rose's 🍵 journal
i think i said before that this blog is about tea, but it also isn't - it's
really about this attempt i'm making to improve as a person, to deepen my
understanding of how i relate to the people around me and the world i'm in. my
priest said two things to me a couple weeks ago that really stuck - 'to lose the
ego, you must first have an ego, so... get on that' and also 'most people
stumble around the world half-blind to what's around them'. or something like
that, anyway. the goal of zen is to actually see the world as it is, see
yourself and everyone else as they are, as you are, and realize (i think) on a
deep fundamental level that there is no separating you from the world, or the
world from you. we are all in this big blue boat together, and we are also the
boat, and the things that give us suffering have their roots in delusions about
that fact. it takes a long time to stop looking at the finger and start
considering the moon that it's pointing to, and i have a long way to go, but one
of the routes to that is very mindfully making tea.
unfortunately it looks like i'm not going to be able to start chanoyu lessons
before we aren't in this city anymore, which makes me a little sad. fortunately,
i think that i'll be able to travel back here to pursue some of the hobbies i've
picked up (like Tenshin Shōden Katori Shintō-ryū (天真正伝香取神道流)), and also
i will hopefully have the opportunity to deepen my practice on my own in a new
environment with more space. we have no firm plans yet, naturally, but it's a
likely thing. the thing about being a better person is that it also makes things
better for the people around you and helps you show up better for them, and the
health benefits of exercises like tea service and swordfighting and running and
bouldering and reading thoughtful books - i'm talking more than just physical
health, here - all help me stick around a little longer to show up in that way.
i've mentioned before that i have some mental health challenges, and they have
been... really, really bad recently. i guess it's not so much 'recently' as 'the
last several months', and i am still in the thick of it - but, today is a good
day with a high roll on the happiness table, and so i'm posting. i need to find
an outlet to write about some of the other stuff i'm feeling, but that's for
another venue i think.
i am starting to drink my way through some of the things that i bought at the
end of last year - with black friday and christmas sales, i ended up with a
healthy amount of tea, and so i am trying to finish some things before i start
others. i've decided that i don't especially care for Buddha’s Hand (佛手) Wuyi
tea, but other than that, everything is tasty. that Buddha's Hand tastes a
little like sucking on a rock, which is cool, but also a rock that has been
sitting in a fire, which is not so good. it's not even like lapsang souchong,
which i like, it's just clear that it's been pretty heavily roasted and i'm not
a huge fan. today i will probably drink something lighter.
it has been a long time since i last wrote here. the christmas period was extremely busy, and i went straight from that period to a couple frenzied days of work followed by a trip to Canada's northern coast for my birthday. some might question the wisdom or purpose of traveling to the arctic in January - in fact, several people did - but getting to Tuktoyaktuk, seeing the frozen ocean, standing on the ice and looking ahead to the north pole, several thousand kilometers away, and seeing no horizon to interrupt the white of the sky and the white of the ice, was one of the most peaceful moments i think i have ever experienced. i made tea for my wife and myself in front of the 'ARCTIC OCEAN' sign - a 2022 sheng puerh - and we had a great time.
i spend the end of the year, and the beginning of this new one, reflecting. i first came to zen through tea, and then back to zen via tea, and so on back and forth. i have started reading again about chanoyu (茶の湯), the Japanese tea tradition, and i had reached out to a chanoyu teacher here. she is not taking students, or indeed running classes right now, but she kindly agreed to meet with me to talk. she made tea for me, i stumbled through being a guest, and we talked a lot about tea and the way of tea. i felt like we are aligned philosophically and i have a lot to learn from her, though my personal circumstances are such that i don't know to what extent i will be able to study with her when she does resume classes.
one of the difficulties i have with zen, and the way of tea, and art, is that really - if my goal is enlightenment, or to be a better person, or heal some of my psyche, and generally connect again with the world and people around me, it isn't necessary to go to a lot of trouble to go to a certain place and do things in a special way. i don't need to go to the zendo to meditate, i don't need to chant sutras to progress in the way, i don't need to wear a kimono and kneel on tatami to find peace in the making of tea. i don't need anything except a kettle and a vessel and tea - i should be able to get everything i need and want from a kettle and a teabag, or sitting on a cushion at home. the thing is, i don't want to be isolated like that. the three treasures of zen is the dharma, the sangha, and the Buddha; i can't have sangha, the community, by myself. making tea for myself is fine as an opportunity for introspection, but i don't think i want to cobble together a practice that is disconnected from everything else, because my whole goal is connection - both connection back with myself, and with everyone else.
i feel very stuck, but i'm going to go sit on a cushion for several hours, in a special building meant for that practice, with a (my?) priest officiating.
what a week. things have been much more intense from a life perspective, and tea
has... not quite taken a back seat, per se, but i have definitely not had the
time to properly sit and reflect. the day feels exhausting, and by the evening i
am too tired to write. part of this is essentially depression, part of it is
genuine life things happening, and part of it has literally been me waiting only
somewhat patiently for things to happen. waiting itself is exhausting because it
is difficult to focus on anything else but the thing you are waiting for.
anyway, back to tea. i just finished reading an engaging book called 'A Time for
Tea', by Jason Goodwin. it is an impressionistic description of his journey to
places important to tea, specifically the historical tea trade, with some
explanation of the history. it mostly paints a picture rather than being a
comprehensive reference book, but it was nonetheless a very enjoyable read. i
would read more academic-oriented books on tea, and will.
yesterday i received one of the packages i had been waiting for, a clay kettle
and stove traditionally used in Chaozhou for boiling water for tea. i'm going to
give it a try later today perhaps, we'll see. in any case, one of the steps
people sometimes do in Chaozhou gongfucha is grading the tea leaves before you
put them in the teapot - the idea being that you can ensure that the smaller
leaves, fannings and dust are surrounded by the larger leaves which form a kind
of interlocking mesh, acting as a filter and also preventing the small bits from
leaving the pot. it's a time intensive process, but can feel pretty peaceful,
and i think when i am waiting for my water to boil over a honest to goodness
charcoal stove, i will have time to do some of that grading. ritual is
today has been a complicated day, inasmuch as i have some complicated things to
it feels like i'm heading somewhere, by learning about tea - the idea of teaism,
this synthesis of Zen and Dao, the worship of the moments of fleeting beauty in
this impossible life, plus the sense of connection that tea promotes - both
between the server and the served, and all the people who made that tea possible
- resonates very deeply with me. i want to understand more, but i don't think
there are good guides accessible to me right now. i think i am going to need
to put together a curriculum for myself, which will be a good way to give myself
some focus, too. i have a strong desire to learn, but i also strongly desire
external validation. this is, by necessity, going to be a lonely journey but
worth it, especially if it helps me shed some of that need.
