I went crazy about six or seven months ago. It started with a voice in my head uttering an odd phrase that didn’t make sense to me: “The tea house at the end of the world . . . .” and that was it. Indeed, like The Raven, “merely this and nothing more.”
The incomplete sentence popped into my head out of nowhere. (Seriously! Things like that actually happen to me, what can I say?) I wondered if maybe it was a novel I needed to read.
So I did what I always do when strange things pop into my head: I Googled it. Sometimes it pays off because I find a relevant, timely, inspiring, interesting something that I need. “Thank you!” I say when that happens.
But this time I Googled and got nothing. (So if it’s the pending title of something yet to be produced, it belongs to me, thank you!) I started digging and went down the www rabbit hole that is a familiar and comfortable place for me to hang out for hours or days or weeks. I gobble Google. I’m a Google gobbler. A Goobler?
Anyway, I followed ‘tea house” down a rabbit hole that consumed me. But that was fine. I wasn’t trying to get out. I rather liked it there.
In the East, there is “table top tea,” which is served in the living room or kitchen or on the patio, and there are commercial and private “tea houses.” I’m fascinated with the private ones, the outbuildings dedicated solely to practicing tea. For instance, the path to the tea house meanders through a garden between the family’s house and the tea house to symbolize leaving the city behind for the country, or the cares of the world behind for intentional practice.
And then I discovered loose leaf tea, what Aaron Fisher calls “the goddess of all herbs,” and Tea Heads call “true tea.” (And I discovered that there are people called Tea Heads other than pot smokers.) I discovered matcha and the Japanese Chanoyu ceremony. I discovered Chado, “The Way of Tea.” I discovered Chinese teas like Tie Guan Yin and Dragon Pearl and gong fu style brewing. I discovered gaiwans and Yixing clay and Jian ware and tenmoku glaze and tokuname and kyusu tea pots. . . . I read Aaron Fisher’s book The Way of Tea and immediately ordered four similar books. I watched videos. I joined Facebook groups. I started a tea journal for recording teas and tea production and tea history, and spiritual insights, which I was certain would come. I even made a list of words that I could change the end to TEA:
AbiliTEA; AuthenticiTEA; ChariTEA; ClariTEA; CommuniTEA; ConnectiviTEA; CuriosiTEA; DigniTEA; DiversiTEA; DiviniTEA; EqualiTEA; FamiliariTEA; GenerosiTEA; HonesTEA; HospitaliTEA; HumiliTEA; IntentionaliTEA; MagnamiTEA; NecessiTEA; OpportuniTEA; OriginaliTEA; PlenTEA; PossibiliTEA; PotentialiTEA; PuriTEA; QualiTEA; ReciprociTEA; ReflectiviTEA; RespectabiliTEA; SanctiTEA; SerendipiTEA; SereniTEA; SinceriTEA; SocieTEA; SpiritualiTEA; TranquiliTEA; TriniTEA; UncertainTEA; UniTEA; VariabiliTEA; VarieTEA; VitaliTEA
And looked for songs about tea!
All before I had my first cuppa.
From my tea journal:
I’ve become tea obsessed and I have not even had a single drop of tea made from loose leaves. Ever. But I have read. I have watched hours of video. And I am convinced that this will be rewarding and satisfying.
Tea has already taught me.
I’ve learned that tea comes from a single source –the camellia sinensis tree. All types –black, green, oolong– all types, all varieties come from the same tree. It’s the plucking (top leaves? include the buds? middle leaves? bottom leaves?) and the processing (withered? shaded? steamed? pan-fried? rolled? pressed?) that makes the difference.
Just like people. Like all life. We come from a single source –the same source– but we are plucked and processed differently.
This should be an experience!
Since that journal entry months ago, I have had countless cups of amazing tea from China, Japan, and India. My tea and tea ware collection have outgrown my designated space and I have no intention of a moratorium on future purchases of either.
I continue to learn and I’m aware that I will always have much to learn. No one ever knows everything there is to know about tea. It’s a lifetime study not a semester. But this is one of the things I appreciate about it, that it continually gives its wisdom to our bodies, our minds, and our spirits. It will always have something new to say to us because it is never the same tea. For example, Royal Phoenix from one farm or plantation can be slightly or largely different from another. From production to processing to brewing –from farm to tea table– every little variance changes the leaves, the color of the liquor, the nose, and the taste. Even the same tin of loose leaves produces a new cup of tea every time. The quality and temperature of the water, the brewing style, the amount of time the leaves spend steeping or infusing (seconds matter!), the number of infusions, even the material and shape of the tea cup– everything affects the tea.
That’s why it is said that you can never have the same cup of tea.
Japanese monks brought tea from China to Japan. The Samurai class developed the rules of tea serving and drinking. Between the two, the monks and the Samurai, tea culture, (wherein tea is a practice, not a drink), evolved. You give what you have, whatever it is, no matter how humbly, and you give fully; you serve tea with your whole heart and when you are a guest, you accept what is given to you, even if it isn’t perfect. You apply the forms, the principles, and allow that welcoming space to serve those who are there.
The principles are both simple and complex:
Wa – Harmony. Eschew perfect, matching sets of tea ware, because harmony is created through the differences.
Kei – Respect. Bowing to another is out of respect not a demonstration of status.
Se – Purity. The lips, the hands, all tea ware and utensils are purified before tea.
Joku – Tranquility. Everyone at tea is letting go . . . . letting go . . . . Watches are not allowed in the tea room.
Here’s the thing
I still don’t know what “the tea house at the end of the world” means but I know what tea means to me. I never learned how to effectively meditate. I’m either too weak to overcome the challenges or maybe I’m just not focused enough. Contemplative prayer is a growing practice that probably hundreds of thousands of people are able to commit to daily. However, I don’t stick with it nor do I always feel like I accomplished something. (Someone said, “Because you don’t commit to it!”) Again. It’s me. I’m sure. But I am learning that my evolving tea room is a sacred space where I can have tea with intention, with purpose, with God.
I went crazy over tea. And that is changing things.
What do you think and would you like a cup of tea with that?