Initially I would like to mention that when I discuss tea, what I’m really talking about is the infusion of the leaf from the Camelia Synensis – not herbal infusions, tisanes, blends, or other hot drinks. I’m generally talking about loose leaf tea with the exception of compressed puer tea and Japanese maccha.
As is the title of this post, you may or may not be aware of tea’s current state of affairs in North America, particularly in the States, albeit Canada follows suit. Tea is on the rise, people! You may have read about it in a magazine, heard about it on the news or radio, stumbled upon it online, or noticed a greater number of tea shops opening in your area – or you may have been to SanFransisco and said to yourself, “holy smokes, tea is on the rise!” It is said that tea is to SanFransisco as coffee was to Seattle – but is this a good thing?
Lets quickly recall that much of the world, over many years, decades, generations, and even centuries, has developed a wondrous and well-aged romance with the leaf. Tea is a simple drink yielding a complex experience. It is a luxury, and communion with nature. From a cup of tea, I offer you a heightened sensory experience. Tea goes beyond physical sensation however, and brews us into a world of ritual, respect, meditation, harmony, spirituality, and compassion.
In North America – a coffee driven fast-food culture – the leaf has made its inaugural steeping over the last decade or two. There are now teashops budding around America offering both large selections of loose-leaf tea, and an experience quite unlike what coffee has to offer. Surely, North Americans could greatly benefit from the natural nectar that is tea; what with its capacity to sooth frantic souls, heat cold hearts, awaken tired minds, enliven stale energies, and facilitate wholesome intentions uncommon to the coffee-driven activities of our everyday life.
Not unlike tea plantations gone awry – ill-treated to meet increasing demands – North Americans are hopping on the tea-train looking to establish the next Starbucks of tea – TeaBucks? We want a tea culture, we want it now, and everyone wants a piece of the tea-pie. And what’s North American culture without misleading advertisements, targeting an audience with brand names and labels? If it’s not organic, hand-made, artisanal, premium quality, mountain grown, fair-trade, monkey picked, then it’s probably inferior, duh! Who wouldn’t claim to source and carry only the finest quality tea from old-growth tea trees? How else are you supposed to distinguish yourself from the rest of the competition; ultimately lending tea down the wasteful path that is our fast-food culture? And if your not drinking your tea naked (loose-leaf without any blends or additives), reading Samovar’s blog: Tea Porn, or marking up prices to whatever sex-appealing consumers can bear, then you might not be ready for this particular Occidental infusion. Some tea companies even go so far as to claim their products take tea to a whole new level: Art… as if Tea hasn’t been an Art for some thousands of years now. Lu Yu who? The Cha Ching what?
Starbucks is taking advantage of this tea-movement with their newest and most misleading commercial suggesting that each coffee plant grown is specific to each individual customer, and to top it off they claim their coffee is, “perfectly handcrafted for you”… not just handcrafted, but done so perfectly… When what is Starbucks but quality controlled, mass produced, marked up, caffeine boosting coffee? Tim Hortons and Blendz are on the band-wagon as well, just to name a couple others.
I think my biggest problem is the way business has to be conducted in America to be successful, and it’s unfortunate that in order to share the wonderful experience of tea with others as a livelihood, tea must be held subject to the greedy practices of our business culture. Location, location, location. Profit. Speed. Accessorize. Mark-up. Target. Brand. Market. Expand. Greed.
Surly tea deserves not a fate such as this.
As a culture, tea cannot be rushed, which directly clashes with America’s fast-food culture. Tea offers many health benefits, a sense of class and luxury, among many other marketable qualities, easily priced and sold for a profit. North America wants a tea culture – and the wanting is the problem. You can’t want culture. Culture doesn’t happen when you direct your intention and energies towards it. Culture is like Zen, as soon as you attempt to move towards it, you wind up moving in the opposite direction. It’s a paradox. Wanting to speed up culture is the antithesis of culture. Maybe 300 years from now we can talk about tea culture in North America, which is a good thing.
Tea is part of a diverse and old culture; it is Art; it is a medium through which we can begin to cultivate compassion and connection. Tea is a calm body of water, without any waves but those created by the elements of nature like the flapping wings of a low flying bird, or dew drops knifing down the face of a spring leaf, or the fresh kiss of a fish from the waters below. These tranquil waters offer no wave to ride. Tea isn’t in a rush, yet it accomplishes everything. Tea is wise and therefore ordinary. It is an alignment with nature, a communion with fellow beings.
Tea and culture aren’t about passion; they’re about compassion, so serve your friends and family a cup of tea, whether it’s in a jam-jar or a purple-clay Chinese Yixing tea pot – just be sure to serve it with your heart.