top of page

Interview with Eastern Leaves

Embark on a tea journey with Lorela Lohan, visionary founder of WanderlusTea, as she delves into the captivating world of Eastern Leaves with Lorenzo, the co-founder of the company, along with his wife and esteemed Chinese tea expert, Vivian Zhang, and Alice, Eastern Leaves Tearoom Manager in Milan. In this exclusive interview, Lorela uncovers the rich history and inspiring vision behind Eastern Leaves, a tea company nestled amidst the remote mountains of Yunnan, as well as a tea house in Milan, Italy. From their humble beginnings to their global impact with their unique tea offering, tea education courses, and tea tours, Lorenzo and Alice share their remarkable story of passion, perseverance, and dedication. Join us as we unveil the essence of Eastern Leaves and the profound experiences it offers to tea enthusiasts worldwide.

PART I: Unveiling Eastern Leaves with Lorenzo and Lorela Lohan

Lorela Lohan: Welcome, Lorenzo! It's such a pleasure to chat with someone who has been so integral in transforming the tea industry. What was the initial inspiration behind starting Eastern Leaves in the remote mountains of Yunnan?

Lorenzo: Thank you, Lorela. The journey began when my wife Vivian and I first visited Mount Nannuo in Yunnan. We instantly fell in love with the area and its pristine environment. Recognizing the challenges local tea farmers faced in marketing their produce, we decided to take action. By investing in a plot of land and dedicating ourselves to sustainable tea cultivation, we aimed to make a significant impact not just on the environment but also on the local economy.

Lorela Lohan: That's quite inspiring. How did you approach the challenges of working in such a remote location?

Lorenzo: It was a challenge, particularly in terms of logistics and communication. We spent a lot of time building relationships with the local community and learning from their traditional knowledge. We also invested heavily in research to refine our tea production, which helped us develop a unique product that stood out in the market. Among the 50.000 ca. trees that grows in our forest, 300 of them are particularly old, and are called “Ancient Trees”, gǔshù 古树 in Chinese. They are 200-500 years old and their buds grow slowly, with a superior mineral and nourishment. Despite their cultural and environmental importance and the excellent tea they produce, they are still in danger. They are a protected species.

Lorela Lohan: Could you walk us through the founding history of Eastern Leaves?

Lorenzo: Sure thing. In 2014, the seeds of Eastern Leaves were sown when my wife Vivian Zhang, who is Chinese, and I purchased our first parcel of forest in Nannuo and the ancient trees in Lunan/Pasha. This marked the beginning of our journey into the world of tea. The following year, in 2015, we made a pivotal decision to turn our natural retreat into a way of life, and thus, Eastern Leaves was born. In China, our homeland and primary market, we are known as 东方大叶. As our commitment to tea deepened, and after gaining enough experience in the farming, harvesting, and processing of our teas, in 2019 we ventured into distribution, opening our first European shop in Milan, Italy. In 2020, after a decade dedicated to studying and farming tea, Vivian initiated the Eastern Tea Academy in collaboration with the Chinese government Tea Academy. This marked a new chapter in our journey, where we sought to share our knowledge and passion for tea with enthusiasts and professionals alike.

Lorela Lohan: Your efforts paid off when you began exporting your tea to Europe. How did you manage to bridge the gap between Yunnan and European markets?

Lorenzo: Historically, the European market has predominantly operated through importer and distributor relationships, often overlooking the direct involvement of producers. This created a gap in cultural understanding and expertise between original producers and the European market. To address this, we took the initiative to incorporate self-distribution, serving as a cultural bridge ourselves. Over time, as demand grew, we opened a tea room in Milan to directly engage with our European customers and offer them a deeper experience of our brand and philosophy. 

Lorela Lohan: Opening a tea room in Milan seems like a significant step. Why choose Milan and how has the response been?