as far as tea is concerned, today i had a white tea - a 2016 shou mei dragon
ball (壽眉龍球). shou mei is a white tea made mainly from leaves, not buds, and
it's aged. dragon balls are a form factor where the tea is compressed into a
ball, about 5g of mass, and you can either brew it gongfu style with a gaiwan or
a teapot, or simply drop it in a mug and add water, topping it off with more
water as you drink it. it was very floral, quite syrupy in terms of taste, and
it really lingers in the mouth. it's like drinking honey, except much better
than that sounds. i like the idea of being able to carry small servings of tea
to throw in a container whenever you are lucky enough to find hot water, and if
i were some kind of travelling nun, i would carry those kinds of things with me,
or hand them out to people who seem like they might need a good cup of decent
maocha monday, i guess :) that plus a lapsang souchong from the local fancy tea
place, from when i got the gaiwan. i rewatched a recording of a class i attended
virtually, which i am very glad exists - i've been trying hard to get better at
chaozhou-style gongfu cha, which is a method that combines very hot water with
very high dosages. they are two of the three main levers tea servers have, the
other being steep time, which means that how long you steep the tea has a very
high impact on the overall result. in practice, you are flash steeping the tea,
using a soft pouring technique, and dividing the tea evenly across three cups
without a gong dao bei, all to try to control the resulting
bitterness. it results in very flavorful tea when done skillfully, and as a
technique it's not very forgiving.
i find it pretty compelling. there is something that feels very special about
walking this tightrope; because the method is complicated, you have to focus to
pull it off, and there really is only one way to do the motions - namely,
smoothly and quickly, as if it takes no effort. for that reason it is a really
great method for someone trying to cultivate that kind of feeling. i had heard
that some japanese tea ceremony schools early on made students learn the most
complex techniques first, and only allowed them to learn the simpler techniques
after they had mastered the complex, but i can't remember my source for that. i can see why it might be
true, though - it's easier to cultivate the right state of mind when you have to, to
correctly execute the technique.
not that there is one specific sequence of moves that comprises "chaozhou
style". i've read one explanation that had a particular way of treating the
teapot, that was completely absent from the version described in the class i
attended. is one correct and one not? mu! there's no such thing. if you are from
chaozhou, or have chaozhou heritage, how you make tea is chaozhou style. many
people will have different variants, but the key thing is i think those three
factors - high dosage, high temperature, flash steeping - plus idiosyncratic
things like skillfully dispensing to three cups without a gong dao bei. i may be wrong, but that's what
i've taken from it.
i decided today was teapot tuesday, and so all the tea i drank came from a
teapot. i have two small teapots i use for drinking Chinese tea, both made from
unglazed Yixing terracotta - one is for puerhs of various shades, and the other
is for oolongs. in that vibe i had some Honey Orchid Phoenix oolong with a
family member in the morning, followed by Jingmai sheng maocha (毛茶). this is
another tea from farmerleaf, who sold
their autumn 2022 harvest from the ancient (read: in the woods, overgrown, from
a very long time ago) Aiban tea garden on the plateau above their
village. it was pretty well balanced, and had great energy - tasty, but no one
flavor note dominated. i am still kind of sick, which didn't really help with my
ability to taste things well.
maocha means 'rough tea'. the character 毛 can mean hair, or crude, but 毛茶
specifically refers to tea that has been processed at least a bit but is not
ready for final sale - i.e. it needs to be finished by pressing it into bings or
tuos, or maybe it needs to have some further processing by the person who buys
it from the farmer or wholesaler before it can be included in e.g. a blend from
a factory. in any case, it means tea that isn't quite in its final form.
specifically in this case, it means that there are still some yellow leaves that
would normally get graded out, and it's in loose leaf form rather than pressed
into a bing. finished or not, it really is tasty.
there are a few local tea places nearby - or at least, close enough that travel
is straightforward - that sell good tea and teaware. you definitely get some
stores that sell tea, but only their own blends, and without any information
about varietals, where it's from, how it was processed, that kind of thing.
other places are aimed at pickier customers, and they will sell e.g. honey
orchid dan cong oolong (蜜蘭香單欉) as opposed to just 'oolong'.
my hometown has both kinds of places and one in particular is celebrating an
anniversary, with specially commissioned teaware. i picked one up because i
wanted to support the business, and today i used it to make lapsang souchong
(正山小種). this particular tea was given to me as a free gift for buying the
expensive teaware, and so it felt right to give it a try with this tea.
lapsang souchong was one of my favorite kinds of tea back in the day. it's a
Wuyi tea, but not an oolong - it's a black tea that has a processing step that
includes smoking. how exactly this smoking happens depends entirely on where
it's made, but traditionally i believe the processing happens inside the smoke
house, but it is a cold smoking, not a hot one. in other areas the tea is
directly smoked, and the smoke flavor can be quite a bit stronger than even the
flavor of the tea itself. this tea was traditionally processed and so the smoke
is an accent, not the main event.
when drinking the tea i felt a certain kind of melancholy. i don't know if
that's a emotional memory from when i used to drink this tea, or whether the art
on the gaiwan - the current owner considering the task of taking over the store
from her father - brought up those kinds of feelings for me due to my
non-existent relationship with my own father, or maybe it's just something in
the tea itself. there are many psychoactive chemicals in tea, and the energy of
the tea affects us all in different ways; to borrow an idiom, you can't drink
the same tea twice. you will be slightly different every time you taste the tea,
and the chemistry of the tea itself will also change over time.
for me, the smell of the warm but dry leaves reminded me strongly of licorice,
or maybe a dark caramel. it was definitely sweet, not bitter, and the sensation
of the tea, its warmth, went over my tongue and settled in my chest. some teas
will linger on the tongue, or the throat, or the roof of the mouth - this one
went straight to my center and curled up there.
i haven't journaled in a while. that's mostly because i've been sick, and
drinking the same black tea quite strong, if i've been drinking tea at all. my
mental health has also been somewhat poor, which has manifested as not actually
taking the time to be mindful and make tea for myself or others in a present
way, at least not the way that i do when i make tea that i write about here. i'm
reasonably often making tea for one of my partners, though that is often just a
teabag and milk. which is entirely valid! it just doesn't prompt writing about.
although, it could.
today however i had a four hour long class on internal gongfu, or about how to
recognize and appreciate the various different aspects of perceiving, smelling,
tasting and feeling tea; about smell, feelings, sensations, memories, and other
aspects of appreciating the nature of the tea. it's about cha qi, as best as i
can describe it. i drank a lot, of very good teas, and talked about how it felt
- it was nice to be as mystical as i wanted about tea, which is honestly
something i feel pretty mystical about. teaism is something that i want to
incorporate into more aspects of my life, which is going to be hard as it will
involve getting myself out of the way quite a bit.
i actually drank Yorkshire Gold tea yesterday, and it was bad. i'd like to
figure out how to get a good brew from even low-quality teabags, so i will
practice. i have a bunch of the skills i need i think.
right now i am drinking a black tea from Jingmai - that same one i was drinking
the other day. i have plenty of it, and today i am actually drinking it in lieu
of coffee, which feels quite nice, even if maybe the tea sits a little strangely
in my stomach so early in the day. it feels refreshing but still full enough to
be tasty, a little aromatic but not at the expense of the body, and is honestly
just very good. no bitterness, good hui gan.
