On a quiet evening a few weeks ago I was sitting in the Tea House doing some paperwork and the phone rang. At this time of night a call is usually family or friends but this time it happened to be a fellow tea enthusiast who had visited the Tea House & taken tea with us. Since starting our business [& in my previous business life] we have had to make many speculative calls to growers, makers & tea experts seeking advice, help or just the chance for discussion around topics we were trying to understand so I recognised the tone in the callers voice. Steve introduced himself and asked if we minded him calling - of course not we said - it turned out that he, like us, has a real passion for tea and all that surrounds it. He explained that it was actually pretty difficult to find people to explore this subject with and he reached out to make a connection with the hope that we could share, discuss and explore this fascinating world together. Having been in this situation many times ourselves and been met by so much kindness in the tea world [plus always being happy to make new connections] we were of course very happy to oblige and we had a great initial discussion around the industry, our shared interests & the specific areas of tea & tea culture that captivated him.
Those of you who know us know that once we find a fellow tea enthusiast we are always keen to embrace conversation and stay in touch. Through conversation we discovered that Steve has a really strong interest in Buddhism and the place that tea plays in meditation & wider life. This is something we often discuss with customers so we asked Steve if he would be happy to put his thoughts in writing - he agreed! So....this is Steve & this is his fascinating blog on the mediative qualities of tea - taking us on a journey through the ages in China & Japan to our modern cup 'uniting us in our shared humanity & ever present during moments of human compassion'.
A comforting, connecting & unifying thought in light of the recent events happening around us. Thanks for writing this and allowing us to share Steve. We hope this will be the first of many collaborations!
The Meditative Qualities of Tea [Quiet Medicine] Steve is a primary school teacher with a love for poetry and writing. His fascination with tea and eastern philosophy has naturally led him to explore and write about the world of tea.
"In the liquid amber within the ivory-porcelain, the initiated may touch the sweet reticence of Confucius, the piquancy of Lao Tse, and the ethereal aroma of Sakyamuni himself” - Kazuko Okakura, The Book of Tea
Kazuko Okakura’s association of tea with the enlightened philosophers of eastern philosophy is testament to both tea’s historical connection with religious practice, and its transcendent qualities. Tea’s association with Buddhist practice dates as far back as the introduction of Buddhism into China, during the Han Dynasty (220-206BC), when Buddhists first discovered that the medicinal qualities of green tea helped facilitate deeper meditation and self-cultivation. Drinking tea as an aide to meditation became common practice among Chinese monks under Buddhist doctrines. During the Song Dynasty, tea became inseparable from the daily lives of Chinese monks; walking, meditation, meals and washing were all followed closely by the drinking of tea.
The culture of tea that exists in Japan today can also be attributed, unequivocally, to its close ties with Buddhist tradition. Revered Japanese monk Eisai Zenji is credited with bringing both the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism and green tea from China to Japan during the twelfth century. Following Chinese tradition, Japanese monks adopted drinking tea as a method for staying awake and alert during meditation (Zazen) and other rituals. Experiencing the calming qualities and powerful aroma of tea helped monks to awaken their senses, making it perfectly suited to a Zen monk’s search for enlightenment amongst the daily rituals of life in a temple. Within these rituals, tea drinking transcended being a mere method for enhancing meditative practice to become a form of meditation in its own right.
The Japanese tea ceremony (Chanoyu) embodies the philosophies of Zen Buddhism and is in itself a form of meditation. The Zen phrase, ‘ichi-go ichi-e’, literally translated as ‘one time, one meeting’, perfectly captures the beauty and essence of the Japanese tea ceremony. It serves as a pertinent reminder that the present moment is a unique and impermanent experience. Performed mindfully between two people, the ‘ordinary’ act of drinking tea becomes an opportunity to experience spiritual refreshment and a deeper sense of harmony within the universe.
The Chinese Buddhist practice of self-cultivation and the essential wisdom of the Japanese Tea Ceremony have ever-increasing value in today’s fast paced world. The world as we currently know it, as well as the many technological advances that brought it into being, can be characterised by a deficit of both slowness and continuity (Andre 2014): alarms alert the morning rush, meetings fill up busy diaries, cars and trains transport rushing commuters and conversation is often superficial and hurried. Coffee shops have boomed; temples to the worshipers of instant gratification and quick caffeine hits. Pausing is seen by many a busy mind as a hindrance that must be avoided in the name of restless productivity.
For many, this way of living has led and continues to lead to increased stress and mental health issues. Fortunately, mindfulness training has boomed in response to this growing deficit in mental wellbeing. It has helped many people to find a deeper sense of inner peace and an appreciation for living more mindfully. In simple terms, to live mindfully is to awaken from the state of being in which the mind wanders between thoughts of past or future, and, instead, opens up to the infinite possibility of the present moment and the beauty of the most subtle of experiences.
Following in the footsteps of the monks of China, many students of mindfulness have discovered that the medicinal benefits of tea facilitate a deeper sensitivity to the transitory nature of reality and connectedness to the present moment. From spirituality to science (only briefly), it is the chemical components of tea that help to facilitate this; the caffeine in tea, theine, bonds with the tannins in the tea which allows for slower absorption into the body, resulting in a calming effect.
“In tea, caffeine stimulates the central nervous system and the cardiovascular system by enlarging the diameter of the vessels in the cerebral cortex. When ingested in coffee, caffeine has a direct effect on blood circulation through the coronary system, stimulating an acceleration of the heart rate. In other words, tea is more of a stimulant than an excitant. It sharpens the mind, increases concentration, eliminates fatigue and enhances intellectual acuity.” (Tea History Terroirs Varieties)
In the spirit of the Japanese Ceremony, the experience of drinking tea can itself be the subject of our mindfulness and an opportunity to find some space in our lives. To prepare fine tea in a manner reverent to the effort that produced it, the mind needs to be focused and attentive. When preparing tea, we consider the perfect harmony of temperature and leaf. While drinking, we are warmed by the cup, lifted by the aroma and nourished by the taste of earth, sun, winds and clouds. The humble act of drinking tea gives us an opportunity to stop and acknowledge our place within the universe.
Tea’s soothing effect on the mind is also perhaps why tea lovers are so fond of sharing a ‘cuppa’ with friends and loved ones. Through the experience of patiently preparing a cup of tea, people become united in a simple process that leads to a moment of comfort and calm amongst the hectic world. While drinking tea, conversation seems to flow effortlessly and sincerely from a place of mutual fulfillment: the world put to rights, marital arguments resolved, old friendships rekindled, bereavement softened and wisdom shared from old to young. A cup of tea unites us in our shared humanity and is ever present during moments of human compassion.
Mindfulness: 25 Ways to Live in the Moment through Art Christophe Andre
Tea History Terroirs Varieties 2014 Kevin Gascoyne and Francois Marchand