A Philosophy of Tea

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Time for Tea

There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.
— Henry James, Portrait of a Lady

Modern life is, sometimes, inhumane. We rush around in a whirl of busyness and noise with hardly a moment to stop and breath. For me, tea has been one of the great cures to the tyranny of rush in my life.

Important and special moments of my life have revolved around tea. Tea made my first connection with my current doctoral advisor. Tea is how I bonded with my 56 residents when I was a dorm mother. I've sipped tea in tragedy, I've chinked glasses in celebration. Tea is how I've made many a friend over the years. 

Tea speaks not only of the calm and rejuvenation it brings, but of the rituals accompanying it, and the companionship it invites. Those five minutes throughout the day of preparing tea give my days a sense of rhythm. I wrote once that there always time for tea. Even when me and my friends are busy, we always know we can fit in a cup of tea. 

So, I invite you to make a cup of tea, and enjoy this week's podcast along with some of my favourite tea images and quotes! 

I also include my favourite way to make tea, and a Spotify Tea Time Playlist.

In the comments, I'd love to know... what is your favourite tea? And what is your favourite tea tradition?

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Tea+Books

“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” 
― C.S. Lewis

Some tea facts...

- Next to water, tea is the most consumed beverage globally

- Tea likely originated in China during the Shang dynasty (1600 BC–c. 1046 BC)

There are six different varieties of tea, all of which come from the same plant Camellia sinensis: white, green, yellow, oolong ("black dragon"), black (the Chinese call this red tea), and pu'er (the Chinese call this black tea).*

-Ireland is one of the highest consumers of tea per capita. They average 4 cups of tea per person per day. 

Men drink tea too...

 Lunch in the Countryside, Daumier

Lunch in the Countryside, Daumier

 Old Man Drinking Tea, Albert Ankler

Old Man Drinking Tea, Albert Ankler

“A cup of tea would restore my normality."

- Douglas Adams

  Tea Time by Georges Croegaert

Tea Time by Georges Croegaert

Tea Rituals:

Almost every culture seems to relish its unique tea culture. Whether it is Yerbe Mate (not quite tea, but similar), consumed out of a gourd and special straw with your friends in Argentina, or 5 'o clock tea with scones in England, tea speaks not only of delectable tastes, but predictable rituals. Below, my friend Colin shares some tidbits about the traditional, Chinese way to drink tea.

The Chinese traditionally drink tea very differently than do Westerners. They use a greater amount of leaves than we do, and much less water, and brew the tea for only 15-30 seconds. Done this way, each tea can be infused multiple times, with the character of the tea changing slightly from infusion to infusion. Some teas can be infused up to 20 times!

 

In China, tea is never drunk with milk or any sweetener. If there is any bitterness or astringency (mouth-drying character) in the tea, that is considered a failure of the brewing process: too long, too hot, or too much leaf. This is very different from the teas that Europeans prefer. Indian teas, especially Assam, tend to be quite astringent. This astringency does pair nicely with milk and sugar, or more cynically, requires milk and sugar to mask.

 

There is a Chinese tea ceremony as well, which is very formal and ritualized. The Chinese tea ceremony is much more free-flowing and casual. In the pictures attached you can see the some of the set of utensils that you can buy to perform the Chinese tea ceremony. There is a spoon for removing the tea from its tin and putting it in a dish for display, another spoon for taking the tea from the tray and putting it in the teapot or gaiwan (a lidded dish that is often used to brew tea), a "tea needle" for removing the wet leaves from the teapot so they can be shown to the guests, and much more. In general, the sight and smell of the tea at its different stages is as much a part of the ceremony as the taste.

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When tea becomes ritual, it takes its place at the heart of our ability to see greatness in small things. Where is beauty to be found? In great things that, like everything else, are doomed to die, or in small things that aspire to nothing, yet know how to set a jewel of infinity in a single moment?
— Muriel Barbery, the Elegance of the Hedgehog
  Mary Cassatt, “Five O’clock Tea” (1880)

Mary Cassatt, “Five O’clock Tea” (1880)

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 Tea Time, by Chen Hongshou (Ming Dynasty)

Tea Time, by Chen Hongshou (Ming Dynasty)

“Teaism is a cult founded on the adoration of the beautiful among the sordid facts of everyday existence. It inculcates purity and harmony, the mystery of mutual charity, the romanticism of the social order. It is essentially a worship of the Imperfect, as it is a tender attempt to accomplish something possible in this impossible thing we know as life.” 

