Some thoughts on approaches to tea

I haven’t posted in a while, mainly because I wanted to wait, observe and digest the change and evolution of my relationship with tea.

I originally came to appreciate tea whilst living in a hut in a forest in Scotland. At that time I had a few fairly standard Kunming tea market bings, some reasonable oolongs and a few small bags containing bits and pieces of older puerh.

meditation hut in scotland

As most of my day was spent in meditation, my daily tea sessions during the breaks became a very important part of my day. Mostly teaching myself and learning by intuition, many of my practices would be deemed technically ‘wrong’ by most learned tea folk, but I appreciated the tea and came to value the bits and pieces I had and my time spent with them.

Since finishing my meditation retreat and coming on a journey to some of the places of tea, I’ve met many people with many opinions and different approaches to tea. Until recently I’ve been kind of disappointed – it all felt so commercial. First in Hong Kong, and then so much more so in Kunming. Kunming tea market is stocked full of such mediocre tea and teaware that it is a rare thing to come across anything very much of note.

With a few exceptions the quality of the wares on offer is matched by the feeling of the shops there. It is cheap, a commodity, to be bought and sold on after a few years, months or even days, hoping to make a small profit on a large amount of cheap, market standard new tea. It was all about quantity and profit, with not so much quality or love for the tea itself.

There was none of the spiritual feeling I’d previously felt during my tea sessions whilst in the forest in Scotland. It felt ‘dead’, lacking any kind of positive energy. I guess it’s created by the same kinds of minds that can bulldoze a hillside of hundred year old tea trees to make room for their new, efficient, fertilizer fuelled plantations.

And so I left, without realizing consciously how disappointed I felt with my experience of tea there. I did drink some nice tea and met some really nice people, but it was only once I left that I realized that it wasn’t what I was looking for from my tea life.

With visa extensions in China being almost impossible during their Olympically crazed paranoia, I had to leave the country. Very fortunately for me I received an email, inviting me to come and stay in Taiwan. I’d previously considered coming to visit Taiwan but had kind of brushed over it, figuring it was going to be too expensive, too hot etc. etc. etc. But here was an invitation, and it fitted the time I had to spend somewhere before my flight back to the UK in July.

a friendly friend

My host here has an approach to tea which much more fits my disposition. We’ve been drinking old teas, drinking in silence appreciating the energies each tea had to offer, drinking in mountains collecting water from mountain streams, we tried silver kettles, tetsubins, new cups, antique cups and so many other variables, all of which had a much more profound effect on the tea drinking experience than I had given credit for previously.

beauty in tea

I’m reminded again and again of a trick I used to play on my younger brother when we were young children, swapping him 3 ‘moneys’ for 1 ‘money’. He gladly accepted, not realizing that his 1 money was worth 5 of mine. In the same way one can buy a whole case of poor tea for the price of a single bing, but for me the satisfaction of a pot of good tea greatly outweighs any gallons of poor tea I could have bought previously.

I guess here I’ve found the beauty in tea which had been missing for me. If I had to give a recommendation to fellow travellers wanting to experience tea culture I’d say ‘by all means go to China, experience what there is there and appreciate it for what it is, but make a stop in Taiwan too, appreciate the tea culture and see what beauty there can be in tea too.’


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