Teance Founder Winnie Yu Remembered


Tea educator and entrepreneur Winnie Yu, who was an influential specialty tea retailer and one of the first direct-from-garden wholesalers died Sept. 11 from complications brought by stomach cancer. She was 47.

Her brother Fred Yu of New York confirmed the news which spread quickly over the social media network Facebook. Her parents and family were with her at the end. Funeral arrangements are pending.

There will be a memorial tea in New York on Friday afternoon after 3 p.m. in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park at the north end of the Long Meadow.

“Winnie is one of the most incredible human beings I have ever met,” writes Darius Moghaddam, a long-time employee. “She was a friend, a mentor, and a huge part of my family. There is a huge hole in my heart right now,” he said.

“The week she passed we saw the biggest solar flares in 12 years. The sky opened up for her,” writes John Kokko. “She fought tooth and nail to the end and even when everyone else said there was nothing left that could be done, she was keeping her heart beating through her indomitable will power alone. Through the whole process, she never complained and her mind was as clear as a spring well at a Chan mountain temple,” he said.

Scott Norton writes “it’s hard to sum up Winnie’s approach to tea and her contribution to the greater tea world in one or two lines.” He recalled when Teance Fine Teas first opened in Berkeley in 2006. “The clean space, the staging, the clarity of vision was astonishing. Teance was a vital access point for real knowledge and Winnie, who was often at the helm of the circular tea bar, was an open source of first-hand experience. Her teas (and tea ware) were always superb, reflecting both her attention to detail but also ambitious drive to raise the bar of local the local tea scene,” writes Norton, who works for Eyebeam and handles marketing for the West China Tea Company.

The Teance design (tea and ambiance) was by Fu Tung Cheng, a designer and friend who first partnered with Yu in 2002 when they opened the Celadon tea room in San Francisco. Their most recent collaboration was a cold brew brand produced in the Bay Area and New York.

“The Tea Lover’s Treasury” author James Norwood Pratt, who lives in San Francisco, was a long-time friend.

“Her father was one of Taiwan’s foremost calligraphers. He imparted a love of extraordinary teas to his daughter while she was quite young,” Pratt told World Tea News. “After a successful business career, Winnie devoted herself full-time to importing and selling ultra-premium teas, principally oolongs from Taiwan, at her stunning store,” he said.

Yu authored 574 blog posts during the past decade, her favorites were tagged tea adventures. Her first love was tea which was only rivaled by her commitment to tea education. The blog was authentic, approachable and people-focused. She really knew a lot about how tea is made and that showed.

Jesse Jacobs, founder of Samovar Tea in San Francisco writes that “Winnie was an inspiration to me. Her passion to tea and her intentionality with everything she did was an inspiration as a local business owner and a tea lover.”

“I first met Winnie when I happened into her first location, as I was intrigued in learning about tea,” he said. He launched Samovar in 2002, soon after Teance.

Jacobs, who operates three tea retail shops with a fourth to open in March 2018, said Yu “had a resolute focus and creativity in everything she did and her quiet and disciplined demeanor, her sense of humor, and her leadership in ushering in a new generation of tea to the American audience – will all be missed.”

Manik Jayakumar, founder of QTrade Tea & Herbs in Los Angeles did business with Yu for many years. He was shocked to learn of her death. “She worked to the end. Energetic and knowledgeable and famous for her oolongs, Winnie will be dearly missed by the tea community,” he said.

Yu was born in Hainan, China in 1970, moved to Hong Kong with her parents and later attended the Bronx High School of Science in New York. She studied business administration and art history at the University of California, Berkeley. She is co-founder and managing partner at Fogdog Cold  Brew Tea and Coffee.

She is survived by her parents and brother.