You know that feeling when you do something fulfilling? That quiet (or not so quiet) rush you get by experiencing something that gives you a deeper appreciation for life?
I get that feeling from tea. Most people in the west look at me funny when I admit how much I love it, which is the equivalent of some of my fellow Seattle denizens’ passion for coffee.
All I knew about tea growing up was that chamomile was good to drink right before bed, mint tea soothes upset stomachs, and you buy tea at the grocery store on isle five.
Then I took a Japanese Tea Ceremony class. Two-thirds of our time was spent in a classroom on campus learning the history of tea in Japan, and the last third of the week was spent practicing and performing the ceremony.
I show up in this rustic, small Japanese hut with a bowl of “sewer water” placed in front of me. (My husband, obviously not a big fan, calls it this–it’s more about the appearance than the taste… I promise.) They want me to directly ingest this vividly green & murky water? The green tea leaves are mixed right in? I don’t even like the bags of green tea at home because they’re so bitter!
Oh boy, how wrong I was. So, so wrong. Matcha, that green water tea, when brewed right? Delicious. And we’re not talking about that matcha latte crap you get at Starbucks, either.
Since 2007 I’ve learned that tea is so much more than those little bits of herbs mass-packed into flat little bags found on isle five. The culture of tea is more than just sitting in a formal drawing room at 3:00 in the afternoon, sipping black tea out of a gold-trimmed and rose-painted porcelain cup while nibbling on a scone. (This seems to be the stereotype from a western point of view.)
My tea leaves are brewed loose. I drink from a double-walled glass tumbler so I can keep the tea warm and admire its colors. I prefer eastern tea found in Japan and China because green, oolong, and pu-er are among my favorites. And my favorite tea time is spent sitting on a pillow while looking out my back door to a pond behind my home.
Everyone has their own way of tea (or “chado”, in Japanese). I challenge you to go beyond the tea you find at the grocery store and start trying loose leaf at specialty shops.
There’s far more to tea than you’d ever expect. Drink lots of it: darjeeling, rooibos, genmaicha, earl grey, assam, ceylon. Notice the taste, how it feels on your tongue, the smell, the appearance of the leaves. Brew it at different temperatures and notice how the flavor changes. Find your favorite and learn about where it’s from, where it grows, other ways it’s prepared. Visit different tea shops and try it everywhere.
Here are some tea geek resources to get you started: