Tea is one of the oldest and most popular beverages in the world. It is integral to the rhythm of life throughout Asia, the Middle East, and parts of Europe. Here in the U.S. we are experiencing a surge of new tea options that take us far beyond Lipton's iced. Our own appreciation of tea started eight years ago with an exquisite cup of oolong in Portland's Chinese Garden. Slowly, slowly, tea has woven its way into our lives bringing with it a slew of benefits and a host of joys.
Say Hello to Camellia sinensis
While there are many types of tea-green, oolong, black, pu'er—it all comes from the same plant—Camellia sinensis. (We may call infusions of peppermint and chamomile and other herbs tea, but technically they are not.) What's special about the tea plant is that when the leaves are brewed they release caffeine along with theanine, a stress-relieving amino acid. This combination of compounds leads to a lovely balanced state of both alertness and relaxation—a calming lift in mood sometimes known as tea mind. It is one of the reasons everyone from monks to office workers enjoy imbibing in a cuppa.
The level of these compounds varies from tea to tea. One of the keys to enjoying tea is finding what works for your body and your taste buds—be it a grassy green, a mellow oolong, a robust black, or an earthy pu'er. As with everything, quality matters. Personally, we have gradually switched from drinking so-so industrially produced tea, to premium whole leaf tea grown by farmers who can afford to care. This difference in tea quality has doubled our price per cup from 25 cents—to 50 cents. That's right, tea is one of the most reasonably priced beverages available, even the good stuff!
Savoring Tea Time
A warm cup in your hand, an intoxicating aroma, a soothing journey for your tongue and throat. Taking time to be present to a cup of tea offers many pleasures for the body as well as the mind. Savoring a cup of tea allows us to momentarily slow down and shift from doing to being. It invites us to catch our breath, restore, and appreciate the moment. Served in a beautiful cup with a tasty treat, tea time offers an occasion for drinking in the small joys of life.
In many parts of the world drinking tea is not only a time to connect with oneself, but with others as well. People gather in tea houses and tea rooms to chat with friends and to conduct business with colleagues and customers. Tea's positive impact on mood lends these social occasions a lively quality. Some of our best far-ranging conversations have been with a group of fellow tea drinkers high on the mind-expanding influences of the beverage and sharing a good time together.
The Ritual of Tea
The preparation of tea ranges from the highly formal Japanese tea ceremony to the simple grace of pouring a cup from a warm teapot. Brewing a good cup of tea involves finding the best balance of tea leaves, water, and time. This simple ritual can be calming and a perfect opportunity to practice mindfulness. Some people even say they can taste the intent and mood of the person making the tea! The desires of the tea drinker may also enter into the dynamic as they customize it with something milky, sweet, or spicy.
We enjoy the Chinese gong fu tea ceremony where the focus is on creating a cup of tea that satisfies the senses and the soul. It can be as simple as the awareness one brings to pouring the water from the tea kettle to the tea pot to the tea cup, or it can include other gadgets and flourishes for appreciating the look and smell of the tea.
Whether we stick to the basics, or invest in elaborate preparations, tea is one possible touchstone for finding balance on a daily basis, and for reminding us of the pleasure to be found in a simple conscious act.
Do you have rituals that bring you into the moment and your body in healthy ways? Are there rituals you prefer doing alone and those you enjoy sharing with others?
Create a life enhancing daily ritual that is easy to do, and give it your full attention, allowing yourself to fully inhabit the moment. What do you get from this daily touchstone for your personal well being?
Wishing you delicious ways to be present to the world around you this holiday season.
Beth and Eric
This monthly slow essay is from Beth Meredith & Eric Storm of Create The Good Life.
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