while on a trip to our local Chinatown, i stopped by a tea shop run by a very
knowledgeable and friendly guy who has been running this shop for several
decades. i went in to ask about liu an tea, which is a post-fermented tea from
Anhui province. liu an teas are stored in bamboo baskets, and it is traditional
that you include some of the bamboo when you brew it. liu an tea from the big
well-known factory tends to use smaller leaves, because at the time they were
considered better; younger leaves, better flavor. nowadays people favor bigger
leaves from older trees, and this tea - considered 'less good' in 2002, when it
was harvested and prepared - uses those bigger leaves. he made some of the tea
for me and a couple of others who were in the shop, and we had a good
conversation about tea culture.
the whole point of tea, really, is to encourage being a better person. modesty,
simplicity, hospitality, focusing on the small details, finding the beauty in
the transient and imperfect - and a really core part of that, even if i mostly
make tea just for myself, is to spend some time around a table drinking tea with
others. it's good practice. i want to write more about that particular topic
later, i think.
no coffee today, as the logistics for it were a little out of sync. instead i
was drinking a lot of black tea from Jingmai - William and Yubai from farmerleaf
made a black tea from some of their autumn harvest, and it turned out really
well. warm, rich, coats the throat, and just a light amount of astringency. it
kind of reminds me, smelling it, of a really good darjeeling, but uncertain.
the last few days have been pretty tough. as i've mentioned before, i have some
mental health challenges, and i've struggled to make the time and space
available to write. i've been drinking plenty of tea though, and i've been
trying to brew it skillfully.
the thing is, gongfu cha is not just about making tea well. it's about mindful
practice, and developing a deeper understanding and appreciation of the tea
itself. it isn't enough, to me, to simply making tea well - if i'm not present
in the moment and focusing entirely on the tea and the company, it's not gongfu,
it's just fancy brewing. maybe that's a bit judgemental of me, i'm not sure.
i did a class about different gongfu tea techniques and styles, which was both
extremely good and very informative. i learned a lot, and will probably watch
the recording of it more than a couple of times, if i could get over hearing or
seeing myself on screen. i dislike how i look and how i sound, but that
dysmorphia is something i'm working on.
the guy giving the class encouraged me to take a look at yellow teas, as part of
broadening my experience and deepening my tea education, so i will probably do
that. the issue is that ordering from overseas is very expensive as i have to
pay duty on stuff. it's cheaper than flying out there, but maybe if i have an
excuse to, i should go do that.
one important thing from the class was the idea that ultimately, the tea is the
teacher, and the best a person can do is equip themselves with techniques for
responding to what the tea is telling you. there is some more esoteric things to
do with qi and how it flows from us through the tea, which resonates with me,
but i'm going to have to spend a lot more time reflecting on how the tea makes
me feel in my body, my mood, etc to better internalize the nature of qi. it's a
pretty difficult thing to get a handle on and it's not well defined, let alone
readily translated. we'll see if it's something i can get an appreciation for -
there's aclass for that, too.
no post yesterday, for the first time since i started this - which admittedly
wasn't that long ago. i had my COVID booster and flu shot on tuesday, and i have
been pretty roughed up from that.
yesterday i drank the remains of the single tree gushu i had started the day
before, which was just very pleasant - today i am drinking an aged sheng puerh,
from Yiwu - 2003, wild arbor trees, from Yuenhai tea factory. it's pretty good,
quite complicated flavors and it definitely lingers. it's lasting a long time
too. it has a kind of smoke edge to it, even if smokiness isn't the main flavor.
it's thick, it sticks to my mouth, and definitely hangs out in my throat. it's
good, and i see why people prize aged shengs so much.
there are some teas that purport to come from a single tree; which, given how
difficult it is to harvest big tea trees, and how little a tree might produce in
terms of raw leaves, it can be very expensive to buy processed tree with that
kind of story behind it. i am specifically pruning bitter skepticism, and so i
will accept that this tea i had today did indeed come from a single tree that
this farmer cultivates.
this tree is called Guān Jǐng (觀景), which means 'the one who watches the
scenery'. it's a very old tree, and such trees are prized for puerh making
because the tree has had centuries to develop qi, and that qi is conveyed in the
tea made from its leaves. this can energize us, nourish us deeply, and it is
good to reflect on all the work and time that went into taking this tree from
sprout to gracefully surrendering its leaves, century after century. it was
delicious, not bitter (the way i brewed it, anyway), and lasted for a very long
time. a family member said that it smelled a little of apple to start, but
mainly the flavor was complex and delightful. it felt like a warm blanket for
the soul, and i felt peaceful drinking it.
i spent the afternoon finishing the Wen Shan Ding sample i had, and it was
honestly really pleasant. it's absolutely the kind of tea i might drink every
day, though if i did, i would spend a lot of time thinking about that Kitchen
speaking of which, i got my final tea delivery today - a bunch of teas from West China Tea which i'll be drinking in due
time. i am doing one of their tea classes soon, and so wanted to make sure i had
a good variety of teas available for the different brewing and pouring styles
that we'll cover. one of them, Chaozhou (潮州) style, is predominantly aimed at
oolong tea, and so i have a variety of different kinds of those. there is a huge
variety in oolong teas, which is neat. when i have a good amount of time, i will
write about the different kinds of Chinese tea.
i drank more of the Wen Shan Ding tea today, but brewed it in my teapot instead.
it felt rounded, full and very comforting, with a great body feel, even if there
wasn't a particularly clear or loud single taste - the website talks about how
this tea is a good daily drinker, and i can absolutely see why. sometimes you
don't want something that feels like a punch in the face or a splash of cold
water - sometimes you want a warm hug or a blanket.
a video i saw of william from farmerleaf musing about elitism and snobbery, and
how sometimes it is okay to be elitist - there are teas that are better than
others, there is a kind of hierarchy based on how much skill etc went into the
tea - but snobbery was about pretending to be more elite than you actually are.
i have definitely encountered some pretty snobby behavior about tea, and my
general impulse is towards including everyone who wants to be included. i do
definitely think that some things are objectively good and bad; i do think there
is a very big difference between e.g. aged puer tea that has been processed and
stored well, then brewed skillfully, versus a teabag left in a pot for several
hours. sometimes though, i do want a teabag with a little milk in an enormous
mug; not everything needs to be fancy tea done fancily. it just needs to be
right for the situation :)
i'm not going to write about Yunnan tea areas after all - today, i went to a
Chinese tea house with a couple of family members. it was a very beautifully
decorated place, with distinct themed rooms that were equipped with wonderful
teaware and the most sophisticated kettle i have ever seen. they provided us
with some hong cha, red tea (紅茶) and some white tea. they were not labeled as
anything but that, so i have no idea where they were from, but they were both
delicious. they also had a tea menu that i did not particularly explore as my
family members both prefer lighter teas, and the white tea lasted for a long
time. we were there for two hours, and the cha qi from the tea had built up
quite a bit by the time we parted ways. i think it would be possible, if i
wanted, to bring my own tea - but i am excited to try out some of their more
interesting options. they had very expensive options, and extremely expensive
teaware, but the price just to rent the room was pretty reasonable. i would go
today i drank a 2022 Wen Shan Ding tea, from the Jinggu area (景谷县), a sample i got from farmer-leaf. the first couple of brews
had a strong almost spiced apple flavor, maybe some melon, with a good
aftertaste. it faded away and just became pleasant rather than notable after the
third infusion. pretty good, honestly, but i probably would not buy a whole cake
of it. well, maybe i would. the thing is, i don't trust myself to store a cake
properly and have it age well - at least, until i drink it. right now i want to
drink a greater variety of things, to build my experience - a whole cake is a
Lot. i did in fact buy one recently, and i'm already a little apprehensive about
i also took a trip to chinatown and bought some new teacups, that are extremely
cute. tomorrow i want to write about yunnan tea areas, i think.
