Biodynamic Tea (Camellia Sinensis)

This 40+ foot tall tea tree is biodynamically grown and used as a mother to propagate by seed

 

In my last entry, I documented the process of making biodynamic black (red) tea here at Finca Luna Nueva, but what makes it Biodynamic?  First, let me lend you these summaries of Biodynamics to become better acquainted with the practice and philosophy:

 

“The Bio-dynamic Farming and Gardening Method has grown and developed, since 1922, on a foundation of advice and instruction given by the late Rudolf Steiner, a philosopher known for his world-view called Anthroposophy (wisdom of man).
The name ‘Bio-dynamic’ refers to a ‘working with the energies which create and maintain life.’ The term derives from two Greek words ‘bios’ (life) and ‘dynamis’ (energy).”

— BIO-DYNAMICS :- A Short, Practical Introduction

 

“Biodynamic agriculture is a method of farming that aims to treat the farm as a living system which integrates with the environment, to build healthy, living soil and to prouduce food that nourishes and vitalizes and helps to develop mankind. The underlying principle of biodynamics is making lifegiving compost out of dead organic material. The methods are derived from the teachings of Rudolf Steiner and subsequent practitioners.”

— Grasp the Nettle

 

“Bio-dynamics, though not disparaging of common sense, is concerned essentially with consciousness-expansion in regard to plants, animals and soil. The attempt is made to look into the deeper spirit of nature. Out of this deeper awareness, based on exquisite observation of nature, the approach calls for not letting things run their natural course, but for intensifying certain natural processes (creating optimal animal populations, making special compost preparations, planting selected companion plants at certain cosmic constellations), aiding nature where she is weak after so many centuries of abuse, short-cutting destructive processes, and instead using human intelligence, kindness and good will to foster positive developments.”

— Culture and Horticulture – a philosophy of gardening

 

Biodynamics is also a certifiable farming practice (Demeter), which is a broader certification than organics, so if you are biodynamic certified, you are organic by default, but the converse is not true, however.

 

So in one sense, the tea plants here are receiving biodynamic preparations through composting and spray applications, in another sense, we tend to them based on certain lunar cycles and relationships between the moon, sun, planets, and zodiac constellations, and in another sense still, these plants are also subject to the energies and good will generated by the stewards of the land: the farmers dedicated to healing our earth, growing healthy, living, fertile soil, ready to nourish us now and for many generations to come. In a nut-shell, that’s why our tea is biodynamic here at Finca Luna Nueva. It’s also very rare in the sense that this tea is grown sustainably from seed propagated trees whose roots tap deep into the the soil, drawing on the riches of this Rich Coast (Costa Rica). This tea has a living quality about it, a cultivated high vibration; qualities derived from farming practices that go back to the way tea was traditionally raised and revered well before Biodynamics was even defined — and that’s the beauty of Biodynamics; because like any spiritual tradition, it’s a bringing back, a returning, a revitalizing…

 

Biodynamic compost undulating with life and death – and mycellium! It really is like a living organism

 

 

TLC

Advertisements

Biodynamic Organic Black Tea

 

In preparation for our Black Tea workshop** in October, we made Finca Luna Nueva’s first Biodynamic Organic Black Tea last week. (It should really be called a Red tea, but for the sake of simplicity and parlance, we’ll refer to it as Black Tea)

This harvest gave me a chance to put all of my previously learned tea knowledge to the test. Reflecting back on my experiences in Hawaii and Taiwan working on tea farms and in tea factories, and simply listening to the tea plants — as is so important to Biodynamics and the Way of Tea — I put together a simple processing method including indoor withering, hand rolling, de-enzyming, and drying.

When working with such high quality and high vibrational raw material, it’s tough to go wrong. These plants have been propagated from seeds that stem from tea trees ranging between 20 – 40 ft tall here at Finca Luna Nueva. Their root systems tap deep into the riches of the soil, drawing on nutrients and energy not available to younger tea evergreens. Those deep-rooted resources, combined with the intention and benefit received from biodynamic practices, lay the foundation for a materially and spiritually rich tea garden. Que Rico.