Lorenzo: Milan is a city renowned for its culinary heritage and appreciation for authentic food experiences. It was the perfect place to introduce our teas and the stories behind them. The response has been overwhelmingly positive, with people embracing not just our tea but also the culture and knowledge we bring through our Eastern Tea Academy.  It is the place we have long dreamed of and that collects everything that we are: the teas from our forest, and the teas we select from the best Chinese producers, besides unique hand-made ceramics from Yixing, Jingdezhen and from the Yunnan Dai minority. Everything surrounded by the wood furniture designed by Suyuan. Teas, teaware and furnitures to express the best of China's craftsmanship.

Lorela Lohan: Speaking of the Eastern Tea Academy, could you tell us more about it?

Lorenzo: Absolutely. The Academy was founded with the idea of spreading knowledge about Chinese tea cultures and techniques. After ten years since the beginning of our journey, first as tea scholars and then as producers, we want to offer a solid structure to our words, and pave the path for all tea enthusiasts. Vivian graduated at the highest level from the Chinese Tea Academy, after attending courses in Beijing and completing her specialization in Kunming, and over the years, she has added the various degrees of the official training on tea - from the ceremony to the cultivation - to her liberal education in Ancient Chinese Literature. In 2016 she graduated with a Master degree in Food and Beverage Management, at Bocconi University in Milan, too. Hence, we designed an educational program to enrich the knowledge and awareness on tea and to train future tea professionals, with the purpose of forming skilled, conscious, and critical tea drinkers, ready to keep improving and take an active part in the growing global industry of fine tea. We offer a range of certified courses and masterclasses, both online and in person, catering to enthusiasts and professionals alike. It's about connecting people with the rich heritage of tea, regardless of where they are. 


A long-term course on Chinese teas and terroir, with elements of Chinese language: the beginning of your independent travel into Chinese leaves and markets. Course info.


The official in-depth course to become a tea professional in China, introducing advanced theory and tasting practices, with a final exam. It requires the Small-leaf course. Course info.


The tea club Four Seasons in Tea unites the Tea Academy and Tea Tours: it takes you to tea forests and gardens, exploring a single terroir through the eyes of local farmers and experts. It is a journey divided in four chapters, one for every season of the year. Each chapter is shipped quarterly, starting this September. It is designed with the imagination of a traveler on the mountain, and village after village you make your way tasting and evaluating teas following the famous routes. We start by focusing on Yunnan and Pu'er tea, slowly discovering small local productions and the flavour shades of each terroir, where the roads of Xishuangbanna will lead us. Explore the Four Seasons in Tea.

Lorela Lohan: In 2020, you faced challenges with the pandemic and weather, yet you managed to increase your presence in Europe. How did that come about?

Lorenzo: Indeed, 2020 was a challenging year due to the pandemic and adverse weather conditions. However, it also brought opportunities. Our online sales surged, and with the cooperation of small farmers in the area, we were able to maintain our production. This helped us strengthen our presence in the European market and distinguish our brand even further.

Lorela Lohan: And with travel restrictions easing, how has tea tourism evolved at Eastern Leaves?

Lorenzo: Once travel to China resumed, we began welcoming private guests from all around the world. Tea tourism, combined with the exploration of Chinese food delicacies and tea culture, really took off. Many tea lovers are now making their passion a reality by visiting our tea forests. In 2024, we organized three tea tours, all of which are already fully booked. It’s a wonderful way to share our love for tea and Chinese culture more intimately.

Lorela Lohan: I've heard you've also launched an internship program. Could you elaborate on that?

Lorenzo: Yes, we recently started an internship program aimed at tea enthusiasts who want to delve deeper into the world of tea production and culture. The response has been incredible, and I'm particularly moved by the fact that we have several visitors who return every year. It's a testament to the community we're building around our love for tea and its cultural significance.

Lorela Lohan: Lastly, what future plans do you have for Eastern Leaves?

Lorenzo: Our focus is on expanding our educational offerings and continuing to enhance our sustainable practices. We're also exploring new ways to connect with tea lovers around the world, possibly through more interactive and immersive experiences. Our journey with Eastern Leaves is about constantly learning and evolving.