today i had the remains of the 2022 Jingmai Gulan samples in my puerh teapot -
because the teapots are unglazed, many people dedicate them to one particular
kind of tea - and it was quite different. the grassiness went away and instead
it smelled of forests, and tasted as delicious as yesterday. i really liked it,
and will probably use my pot quite frequently when i drink my way through the
357g cake of it i got.
i also saw a recording of an interesting discussion of appreciation vs
appropriation regarding Chinese tea culture, and one of the things that came up
is that some people deeply distrust Chinese people when discussing tea or their
own culture - the idea that, for example, a farmer sells their tea as red tea, but they
process it differently to how some other group processes tea they also call red
tea. that doesn't make the farmer a liar - they know what they are doing best,
they're the expert on at least their tea and also, tea in general - and it
doesn't make the person in not-China who sells the tea to the consumer a liar
i said some things earlier about how you can never really know if a tea is what
the person selling it says it is, and that the idea of authenticity in tea is
difficult. i had been reading the backlog of a tea blog that talks a lot about
'fake tea', and the different kinds of things people mean by that. it could be
bad tea sold as good, tea from one area being sold as another, more famous area,
or things that are not tea being sold as tea, etc. it was honestly pretty
discouraging as i'm not experienced enough to feel confident tea-shopping with
anything but the word of the person i'm buying tea from as my guide.
if this very experienced Chinese academic, who has lived and travelled in China and
Taiwan and Japan, who has been not only drinking tea seriously for nearly two
decades but also studying tea, writing about its history, thinks that it is very difficult to buy good tea that is what it says it is, and that the vast majority of tea sold (especially outside of China) is mediocre at
best, what hope do i as a neophyte who doesn't speak the language have?
i guess there are a few things to take away from all of this. one is that i
shouldn't assume that everyone is always lying to me, or is passing on lies told
by someone else. not only is it potentially racist, but it also is not very good
for the soul, and i don't want bitterness in the teacup of my heart. the second
is, there is a line between healthy skepticism and that hopeless worldview, and
i would much rather be naive than bitter, so i will steer well clear of it. the
third thing is that of course the majority of tea is mediocre, that's what
mediocre means! most tea will be average in quality. that's okay. i do not need
to only drink the absolute finest grade tea aged traditionally for 30 years -
partly because i don't want to spend the money needed, partly because i don't
think i would appreciate it, partly because there are plenty of teas out there
that are delicious and reasonably priced. so.
i'm sorry, vendor, for being incredulous about the kitchen tea. i have no real
reason to doubt, and i won't let that hopelessness infect my thinking again.
today was a big tea day! i started with the Bulang Shan sheng puerh, which was
nice enough to drink but didn't really have much of a body, and was too prone to
astringency - it was fine, but i think that that is one i'm not a big fan of.
which is honestly very valuable information - figuring out which things i like
and don't like is an important part of maturing in teaism, i think.
later that day though, i received an order i had placed some weeks ago with
these folks, a married couple in the
Jingmai (景迈) area who farm and process and sell tea. they have some gardens of
their own, plus they source some leaves from other places, and they focus
heavily on giving customers as much information as they can about where the tea
comes from and how processing actually works. william, a French farmer who moved
to Yunnan, narrates the videos shot by his wife ubai, whose family has been
growing tea for many years.
in my order was a tea cake (357g of tea that has been steamed and pressed into a
disk, that you then use a gentle knife to pry leaves off of to then brew) that
according to them is their tea most representative of the terroir of that area.
traditionally, these cakes would be left to age in warehouses in Hong Kong or
other areas before being consumed in a decade or three, but instead i have it in
a dark cupboard in an unused part of the house. i probably need to make sure
that it doesn't get too dry - too dry tea is weak in flavor, or so i hear - but
it'll do for now, resting after its long journey from Pu'er (普洱市).
i also got some bags of maocha (毛茶)! this term means different things
precisely depending on who you talk to and what they mean, but the general shape
of the meaning is tea that is processed but not yet ready for sale. this can
mean "has not been pressed into cakes yet" but may also mean "has not finished
drying yet" etc. in this case, all that's missing is pressing it into cakes, and
it's otherwise ready to drink. william and yubai sold this for a limited time i
guess because then they don't need to pay for it to be pressed? uncertain. in
any case, it's neat to get tea that is about as young as it can be and so i can
taste it from the beginning of its journey. all in the name of furthering my tea
being very nice people, they also included seven(!) sample cubes of different
teas they do, so i will taste and review them here.
i tried the 2022 Jingmai Gulan, their flagship blend, and it was an interesting
experience. pretty grassy smell and taste, but full and warm - it felt
physically good to drink. not particularly astringent, only a little sweet, big
smell and taste of forest air. it lasted for a good long time - Jingmai tea is
supposed to be quite fragrant, i think, and so it probably wants short steeping
time but very hot water in order to release the volatiles. luckily, there are a
bunch of videos on how to get the most from this tea, so i'm in good hands :)
i actually meant to drink this tea yesterday, but the oolong got ahead of me. i
have a small amount of a heicha (黑茶) from Guangxi, that is gu yu (谷雨茶) -
namely, harvested after the spring rains - and then left to ferment and age a
bit. according to the person who sold it to me, it's a kind of tea that farmers
and others in the area harvest for their own consumption from wild/feral tea
plants, or tea-adjacent plants, that they generally stick in sacks in their
kitchens and will use to make You Cha (油茶), or 'oil tea', which is a component
in a local kind of meal. this kind of thing, where you use tea to help make a
broth that other things go into, is a very very very old way of using tea, which
anyway, the story goes that this tea would hang out in kitchens, absorbing the
flavors of the cooking (tea does this super easily) including the fragrance of the
smoke from the fires (also probably accurate), and the smoke helped prevent mold
despite the high humidity and temperature of the Guangxi region. i don't know if
this specific tea i drank today is really that kind of tea, or if it's just a
smoked low-grade tea (it was full of sticks), but it's a nice story. in any
case, the tea was amazing.