We harvested the tea on a mid-afternoon Fruit day during the ascending and waxing phase of the moon according to Stella Natura’s Biodynamic Calendar – 2012. If you’re not following this – don’t worry! We’re just experimenting with lunar cycles and zodiac relationships that will hopefully bear bountiful, healthy, well-keeping harvests.

The tea essentially went through a 19 hour indoor withering period in a room with good circulation, followed by an hour and half of hand rolling to shape, bruise, and coat the leaves with their own juices. Oxidation ensued for three hours. Fixation in an oven brought oxidation to halt, and the tea was dehydrated into a stable state. Considering the climate here, and as I learn more about Biodynamics and the Leaf, I will definitely tweak some small steps in the process, but all in all, we were very pleased with the final product.

Of course, I will almost remember the first infusion: once crisp leaves infusing audibly without, anticipation behind a mask of patience, humid air breathing in and out, aroma developing, profound colouring – earthen orange clay – a moment paying homage, rising to the altar of my lips, steam waving in the immediate environment, smiling satisfaction, what riches…

 

**At the workshop, guests will be able to process their own black tea, learn about cupping vs tasting, become more intimate and personal with Camellia Sinensis, walk the biodynamic tea gardens, and be served in ceremony.

 

TLC

Interning at Finca Luna Nueva: Day 10

I’m lounging up in a tower right now, some 60 feet high, well above the surrounding jungle canopy at Finca Luna Nueva, a sustainable rainforest eco-tour lodge and organic, biodynamic farm. Volcano Arenal lies to the West, dense jungle to the North, rainbows and lavender sunsets to the East, and the lounge area and pool to the South :) Cicada’s rattle, countless birds call, thunder shreds the skies, and the rhythm of the jungle breathes on in concert. Not a bad panoramic.

 

East facing rainbow from the tower

I’m one of the new interns at Finca Luna Nueva. This farm and eco-lodge offers 3-month internships where young adults can experience life on a biodynamic organic farm within a sustainable rainforest eco-lodge — it’s a good life. The internship program can be focused in areas such as biodynamics, farm work, construction, culinary, and even business. From what I understand, most interns have a hand in at least a few of these areas, blending the experiences together.

 

As for myself, I’ll be focusing on all tea-related aspects of the farm, from planting, harvesting, and processing, to pruning, propagating, and serving in casual ceremony. In just my first 10 days here, I’m already designing a new tea garden to be installed, spraying biodynamic preps on the existing tea garden, I’ve set date for a black-tea workshop in October that I’ll be conducting, and I recently had a skype conversation with my good tea friends in Hawaii which will help me to implement a sustainable harvesting and pruning schedule that lines up with the biodynamic calendar. And that’s not even accounting for all the time I enjoyed putting into the cob-oven project that intern, Kyle, has been spearheading for the last month (which still requires a few weeks of satisfying work).

 

Of course, it’s strange to call this “work” considering were given the opportunity to do something we really want to be doing, in returns for food and shelter. There hasn’t been a day when I felt like I was going to work, in the typical sense of the word. Not only will I do this work completely free of charge, but I’ll gladly do it with a smile on my face giving as much gratititude as I can for being given this opportunity to do what I love. Work-trading/WWOOFing should always at least be mutually beneficial but ideally should end in great friendship. The trick isn’t so much finding what it is you love to do, but cultivating the ability to choose to love whatever it is you find yourself doing. Whether I’m working with tea, or working on a cob-oven, it’s more so a choice to love doing it rather than doing it to see if you love it. In that sense, it’s going to be easy to enjoy any project here at la finca, which also has a lot do with the farm itself; all of the projects are a reflection of the sustainable, organic, eco-friendly, and caring nature of the farm.

 

I’ve traveled to a lot of places now, and had a lot of different work-trade experiences – all of which I’ve loved and learned volumes from — and already I can tell that this internship at Finca Luna Nueva is going to be a very notable experience. As far as internships go, I can’t think of a more conducive environment to learn and thrive in; one without micromanagement, one with an emphasis on self-directed projects, one with easily available resources for a wide variety of jobs, one within the realm of Nature, one with great food and caring staff, one that sets you up within a framework of success and allows for flexibility of content. The list could go on.

 
I still have a lot to cover, from the amazing tea garden that already exists here, to the cob-oven project in more detail, and a day in the life of an intern. But I’ll save those for future posts. For now, I might go enjoy the sunset again and take a dip in the pool before dinner…

 

Can you see Volcano Arenal?

