Last Monday I sped home from work, rushed into my apartment, and ran over to my computer to write my weekly blurb about botanical happenings. “I’ll just write about tea this week,” I thought. Easy since it’s a subject that I love and feel quite familiar with. But, my computer didn’t cooperate with me, and, in fact, it has now been in the repair shop for the past week. “Great!” I thought, “I’m in freakin’ Wakefield, and there are no internet cafes open at this hour.” So, without internet or TV to distract me (I prefer to live without the latter), I was left in my quiet home to ponder… well… tea. Ironically, I had been on quite the coffee kick for the past few weeks *ahem* months, and this unexpected solitude made me reevaluate what purpose, exactly, tea serves in my life. So, without further adieu, here are my weekly reflections on the magical Camellia sinensis plant….
Everything about tea takes time. From the boiling of water to the steeping of tea, the brewing ritual itself begins the process of quieting the mind. Several Asian cultures speak of “The Way of Tea,” which is both a state of mind to have while drinking tea, as well as a philosophy to incorporate into one’s life. On several occasions, I asked my tea teacher in Korea: What is Tea Mind? He was a man of few words, and preferred to embody Tea Mind rather than relegate it to mere words. However, on one occasion he replied: It is simple speech, simple actions, and good manners. From what I’ve gathered, Tea Mind is about being mindful and aware in the present moment, being respectful to those around you, using clear and honest language, and maintaining a good attitude and spirit.
In Korean Tea Ceremony, the actions of serving tea follow a strict order and repetitive pattern. These actions help one cultivate Tea Mind through the mindfulness associated with this pattern: a repeated attitude becomes one’s habit, a repeated habit becomes one’s character, and the repeated character becomes a virtue. Tea Mind is about living a virtuous life.
Tea is an evergreen tree whose leaves are harvested in spring and summer. The classification of tea is much like wine, and varies according to the area grown, time of year harvested, degree of fermentation, and form in which it is preserved (leaf, powder, or cake). The fermentation of tea ranges from zero (green tea) to light (white tea), medium (DongJong-Cha), high (oolong, puerh), and full (black tea). The degree of fermentation is important in determining the preparation method, with green tea requiring cooled boiled water (65-85C) and puerh, oolong, and black tea requiring fully boiled water (100C).
Traditionally, tea is consumed for one of three purposes: as part of a ceremony to welcome guests, as an offering to Buddha or spirits, or as a sole meditation ritual. The latter is my most favorite reason for drinking tea, and as such, I am listing directions for brewing a great cup of green tea.
1 – bring water to a rolling boil (100C)
2 – pour water into a cooling pitcher and cool to 60-80C
3 – place tea leaves into teapot after having rinsed the pot with hot water to warm it (2-3g per person).
4 – pour slightly cooled water into teapot and steep for 3 minutes
5 – pour tea into cups.
The amount of tea in a cup should be 70-80% of the volume of the cup. If the water is too hot, or the steeping time is too long, the tea colour will change and the tea will be bitter.
So, my computer being broken turned out to be quite a blessing in disguise, granting me the pleasure of taking a much needed break from coffee, and reacquainting me with the virtues of drinking tea.