Kakuzō Okakura, The Book of Tea

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“There is something in the nature of tea that leads us into a world of quiet contemplation of life.” 

Lin YutangThe Importance of Living

 Francisco Pons Arnau, Clotilde Drinking Tea

Francisco Pons Arnau, Clotilde Drinking Tea

Joy's Favourite Tea:

Ingredients:

1 Yorkshire Gold Tea Bag

Whole Milk

Turbinado Sugar

 

Boil water. Choose your favourite mug, preferably china, but if not, something on the thinner side (this keeps the tea hot!).  When the water is boiled, pour a bit of water in the empty mug (sans tea bag), swish it around, and then toss it in the sink. This warms the mug so that your tea will brew strongly and be hot. Now that the mug is warm, put your Yorkshire Gold tea bag in and pour the boiling water directly onto the tea bag (you want the water to hit the tea before it hits the mug!). In the U.K. you can find Yorkshire Gold in any grocery store. In the U.S. you can find it at Whole Foods, World Market, or order it on Amazon. Yorkshire Red is also lovely; I alternate between the two. Let steep for four minutes. Pull the tea bag out with a spoon, gently pressing it against the side of a mug. Then add 1 heaping teaspoon of sugar,  and a dollop of milk. I like my tea to be amber coloured. On the picture below, I usually go for a 3 or 4 on the colour scale. Stir well, and enjoy with a biscuit (I recommend McVitties Dark Chocolate Digestives!)

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Tea rituals...

As I said in the podcast, half of the delight of tea is in the rituals surrounding it, so let me share some of my rituals with you. 

- Light candles: when you sit down to tea, nothing is more soothing than a lovely burning candle

- Put on music: Play some of your favourite, soothing, achingly beautiful music.

- Invite a friend: Part of the joy of tea is its communality. Though we may live busy lives, everyone has time for a cup of tea. When I moved to Scotland, my mom and brother got me a set of matching mugs so that I could invite someone to tea. 

- Just sip! I often make tea before I do a task— answering emails, writing, reading, etc. But I always try to take a few moments before I do that to do nothing but sip the tea. This provides a moment of sanity, of calm, and of contemplation in the midst of even the busiest day!

Some further tea-ish considerations...

Twitter and tea

I asked my friends on Twitter what their favourite tea was, and the special memories they associated with it. Their answers were delightful...

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My mom grew up in Yorkshire in WW2, my dad in London. B/c of rationing, my mom learned to drink tea with no sugar, whereas my dad always had sugar for his tea growing up. My mom STILL thinks this is yet more proof that Northerners are tougher 💪
— Noelle Girard
my mom would always make peach iced tea for my dad when he did yard work, so the smell evokes strong memories of cut grass and clean sweat and the sound of locusts buzzing.
— @goingblondzo
Tea memory: my grandmother waking me up very early on my 1st Communion day w/ my pink mug of tea & sitting on edge of my bed while I drank.
— Margaret Ballantyne

See the rest of their lovely replies at the button below...

The Book of Tea (1906):

Writing to a Western Audience,  Okakura Kakuzō wrote this long form essay, linking the rituals of tea-making to the philosophic and aesthetic values of Japan. It is a classic in the Tea Canon (if there be such a thing). I haven't read all of it, but what I have read I find interesting and delightful. 

 

You can find a PDF of the full text here.

 

 

Blessed are the Tea Makers!

This video makes me giggle. It is also the video I once sent my now-advisor, knowing nothing about him other than that he liked Yorkshire Red. Enjoy!

 

A Team Time Playlist!

Tea ought to be accompanied by beautiful music. So, I made a playlist for your tea times. It's a mixture of beautiful sound tracks, Celtic music, and pleasant piano. It's meant to be played on shuffle.  I hope you enjoy!

Much love to you all!

Off to make a cup of tea.

Peace,

Joy