i brewed this tea maybe twenty times today. over and over again, using boiling
water, letting it steep for a while, pouring it into the gong dao bei (公道杯)
and serving from there. it stayed flavorful the whole time, smokey and sweet at
first, eventually becoming a little less smoked and quite spicy as the drink
went on. it was so cool seeing the taste of the tea change, not diminish, over
the steepings, and it was very sad to eventually say thank you to the tea and
the teaware, before throwing out the leaves and cleaning everything up.
ultimately, the idea of authenticity in tea is so difficult. leaves, just by
looking, only tell you some of what they are, how they were harvested and
processed, and very little about where they came from - all of that information
only comes to people who are very experienced, too. i don't have more than a
small amount of experience, and i certainly don't know good tea from bad except
in how it tastes and how it makes me feel to drink it. i don't trust stories
from people, even if they themselves fervently believe it; they bought the tea
from someone else, and how do you know that they were themselves telling the
truth? there's no chain of custody for every leaf.
maybe one day i will travel and follow the leaf from tree all the way to the
factory where they press them into cakes, and then know exactly where the leaves
came from and how they were treated, but that won't really help. it won't make
the tea "good" necessarily: it's not like i know what good tea growing looks
like, or what kind of tea processing would be best, or if it was well done, or
anything. i don't know anything! all i know is how it tastes, how it smells, how
it feels when i drink it. everything else is set dressing.
today i brewed my first Phoenix oolong, Mi Lan Xiang (米蘭香), which is one of
the better known ones, as far as i can tell. i brewed it in my best
approximation of Chaozhou style, brewed with very hot water quickly, large
dosage, and not disturbing the cha dan. it came out extremely fruity - i got
large hits of a mango/honey flavor, which was pretty neat, and no real
bitterness, which suggests that i'm at least getting the brewing parameters
i drank some very hot, and the floral fragrance absolutely dominated - which
makes sense, because they are all volatile oils and the high heat is necessary
to peel them from the leaves. i also let some cool in a tall ceramic cup, and
that stuff is a little more astringent and has lost some of that fragrance on
the nose - the heat probably caused those volatiles to disappaear - but if i
slurp, swallow, and breathe out through my nose, i get that floral and fruit
fragrance back. i think that's supposed to be hui gan (回甘), though really i
would like to drink tea in person with people who are more experienced than i
am. i have to believe something like that exists here, but, who knows.
i also have a very traditionally made oolong that is supposed to be very
powerful, very strong, but very prone to bitterness - the guy at the tea store
suggested i practice with my Mi Lan Xiang before trying that one, which makes
sense. i believe in my ability to at least do it some amount of justice.
i'm writing this on the 31st, as yesterday was very busy. tea on the 30th was
the remains of my Lao Cha Tou brewed very simply - i dumped the leaves in an
insulated tumbler, full of hot water, and let it sit for several hours as i
sipped it. given that it's shou, it wasn't at too much risk of getting bitter,
plus there was quite a lot of water given the quantity of leaves that remained.
we took a ferry, and the weather was pretty wet and cold - sipping hot tea in
inclement weather is a particular kind of joy, and i very much appreciated it.
i'm taking a class soon about different Chinese tea brewing methods, and one of
the ones they teach is from Chaozhou (潮州) that is focused on oolongs. i went
to a local Chinese tea store here at home and got another Yixing(?) teapot, just
for that purpose. the thing about unglazed terracotta teapots is that they
definitely do absorb oils and flavors from the tea you use it with, and so my
puerh teapot is not super suitable for this. in any case, it was not expensive
for Yixing, and from what i can (very inexpertly) tell, it was probably made
using similar enough clay. actually authenticating any of this stuff is very
difficult, and so i am going to try not to worry and instead simply make the
maybe one day i will go to the Yixing area myself and buy a teapot directly from
one of the artists, but it would likely be very expensive - like tea, the best
ceramics never leave China, and also it's not something i would get the right
benefit from yet. my tea skill and tea palate are not advanced enough yet.
more practice with the Yiwu gushu sheng puerh today. it is very difficult to
brew effectively in the travel set, in that you need to use - with that tea,
anyway - a bit less water than i was using, to get a strong brew, and also to be
careful to let the tea steep a bit, but not too long, in order to not end up
with something bitter or too astringency. i think that it's supposed to be at
least a little astringent, but it's hard to tell. drinking the tea as hot as it
is when brewed makes it difficult to properly taste, for me - the heat is 'too
loud', so to speak.
the tea itself brews a dark orange color, and the leaves have that reddened and
slightly brownish look that says 'older sheng', but not too old - as far as i
i also am going to be taking an advanced gongfu class soon, and so ordered a
bunch of teas for that, plus a box of 'owner's choice' teas, with the request
that i'm trying to broaden my tea knowledge, so we'll see what ends up coming
from them. i'm pretty excited :)
another good day. right now - as i type! - i am drinking the Yiwu gu shu sheng
puerh, from 2003. it's a pretty old tea, from very old trees - what counts as
'gushu' (古树), or 'ancient tree', differs depending on where you are asking in
the different tea producing areas in China, or so i hear.
in Yiwu it means tea from ancient tea gardens - tea gardens planted a very long
time ago, and that are often overgrown or overtaken by the woods on the
tea-producing mountains. farmers will lease or buy mountain land that contains
these old and abandoned tea gardens, and harvest from their trees - several
hundred year old trees at times, that are very large and require pickers to
literally climb them to pick the new leaves. this is in stark comparison to tea
plantations that are newer or more modern, where tea bushes will be kept at
roughly shoulder height or lower to make it easy for pickers to collect the
fresh buds and leaves.
i don't know how much of a difference it makes chemically or biologically, for
trees to grow big and old and then produce leaves, but my understanding is that
generally slower growth is better for flavor, and trees in ancient tea gardens
grow in shadier conditions than terraced plantations, and so grow more slowly.
also, for me, there is something quite special about tea from old trees - that
are far older than me, and will almost certainly outlive me, that were planted
by someone long ago and have nourished thousands, maybe tens or hundreds of
thousands of people across the years, and somehow someone picked some leaves,
sent them to someone else, who patiently laid them out to wither in the sun a
bit before heating them in a wok or other kind of heater before rolling them,
pressing them into a cake after some more drying and then steaming, more drying,
and then stored in some warehouse for over a decade and eventually landing in my
teacup, several thousands of miles away.
maybe this is just privilege talking, and maybe we should not be shipping
something as luxurious as tea across the planet when we have local alternatives
(some of which i have occasionally picked and prepared myself, and are really
quite pleasant), but i will i guess let myself have this. in any case, the
nature of the tea for me is more powerful - the cha qi (茶气) is stronger - from
teas that come from old plants. that's okay i guess.
today has been a full and good day. i'm writing this from a small coastal town a
few hours away from home, on a birding trip for my wife's birthday. our other
partner came too, and it feels extremely good to be sat on the couch in this cottage by
the sea, both my spouses on either side, drinking tea and listening to the rain.