Pura Vida

TLC

Finca Luna Nueva

My travels, adventures, and pursuit and personal development continue, this time at Finca Luna Nueva in Costa Rica: a sustainable rainforest Eco-Lodge with a certified Organic Biodynamic farm. The farm, as part of the slow food movement, attempts to grow as much of their food for staff and guests as possible. They grow an array of fruits and vegetables, raise some animals, make their own chocolate, pepper, coffee, tea, and also grow turmeric and ginger, among many other things. The farm and eco-lodge are host to a number of other opportunities and activities that can all be found on  their website by clicking the link above.

I’ll be taking part in a 3-month farming internship. I plan to learn all about growing food, raising animals, medicinal plants, the world of Biodynamics, organics, sustainability, and self-sufficiency. I will also continue my own self-directed study of Permaculture design, Natural Farming, and Biointensive Farming as a complement to this internship program. To add to that, I hope to help manage all areas pertaining to tea on the farm, from planting, propagating, and harvesting, to pruning, processing, and serving.

I’m really excited to return to Costa Rica, which is where my farming adventures all began well over a year ago. Not only do I get to learn even more about sustainable farming practices and lifestyles, but I get to work with Camellia Sinensis and continue acting as  a student of the Leaf (all of which will prove syncronistically practical for my adventures post-Costa Rica, but that’s for another post well into the future). Anyway, I’ll be updating my blog regularly about live on la finca. My internship doesn’t start until next week, but look forward to some exciting new posts.

TLC

Reflecting on Taiwan – Drinking Intention

In retrospect, I never gave my Taiwan travels a proper closing blog entry. After all, I was literally chased out of the tea village I had come to know so well by a great force of nature: the Typhoon! I actually had to scurry up to the mountainside tea factory, pack all my belongings in about 15 minutes, and flee back down into the valley – 5 days before my date of departure. This was all due to the heavy typhoon passing over Taiwan, of course, and had I not evacuated then, I very well may have been stranded due to road damage and landslides. It was difficult as it was what with vehicle sized boulders blocking sections of road and a 100-foot section of road was already washed away by the time I returned to the village. Luckily, an alternate gravel road had been opened up that connected back to the main road. Also luckily for me, I was welcomed with open arms at the Tea Sage Hut for the duration of my stay in Taiwan until returning to Canada.

 

In case you don’t already know, essentially I went to Taiwan as a student of the Leaf to learn about where my tea comes from, how it’s grown and processed, and who’s making it…and I wanted to gain that knowledge through first hand experience and community involvement. I offered my support in a tea factory and farm in a small tea village in returns for food, accommodation, and the experience to learn about the industry that is Taiwanese Oolong Tea.

 

This short documentary gives you an idea about what I was doing. In all my excitement in the first week (which is when the video was shot) I fumbled with words, but you get the idea. In particular I like my goofy comment on the smell of tea (which really is the greatest aroma I can think of), and my corny motto at the very end. Even though this video was shot only a few months ago, my outlook on tea has changed drastically. Much thanks to Wendy Wang who directed and edited the film, along with her crew.

 

 

This experience, as exhilarating and thrilling as it was, was actually quite challenging and draining. It wasn’t so much the long work hours, the extreme language barrier, or the complicated processing techniques that made things difficult; it was experiencing, first hand, farming practices that were in direct conflict with my love of tea as a natural product, a spiritual medium, and a connection with Nature. I was defining tea for myself by learning about what it didn’t mean to me. I was searching in the dark for the true light of tea. I really struggled at times, and wanted to make people aware of what I was learning about, but at the same time, I didn’t want to tarnish the image of tea, the image of any individuals, or the image of a country for that matter. As you can tell, I’m still being quite ambiguous about it all. I found there was no one to blame, not the farmers, not the salesmen, not the entity that is the chemical industry – it all came to no avail.  In fact, it is the farmers who are the first victim.

 

I now ask myself, is it more important to let people know that the tea they’re drinking probably isn’t raised in the spiritual  or natural manner to which they drink it (thus raising awareness), or to let them go on drinking it with such genuine spiritual intention, reaping the benefits inherent in their belief about the beverage they’re consuming. Either way, I feel damned if I do or damned if I don’t.

