A quiet passion
THE EARLY DAYS
I am intrigued with idea of 'slow' tea. It is inspired by the way traditional connoisseurs in China viewed tea and tea drinking. Tea has been part of Chinese culture since before the birth of Christ. What interests me particularly are the aspects of tea-drinking in China that relate to relaxation and Nature.
The Chinese believe that we are all part of a vast moving landscape in which Nature and our own human nature are identical. What we do affects the world around us. What we eat and drink from that world affects us. We are what we eat and drink. Therefore our approach to how we eat and drink is of great importance for our own wellbeing.
From the earliest days, tea-drinking in Eastern cultures has been associated with people in contemplation, practicing meditation. Tea was grown around the monasteries in the high mountains and was served as an elixir to help maintain the ideal state of mind – a sense of awareness and alertness combined with a feeling of deep and peaceful harmony.
Over time, tea-drinking became more and more ritualised, culminating in the famous tea ceremony. At their best, modern-day versions of the ceremony can still play a key role in bringing the individual a sense of harmony and inner calm.
Let me take you on a virtual visit to an early tea house and garden so you can hopefully begin to see why slow is beautiful.
A BEAUTIFUL GARDEN
In the centre of a beautiful garden or woodland stands a small rustic thatched hut. You walk down a gently winding path of ancient stones. Walk slowly, breathe deeply, relax. Pause on the small bench to enjoy the beauty of leaves falling, old tree trunks, moss, dew on tender leaves. Nearby is a stone basin with fresh water that invites you to wash your mouth and hands, a symbol of a constant search for purity; an 'emptying out' to achieve a sense of clarity unmarred by thoughts you have left outside the gate.
Your host awaits you in the tea house. The low threshold forces you to drop your head as you enter – a symbol of submission and subjugation of your impatience and desires. In a small alcove is a spray of fresh seasonal flowers in a bowl. You will be invited to sit and in the peace you can appreciate the subtle rituals of the tea-making.
The absolute silence is broken only by the sounds of Nature outside and the gentle bubbling of the water on a small charcoal stove. Your host will lay out the tea paraphernalia, prepare the tea and serve it to you. Allow the tea to permeate through you. You should feel at the moment of drinking that that one bowl represents the entire universe, of which you are a part. After a while you and your companions will engage in gentle conversation until the ritual is repeated.
Wouldn’t some of that wellbeing and relaxed state of mind be worth pausing a few minutes for? Slow tea is not a new idea to Britain. It belongs in our past since we first discovered the joy of tea. 18th century Georgian tea-drinking imported all the paraphernalia and many of the protocols and etiquette of China which rapidly became part of our own social ritual.
Only a couple of generations ago, a teapot could be found on the kitchen table of most households. It was the focus of social occasions with friends regularly 'popping round for a cuppa'. Teapots were, and are, a symbol of slowness. No-one minded waiting for the tea to brew, it was an opportunity for gossip and chit-chat.
British tea culture has changed with the demands of our modern lifestyles. But consider the role that tea can play – has played throughout the ages. It can slow you down in a world that doesn’t want to let you slow down. It gives you time to compose yourself and achieve a little poise in a world full of haste and worry. It helps to foster social bonds in a world where we’re all too busy to care about others.
Slow tea can have the same effect as yoga or tai chi - giving you gentle, positive energy. So please, give tea time. Become a 'calm junkie'. You’ll enjoy it, I promise.