i didn't bring my full tea set, but i do have this very neat travel set i just
tried for the first time. it is made of 'mutton fat jade' porcelain, which i
believe means it is porcelain that happens to resemble white nephrite, rather
than porcelain somehow involving that mineral. in any case, it is a joy to use;
it's beautiful, warms well, is matte but almost velvety to touch, and pours very
nicely. it is a large vessel with a porcelain strainer, a lid that also serves
as a rest, and two little cups - they all fit together in a little travel case
about the size and shape of a mango. i need practice to make tea well in it, but
using the principles i have learned i made some sheng puerh from Yiwu, albeit a
little older - 2003 i think - and it tasted great, with only a little
astringency. i could probably get better results from my gaiwan or teapot, sure,
but i am not at home. this feels good anyway, and mindful practice will help me
grow in skill.
busy and kind of stressful day today, but i made room for tea, and i used the
shou puerh, because as far as i can tell i never really run the risk of messing
it up. i was sloppy about it, but i made tea, and drank it, and it made me feel
a bit better. which is exactly what it is for.
i'm waiting on a couple of deliveries from a Yunnan farmer and puerh tea
manufacturer who puts out a lot of video content in English. His website is here and has some very interesting
things on there, that i'm pretty excited to try. soon, hopefully.
today i drank a lot of the Wu Liang Shan and some of the Bulang Shan sheng
puerh, and watched another recording of the gongfu cha class, an older version
than the one i saw yesterday. that one in particular was interesting because it
included some in-person students attempting the techniques - it helped me see
what it's like as someone attempting these things for the first time, which will
hopefully help me improve faster.
i tend to do this, to study ahead of the class
for topics that i care about, so by the time i am taught it i'm receiving the
information maybe the third or fourth time. it depends heavily on my motivation,
anyway. in this case, i am drawn to tea as a way to cultivate an inner serenity,
to practice a thing that seems very simple - combining hot water and leaves - in
a way that explores a lot of subtleties, of chemistry and biology and self.
anyway, on that somewhat mystical note, i understand my partner has shared
this blog with some of her coworkers. hello!
today i was drinking another sheng puerh, but this one was from Wu Liang Shan
it was harvested in 2013, so relatively young for a puerh but not as young as
the previous tea. i got a little bit of astringency but it was mostly
mouthwatering, rather than negative; i tried a technique which really helped.
after you rinse the tea, the tea is naturally clumped up by the side of the
gaiwan, or by the spout of the teapot. yesterday, when i was pouring, i tried to
avoid pouring directly on the leaves in order to not burn them, and it turns out
that whole technique has a name! i have been watching some classes by the
founder of West China Tea, So-Han
Fan, and in his class on advanced gong fu cha, he talked about fixed-point
pouring (定點). basically, the clump of tea is called the chá dān (茶丹), and
the goal is to pour the water in such a way that that clump is preserved - you
don't break it up by pouring water onto it directly, or by shaking the gaiwan.
it acts as a flavour reservoir, and if you break it up it will make the tea
bitter. that's precisely what i had been doing, and what i stopped doing -
albeit in concert with cooler water. this class let me know that i could in fact
use boiling water, and that technique made really good tea. i highly recommend
you go check their classes out if you're interested.
this tea had more of a melon note than the toasted rice of the Bulang Shan. i
look forward to trying it again tomorrow, see if i can get better notes from it.
i drank this one immediately after lunch, and immediately after dinner, neither
of which are particularly good times i think for having a clear ability to taste
things; i think with practice in this technique, i can get some pretty good tea
out of this and my other samples. we'll see. in any case, i can only improve.
okay, so i made some more of the sheng puerh from Bulang Shan - if i brew with
real boiling water, and maybe 5% more water than i used previously, and still
pour out the water basically immediately, i get a drink that is floral, a little
grassy, only slightly astringent, with those same toasted rice touch. that's the
trick, i think - i was under extracting and as a result, the taste was not
balanced. it came out pretty well. i feel good and like i'm getting a bit better
at using my teastuff.
today was tabletop, so other people in my family came over to play and then have
dinner afterwards. i'm writing this while waiting for dinner to be ready, so,
i'm looking forward to that - i served tea to my visiting friend and her partner
(who is also my partner's partner's partner - complicated family!), which felt
nice. i showed them the Lao Cha Tou, and made a bunch of cups. they both liked
it a lot, which was good - i made it in the yixing teapot, and it is very easy
to brew, no real risk of getting bitterness as i think i remember that that tea
is really intended to be boiled in a pot actively, rather than steeped
necessarily, but it worked well enough for my purposes.
tomorrow is a work day, and i will probably see about maybe having a kettle or a
flask or something of hot water by my desk. i bet i could keep some of this
sheng puerh going all afternoon.
i drank a lot of tea today. i have a sheng puerh, 2018, from Bulang Shan in
Yunnan (布朗山), and i tried it with the gaiwan. it's a good teaching tea, in
that i think i need to work at getting the temperature and steeping time right
in order to end up with something too astringent.
i also drank a lot of houjicha (日本焙茶), a green tea. a friend of mine came to
visit from san francisco, and we spent a good amount of time sipping tea
together and talking out on our back porch, which was good. tea was doing the
thing that it's meant to, namely nourishing the spirit.
today was a busy tea day. i wasn't working, and tea is kind of the main thing i
am into at the moment, and so stuff related to that inflates to take up a lot of
my time. i'm not entirely sure why i'm throwing myself into this quite so fully;
maybe as a distraction? i'm unsure.
anyway, tea. i ordered some nice teaware from a company out in Austin, Texas,
which seems to be run by someone extremely knowledgeable who also puts out a lot
of educational content that i've been enjoying, too. it's a delight to use! i'm
struggling a lot though. i feel like today generally i have been getting in my
own way, whether that's being thwarted when trying to do something a particular
way and then having a strong emotional reaction to it, or just other kinds of my
own mood not really being tethered to external events. that's a reasonable
working definition of poor mental health, i guess.
the thought that just came to mind is of those games where you watch a series of
little videos, or explore a space and read letters or look at photos or
something, and put together the story from there - i think it's called ambient
storytelling, but i'm not going to look it up. in any case, i am probably
ruining the ambient storytelling-ness of my blog by just straight-up
acknowledging that i have depression, anxiety, and ptsd, but so it goes.
i went to a tea place today with one of my partners, ostensibly to learn about
gongfu tea service, but the 45m class was 5m of 'pour boiling water on the
leaves. pour out immediately afterwards. dosage is important. any questions?'
followed by drinking tea, which was... not really what i was looking for. i
don't know if i was expecting there to be more ceremony or whatever to it, but
definitely a bit more by way of actual instruction. maybe it's just not that
complicated and i am pushing too hard to be good at something that is ultimately
just about practice. that would be typical of me. in any case, i should be
gentler with myself.