 

In some respects, I think people deserve to know what goes on behind the scenes of a large tea industry, behind the labels that vendors use to sell a product. And, I believe this can be done in a balanced and constructive manner. In another respect, I think certain information should be withheld because it’s the “knowing” about it that can exacerbate the “problem.” I’m not to say that ignorance is bliss, or that, what they don’t know won’t hurt them.  I’m kind of saying that, but from a very different angle, one that places great significance on the intention behind an action. In this respect, we’re no longer talking about drinking tea, but drinking intention.

 

The worst tea served with the best of intention is better than the best tea served with the worst of intention.

I once asked my teacher, what is the most respectful way to use conventionally grown tea. I didn’t want to throw it out, but I wasn’t sure if I should serve it to others? He told me that tea served from the heart and received in the same manner will transform the tea. This is drinking your own intention. If you receive this tea with your heart and fully intend for it to be a joyful, nourishing, meditative occasion, then your physical experience will follow accordingly, and that alone will generate a therapeutic energy of well-being. I believe the benefit in approaching (any) tea in this manner is of more importance than raising awareness about what’s going on behind the scenes. This is a form of empowerment. Approaching a conventionally grown tea with this intentional manner is of more use than not drinking it because you became aware of the conventional practices employed in raising it. Of course, there is a fine balance between some level of awareness and cultivating a mindful intention with respect to consuming tea.

 

I’m not to say you should just forget all about farming practices and their role in society and carelessly sip away with fairytale intentions. Nor am I saying you have to spend 3 months in the mountains of Taiwan getting to know the factory laborers or field workers on a personal level, or to witness the livelihoods behind the thousands of hands involved in the process of bringing tea from the soil to your cup. That’s not practical or necessary – or sufficient. While it might not be practical to source a farmer who’s tea is raised in a spiritually-like manner to which you drink it, it is practical to suggest that you source and buy Organic and environmentally friendly tea, which is the next best option – and a good one at that (like the Global Tea Hut’s Tea of the Month, for example). Then you can be confident that the tea you are drinking is not only inherently healthy for you, but healthy for the environment, and the manner in which you drink it is more closely aligned with the manner in which it was raised. Your intention in this case will even further the therapeutic benefits of a tea drinking occasion.

 

So in reflecting on my time in Taiwan I learned that tea can be perceived in many different ways; as a commodity, a beverage, a ceremony, a science, a cuisine, a livelihood, a spiritual medium, a garden, a monoculture, an art, a culture, an evergreen, a medicine, etc, and all of them have their place within certain boundaries. My perception is constantly shifting and changing to accommodate a blend of those ideas about tea. For now, tea is for me, prominently: a social art, a connection with Nature, an opportunity of transformation, and a Way. This is what I really learned about tea in Taiwan.

 

An old Tea Sage with Great Intention

 

TLC

Global Tea Hut

There is a global tea drinking session going on right now, and everyone is welcome to be a part of it.

Fellowship in Tea and cultivation of Spirit have come together beautifully at an important time in our lives. One outcome of this communion is The Global Tea Hut: a community of tea drinkers around the globe, who, through gift exchange, support each other, environmentally friendly farmers, Cha Dao, and the hub that connects them all: the Tea Sage Hut, along with its publications, wayside huts, and other means of promoting self-cultivation and wisdom with regards to tea.

preparing Global Tea Hut packages

 

The Global Tea Hut spans bodies of water, bridges gaps of land, traverses great mountainsides, and brings us all closer together over one common cup of tea each month. The package you receive includes a monthly newsletter, a small gift from the Tea Sage Hut, and tea which is donated by sustainable farmers concerned with the environment.

 

 

This tea session is never ending. The energy, sharing, and awakening continue in a flowing seasonal pattern, from the bursting forth of new seed to the cleansing of ware after ceremony. So too this global tea session has been going on for a long time, even before the passing of the first bowl from one set of hands to another, to a time when Nature reached out to us, longing to initiate this tradition.

Supporting small-scale Organic Tea Farmers in Taiwan with members of the Global Tea Hut.