Lorela Lohan: Thank you, Lorenzo, for sharing your inspiring journey with us. It's clear that Eastern Leaves is more than just a tea company; it's a passion project that is making a real difference.

Lorenzo: Thank you, Lorela. It’s been a pleasure discussing our journey and future aspirations with you.

PART II: Exploring Eastern Leaves' Unique Tea Experience with Alice and Lorela Lohan

Lorela Lohan: Thank you, Alice, for welcoming me here at your beautiful Eastern Leaves tea house in Milan. It’s a pleasure to conversate while enjoying these exquisite teas 2023 Sheng Pu’ers (Ancient Trees and Wild Forest) from with you. To start, could you tell us a bit about how you began your journey with Eastern Leaves?

Alice: Absolutely, Lorela. I started working with Eastern Leaves at the opening of this tea house in 2019. I’ve always had a passion for great botanicals, and when the opportunity arose to work with a company as authentic and rooted in tradition as Eastern Leaves, I couldn’t resist. It’s been a fascinating journey, especially here in Milan, where we’ve been introducing these special teas to a new audience.

Lorela Lohan: Speaking of Milan, how have you established your presence here, especially given the strong espresso culture?

Alice: It’s been an interesting challenge and opportunity. Our European Studio and showroom, right opposite Terroir Milano, provides a unique setting where we can introduce our teas directly to the public. The location helps, as Terroir Milano attracts people who appreciate artisanal products and are conscious about the global value chain. Here, we offer something unique that complements the local culture while also standing apart.

Lorela Lohan: That’s a strategic location indeed. How have the Milanese and visitors responded to your tea offerings, especially considering the deep-rooted espresso culture?

Alice: The response has been more positive than we initially anticipated. There’s a growing interest in tea among Italians, especially within gastronomic circles. Sommeliers and restaurant owners, who are keen to offer a refined and diverse experience to their patrons, often become curious about our teas. However, the choice of tea in many establishments is still largely influenced by their coffee brand affiliation. Restaurants often choose bigger and more famous multinationals for their beverage selections, which can frequently provide an assortment of both coffee and tea, reducing their curiosity for tea, which shows there's a pattern dictated by existing partnerships more than a direct preference for the tea itself.

Lorela Lohan: It’s fascinating how coffee brands can influence tea selection. In your experience, how do you approach these establishments to consider Eastern Leaves' unique teas?

Alice: Our approach is quite personalized. We are often contacted by the restaurant in question for a tasting session and then if the owner is interested, we start a training course to introduce them to how to serve the tea and how to propose it to the customers. It’s about creating an experience around the tea that they can then translate into their own settings. 

Lorela Lohan: That sounds like an effective strategy. Can you share any success stories or particularly memorable moments from these sessions?

Alice: One memorable instance was when the owner of MU dimsum (a gastronomic Chinese restaurant)  included teas in their own offerings as a pairing alternative to the wine. Most of the tea is coming from our shop.

Lorela Lohan: That must have been quite rewarding. Lastly, what future plans does Eastern Leaves have for expanding or evolving the tea offering at restaurants in Italy?

Alice: Looking ahead, we plan to deepen our educational offerings through workshops and masterclasses, which we hope will foster a more nuanced understanding of tea. We also intend to collaborate more closely with local culinary schools such as Alma (The School of Italian Culinary Arts) and gastronomy experts to integrate tea into the culinary arts more organically. It’s about building a culture of tea appreciation that parallels the deep appreciation for coffee here in Italy.

Lorela Lohan: Thank you, Alice, for sharing your insights and experiences. It's clear that Eastern Leaves is making a significant impact here in Milan, and I look forward to seeing how your efforts continue to shape the local tea culture.

Alice: Thank you, Lorela. It’s been a pleasure discussing our work with you, and I too am excited about the future of tea here in Milan.

Photos by Eastern Leaves.

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page