i made the remains of the Yiwu tea, in the new gaiwan, and i just don't think
i'm good at making this one in particular. i think i was too slow to decant the
liquid, maybe the dosage wasn't right, and i really need to use a strainer. it
wasn't super astringent or bitter, but it definitely had a weird taste that is
lingering in the back of my throat. maybe it is bitterness, i don't know. in any
case, that was the last of it, and tomorrow i will try something else, and maybe
it will be better.
there is a story i really love called 'psalm for the wild-built' where the
protagonist works as a travelling tea monk - they had a cart, full of teas, and
they would travel around visiting communities, offering tea, and listening to
people, in exchange for (roughly) things like supplies. they actually have a
well developed favor economy of sorts rather than anything so crude as money,
but that's another post for another venue. i've thought about what that might be
like; travelling, listening to people, making a small but real positive
difference in a community, moving on. it's the kind of thing i wish was viable
and maybe when i end up moving to a small community and settling there
~permanently, i could do something like that, but everything about that
currently feels impossible.
the neat thing about tea, though, which i need to really put front and center,
is that regardless of everything else, the rite of tea service - whether it's
just for yourself, or if you are hosting others - can be a small bubble of peace
and serenity in the midst of whatever else is going on in life. very few things
are actually so important and so pressing that you can't take a moment to put
everything else aside, be present, and do something good for yourself and for
others. it does not need to be as part of a perfectly beautiful life; it can
just be a beautiful and impermanent thing that starts and exists and then is
i'm actually writing this on the 21st, but it's about yesterday. i tried
drinking a Yiwu gu shu tea from 2018. it came in cake form, and so i had to very
carefully unpick the compressed leaves so that they could unfurl more easily in
Yiwu is one of the main tea mountains in Yunnan province, and is known for
making light, floral teas with little bitterness or astringency. however, gu shu
(when you're talking about Yiwu tea) means that they come from very old tea
gardens, rather than the more modern terraced kind. this leads to two different
characteristics, as far as i can tell:
- more qi
- more bitterness and astringency
also, this was a raw, or sheng tea (生茶). what this means is that it was not
left to ferment in piles, it was processed and then pressed into cakes so that
it could age more slowly and gradually. being from 2018, it's a decidedly new
tea, which explains why it tasted light, grassy, and some strong toasted rice
flavors. i ended up getting quite a bit of astringency because i oversteeped it,
or used water that was too hot, or something. in any case, it was a marked shift
from the aged and shou (熟茶) puerh that i had been drinking.
i tried the remains of the Xiaguan Tuo Cha, in the gaiwan this time. it tasted
good, but i think my kettle cools down too quickly to properly keep brewing the
tea across steepings. when i've had tea in a teahouse, the kettles were on
little lamps to keep the water at a good temperature - maybe i need to figure
something similar out.
Tuo Cha refers to the shape of the compressed tea, which is a little dome with a
depression in the middle. apparently this is to help with aging, by increasing
its surface area, but it is also just a traditional shape, and you can make them
smaller for transport than the disks, i guess. this one is from 2018 and is
shou, so it makes sense that it has a kind of aged round smooth sweet earthy
taste, without much bitterness at all, especially given i'm brewing with water
that's a little cooler than intended. in any case, i had maybe a litre of tea,
and i definitely feel the kind of concentrated tension in the center of my
forehead, which maybe indicates that i've had too much caffeine. maybe it's the
cha qi? in any case, i'm feeling centered and calm, and my perception isn't
altered, indicating that i'm not tea drunk. who knows. in any case, the tea
spirit is satisfied, my tea equipment is happy, and it is now time to put them
in general i've been trying to cultivate gratitude, and a side effect of that is
that i've started to recognize spirits in things. the laptop spirit, the desktop
spirit, the tea spirit and the teapot spirit - things are satisfied by being
treated well, by performing their function, and by resting, but not too long.
the same goes for me, and other people, even if function is usually a bit
grander in scale, or more ephemeral, or more numinous. mine, i think, is to
love, and i also want to live beautifully - but not so beautifully that i'm an
ornament, rather than a treasure. a hopi vase or a handmade teapot, not an oil
i made more of the Lao Cha Tou today, albeit hurriedly. i was attending a
training session for new managers, and during the short break i hastily
assembled tea and boiled the water. it definitely tasted a little different to
the tea yesterday; same rounded-off-ness of the flavour, but different notes.
maybe a little different in the sweetness. i'm not good enough yet to really
identify actual specifics about the flavour profile, but, in time. it was
delicious all the same.
tomorrow i will try the remains of that sample, but in the gaiwan, and see if i
can pull anything specific about how it tastes or how it feels out.
i am back home. i got in yesterday evening, after a pretty long series of
planes and trains and one automobile. staying up to my normal bedtime and waking
up at my usual time has meant that this morning, i am actually not feeling too
jetlagged or tired. today i get to, mostly, vibe.
i decided to use my teapot today, rather than the porcelain gaiwan i took with
me travelling. it's terracotta, allegedly from yixing, and the place i got it
from says it was made by a lady called chen chunhong (陳春宏). not being able to
speak or read any chinese languages, i'm relying on websites and stores and
things to tell me the truth about what things are or where they came from, but a
thing i'm trying to internalize is that it really does not matter too much. i
like owning objects with stories, but those stories can be anything - knowing
that my teapot was made of really good clay from a particularly great area for
clay and was crafted by hand by an artist is neat, and if it's a true story, so
much the better i guess, but it doesn't need to be that way. i made my tea. i
drank it. it tasted good, and felt good to do. that's sufficient.
in any case, i made my tea - this one was from Xiaguan Tuocha, harvested and put
together in 2018. this was shou, or 'cooked', puerh - what that means was, for
part of the tea processing, the tea was left in piles. the heat and the moisture
caused the tea to ferment a bit, leading to a tea that emulates a little the
effects of a longer aging process.
the thing with drinking tea outside on the porch in the morning is that usually,
it is very very good. sometimes though, especially today, the air outside is bad
and the sun is baleful, as a result of the forest fires. it probably is not good
for tea. however, it didn't smell bad outside, and as much as my sinuses are not
great right now, i haven't lost that sense of smell - i believe. the tea itself
was good - not bitter, a little sweet, not as profoundly earthy as the previous
tea but generally, good. i don't know if my palate isn't sophisticated enough,
or if the teapot is smoothing things out, or if my sense of smell and taste is
maybe just a bit compromised, but it felt like a kind of... standard puerh tea.
it was good, but not distinctive. we'll see how the second half of this sample
goes, in the gaiwan.
this may be my last tea in this city. it's early in the morning, and i am
getting ready to fly home; showered, am currently packing, and thinking about my
family. just in time, really, as i think i've mastered the making of nice tea
with my hotel room equipment. i took the time to warm the gaiwan and tea cup
before drinking it, after i watched someone talk about tea-making - he said that
that part at the beginning of the process wasn't really to make the tea taste
better, though it does have a part in that. instead, the act of warming the pot
and the tea cup serves to help center you in the process of tea-making. it is
too easy to speed through things where the process is actually the point.
i'm excited to come home. i hope that it won't take long for me to settle back
into our rhythm. today will be a long day, but i'll be fortified. soon.