 

The Global Tea Hut is connecting us and bringing us closer together under one thatched roof, in the realm of one earthen tearoom. Its tatami mats of ocean and land nurturing great tea trees, who’s roots run deep and who’s nectar courses through our veins, tying us in Camellia fellowship, binding us as kindred tea spirits.

 

 

On my way home from Taiwan, I found myself surrounded by amazing people during a rideshare from Vancouver to Kelowna. We stopped at one of the highest points on the connector whereupon we shared some Ai Lao Sheng Puer, which you can read about in the GTH first newsletter. It was the inaugural GTH tea.

Sharing GTH tea with friends in BC

Sharing GTH Tea in BC

 

If you’re interested in joining the Global Tea Hut gift exchange, then check out the Tea of the Month on the GTH website.

 

 

TLC

Tea Sage Hut

In my final two weeks in Taiwan, searching in darkness for the true light of tea, I found such a beacon of light – and I went towards the source. I arrived at the Tea Sage Hut.

 

 

Here in Miaoli, Taiwan, is a center of tea wisdom, expressing the communion of Tea and Spirit, Cha and Dao. This center is called the Tea Sage Hut. It is a space dedicated to community, connection, sustainability, the environment, development of skill, unconditional kindness, mindfulness, laughter, meditation, and awakening to harmony through the wisdom of tea and service.

 

It is here at this wayside hut where enthusiasts of Life, Spirit, and Nature (and absurdity!) can honor a bowl of tea in a constructive environment; where tea can be shared in its highest regards; where we can bestow upon it the respect it deserves; and where we can walk the Great Way, guided by the wisdom of the Leaf and the teachings of the Dao. Though, not at the expense of healthy humour and freedom to express yourself. Seriousness has its place, as does hearty laughter, which we thoroughly employ here at the hut!

It’s quite special: the way tea is sourced, prepared, and served here. The water comes from a spring in the mountains. The teacher and the students gather the water once each week, hiking to the source. Back in the hut, the water rests in a clay pot in the meditation hall, receiving the energy of Metta generated there. After being carefully and mindfully ladled into a tetsubin, the water is patiently brought to boil using coal and/or electric element. I’ve read about the effect water can have on a cup of tea, but only after coming here do I experientally understand the significance behind that effect. In fact, just the heated water alone – without any leaf – is full of energy and a pure joy to imbibe. So too, the tea is alive with organic energy. It comes from soil thriving with natural cycles of life and death. It comes from farmers who care about tea and the environment. In line with all this, the tea is prepared and served in a like manner. But these are only constituent parts of the whole experience. The margins of space between this paragraph are so great that what is left unsaid is all. This Cha Dao experience in its entirety lies in the communion of all parts in the present moment. That’s the beauty and mystery of tea: a simple concert of liquor and leaf offering a symphony of complex sounds, silences, and sensations – and it’s available at the Tea Sage Hut.

 

 

When you come here, you are welcomed as if at home, along with all of the other tea brothers and sisters who pass through this sanctuary. Unlike home, however, where rent might be expected, everyone here is welcome free of charge, which includes tea, wisdom, room and board, and a moving experience. It is the donations from those who wish for others to receive the same wisdom through Cha Dao that they freely received, which keep this center operating, open, and thriving.

Here you can connect with tea brothers and sisters from around the world, and two amazing teachers – Wu De and the Leaf. In my short time at the Tea Sage Hut, I communed with the most amazing people from Russia, Canada, Estonia, and the US. Together, we engaged in sharing bowl tea, supporting organic farmers, meditating, laughing, preparing healthy meals – and all in the name of Cha Dao.

 

 

It really is amazing that such a place as this exists. This is a space I’ve always been implicitly looking for, as I think any enthusiast of tea and spirit is. A place to drink high quality tea from high quality ware; a place to cultivate spirit in the company of brothers and sisters from around the world; a place of solace and sanctitude; a place in tune with Great Nature; a place free of charge, open to all, and offering movie night on Fridays! Before coming here, it really was only a distant fantasy that this wayside hut existed; something I could only ever have read about in books or seen in videos; a point in time I would have only imagined to exist well into my future. But here I am, right now in this moment, at this very center – experiencing this dream….

 

 

For those of you who can’t make it to this physical hut in person, there is now a thriving Global Tea Hut connecting us all on an even larger scale, which I’ll be writing about in my next entry.

 

 

TLC