermos. This invention was very important to rural families during early times in Taiwan because people did not have gas stoves or electric thermoses back then. It’s an excellent product that allows people to drink a sip of hot tea at any time in the cold winter. It was very popular and loved by ordinary families in the Dahu area of Miaoli County in the 1950s and 70s.
A variety of the Hakka craft caˇ su
(All images: Hakka Public Communication Foundation)

The first version of the “tea nest” was first designed by the master of Fayun Temple (法雲寺) in Miaoli and then handcrafted by Hakka women in the Wenshui Old Street (汶水老街) area of Shitan Township (獅潭鄉) in Miaoli County. Its origin is linked to the popular hobby of raising birds in the Miaoli area during the 1940s and 50s. At that time, because of the bird-raising boom, many bird-raisers started crafting bird nests with straw in order to facilitate the nesting of small birds in bird cages. Many women in rural areas made such bird nests from straws as a sideline job at the time and even mastered the skill of weaving the bird's nest.

One winter, a master living in Fayun Temple had to go back and forth to the kitchen for hot tea to entertain guests and found it very troublesome. She wondered if it was possible to use the current bird’s nest-making skills to make a nest for warming teapots, to achieve the thermal insulation effect. She later went to Wenshui Street and found a woman who was the most skillful in weaving the bird's nest. They studied how to craft a nest for teapots. After several improvements, the “caˇ su” was born.
Traditional Hakka Craft: Caˇ Su

The tea nest mainly used dried straws as the material, and then hemp rope (or plastic rope) to stitch the outer shell. The interior was wrapped with cotton wool and rags to make a cushion. At the same time, in order to achieve the effect of complete heat preservation, a lid was designed. The two combined together became a new household appliance with practical and cultural characteristics. This product first appeared in Fayun Temple. With its beautiful shape, colorful nylon cord texture and long-lasting heat preservation effect, the “caˇ su” won over all the guests at the temple. Besides being admired for its ingenuity, the tea nest also immediately became a hot commodity. Many local women began to learn how to make it. The demand for “caˇ su” injected a new source of living into the bird's nest craftsmanship that was already declining at that time.

This handicraft was gradually replaced by the arrival of water dispensers, which have a hot water tap. However, Liu Yu-ying (劉玉英), who lives on the old street of Wenshui, insisted on passing down this craft, and became the only surviving tea nest-making craftswoman in Taiwan. After the caˇ su was improved, not only can you put a teapot inside, you can also put a lunch box in it to keep it warm. For half a century, it evolved from being a useful and practical teapot warmer to a nostalgic folk craft for appreciation. The Hakka tea nest has become another memory of the traditional Hakka village, containing rich Hakka culture and the warm hospitality of Hakka people.
Liu Yu-ying is making caˇ su