the first work thing is in about 45 minutes, and so i am in my hotel room
drinking more of the Lao Cha Tou. i managed to avoid making too much of a mess
pouring it, but while sitting with the cup i did spill all over one of my legs.
i don't know if it's confirmation bias or something else, but i feel distinctly
like i have been getting clumsier, in many senses. not able to find the right
words, spilling things, dropping them, misplacing and forgetting things. i
worry frequently about degenerative disease, but if it is something that is
really happening, it could also just be getting older, i guess. in any case,
there is very little i can do except continue to live and grow as best as i can.
tomorrow i leave for home. i wish it were sooner, but that again is another
thing i can't really help. just one more day of work, then a day of travel, then
some days off for actual rest, with my family. i hope that things feel right
when i get home; that the feeling of comfort and closeness i associate with
being at home does not take too long to return. i definitely have experienced
that thing when i have traveled previously, and because i have traveled alone
this time, i worry that i'm going to feel distant from everyone when i return,
we'll see. either way, things will be back to normal eventually.
no tea today. my day was very full, with a lot of time spent around colleagues.
i slept very badly, ultimately took a nap, and otherwise have spent the whole
day out working, or socializing. my group is fine, though we're yet to form any
kind of deep connection.
more Lao Cha Tou today, it's the only one i brought with me. i woke up later
than usual, but still within the middle of the bell curve for people who
actually live here. it stays dark quite late into the morning here, and so
everything is closed until 10 or 11. i needed to find a store to buy some stuff
i had forgotten to pack with me, and got most of the way through the transaction
in the local language, until the clerk said that i could get two of something
for the same price as one. luckily her english was way better than my
the kettle boils extremely hot still, and i only burn myself twice trying to
warm the gaiwan and rinse the tea. i leave it standing for a while, typing this
as a prelude both to the tea and to me starting my work day in earnest. the
kettle also dribbles a lot as i pour, presumably precisely because i'm trying to
be careful, and the spilled water on the wood(?) furniture does remind me that
at home, i'd have my tray, and a tea towel, and my nice kettle, and i could do
this without making so much of a mess. everything is messy here, and i am
cleaning up spilled tea with a plain white towel. i feel bad about that.
the tea itself is good. i managed to avoid burning it this time, and for the
second cup, the water in the kettle has cooled down a bit. i managed to not
spill; you kind of have to be bolder, more decisive, about when you are pouring
and when you are not pouring. the same goes for the gaiwan, honestly, though a
little spilling is basically inevitable when you are dealing with something that
doesn't even have a spout. that's okay, i guess.
more tea in the evening, though i doubt the wisdom of it. i skipped out on a
work social to go have dinner alone, then retreat to my hotel room; i washed my
hair, watched a TV show, drank tea. i did not make it properly, and the taste is
only okay. my tongue is probably ruined by the chocolate i ate. i miss my
partners. i miss my home.
it is difficult being out of phase with them; they are far away, and also
together, and it's a weird set of tensions and feelings that result. i'm trying
to deal with them as healthily as i can. i'm not really able to talk to them
much, as i sleep during most of their day, and instead i am socializing with a
barn full of strangers. it's hollowing. i drink tea.
i'm drinking Lao Cha Tou puerh in my hotel room in Amsterdam. i brewed it too
hot and for a bit too long, using the hotel kettle and a gaiwan that
miraculously survived being in my hand luggage for 18 hours. it smells and
tastes earthy, and i'm distinctly reminded that this thing i'm drinking is made
from wet leaves. it's a little bitter, unusually so, and i also feel reminded
that i am a long way from home. i got to talk to my partners an hour or so ago,
enjoying their day unusually out of phase from me, and that was good. that
helped me feel alright.
i went to go refill the gaiwan with cooler water, and i realized i had left some
water in there already, meaning the tea has just been either stewing, which
would be regretful, or deeply steeping, which would be fine - either way, i
didn't want to drink the remnants, so i dumped it and refilled. after carefully
walking it over, i got to taste it. much better. this brings me back to tea on
the porch of our house. just a hint of bitterness, that only really comes up
after your swallow. it feels good in the mouth, like how grass between your toes
feels, and it tastes like the earth is kissing you. this tea is twenty years
old, and it somehow ended up in my cup. lucky me.
i used to be a tea nerd! or at least, i thought i was. there was a local place
in my undergrad town that had interesting coffee and tea and things, and i was
pretty lonely for a variety of reasons, and so i would spend a lot of time
there looking at teas - asking questions, trying things, etc. it was a thing i
could actually kind of afford to do because even small amounts of things like
tea are very cheap. at least, they are compared to beer or whatever, and when
you aren't buying especially fancy things, which i wasn't, because i didn't know
what fancy was in the world of tea.
in any case, i eventually put that hobby down, plus all my other hobbies, and
had a long relationship that was terrible and made me very unhappy. when
that relationship ended, i moved back to the USA and after bouncing
around some temporary accommodation, i ended up living opposite a Chinese
tea shop. i learned about how to make tea gongfu style, about yixing teapots,
and some of the different kinds of Chinese tea, and ended up drinking a lot of
pu'erh. that's now my favorite kind! and i'm going to write about the ones i try
back then i had read 'the book of tea'
which made me think i understood both tea and zen, when really i had no idea
about either. after moving to the US however i found myself living with someone who at one point had taken zen
really seriously, and so i got some input from her on what at least rinzai zen
was all about. i bought a yixing teapot and i bought a little bamboo tray and i
bought some pu'erh, and tried to focus on doing a good job making tea, in the
hopes that that would bring about some kind of inner peace. it did not! but the
tea was tasty. it turns out that teaism is real and good, but kneeling
on tatami and trying to gongfu yourself out of a bad situation isn't super
effective by itself. no tea is strong enough.
in any case, i moved away from her and that bad situation to another, much
better one. i again was alone and again was trying to find things that made me
happy, and there just so happened to be a sōtō zendo nearby. i attended, became
part of the sangha, kind of, and sat. it helped. i found local tea and coffee
places, and drank a lot of it by myself. it helped, especially when my attention
was on what i was doing and what i was drinking, and not in my phone or on my
laptop or whatever else i was using to distract myself. my teapot was donated
to a thrift store and so i hope that my little teapot is making someone happy
somewhere, and that the tea spirit is well fed. i stopped being a tea nerd,
though. i stopped being a lot of different kinds of nerd, and my interest in
things computer also kind of ended around this time. i think i just generally
dropped a lot of the things that had build up around the idea of who i was.
fast forward a few years, and now i have a number of things; a loving family, a
little free time, a decent job, and access to a lot of Chinese tea places. i
don't practice zen anymore, but that's mainly because my time is very full and i
barely have time to lean, let alone sit. it would probably be good for me to do
that, but instead, i will keep trying to learn how to do tea properly, and thus
solve two of my major problems - my mental health and dehydration - with the
same meditative practice. i had had this thing once that had given me joy, and
so, i am going to get back into it - again - but better, this time.
want to go back?