Some thoughts on approaches to tea

I haven’t posted in a while, mainly because I wanted to wait, observe and digest the change and evolution of my relationship with tea.

I originally came to appreciate tea whilst living in a hut in a forest in Scotland. At that time I had a few fairly standard Kunming tea market bings, some reasonable oolongs and a few small bags containing bits and pieces of older puerh.

meditation hut in scotland

As most of my day was spent in meditation, my daily tea sessions during the breaks became a very important part of my day. Mostly teaching myself and learning by intuition, many of my practices would be deemed technically ‘wrong’ by most learned tea folk, but I appreciated the tea and came to value the bits and pieces I had and my time spent with them.

Since finishing my meditation retreat and coming on a journey to some of the places of tea, I’ve met many people with many opinions and different approaches to tea. Until recently I’ve been kind of disappointed – it all felt so commercial. First in Hong Kong, and then so much more so in Kunming. Kunming tea market is stocked full of such mediocre tea and teaware that it is a rare thing to come across anything very much of note.

With a few exceptions the quality of the wares on offer is matched by the feeling of the shops there. It is cheap, a commodity, to be bought and sold on after a few years, months or even days, hoping to make a small profit on a large amount of cheap, market standard new tea. It was all about quantity and profit, with not so much quality or love for the tea itself.

There was none of the spiritual feeling I’d previously felt during my tea sessions whilst in the forest in Scotland. It felt ‘dead’, lacking any kind of positive energy. I guess it’s created by the same kinds of minds that can bulldoze a hillside of hundred year old tea trees to make room for their new, efficient, fertilizer fuelled plantations.

And so I left, without realizing consciously how disappointed I felt with my experience of tea there. I did drink some nice tea and met some really nice people, but it was only once I left that I realized that it wasn’t what I was looking for from my tea life.

With visa extensions in China being almost impossible during their Olympically crazed paranoia, I had to leave the country. Very fortunately for me I received an email, inviting me to come and stay in Taiwan. I’d previously considered coming to visit Taiwan but had kind of brushed over it, figuring it was going to be too expensive, too hot etc. etc. etc. But here was an invitation, and it fitted the time I had to spend somewhere before my flight back to the UK in July.

a friendly friend

My host here has an approach to tea which much more fits my disposition. We’ve been drinking old teas, drinking in silence appreciating the energies each tea had to offer, drinking in mountains collecting water from mountain streams, we tried silver kettles, tetsubins, new cups, antique cups and so many other variables, all of which had a much more profound effect on the tea drinking experience than I had given credit for previously.

beauty in tea

I’m reminded again and again of a trick I used to play on my younger brother when we were young children, swapping him 3 ‘moneys’ for 1 ‘money’. He gladly accepted, not realizing that his 1 money was worth 5 of mine. In the same way one can buy a whole case of poor tea for the price of a single bing, but for me the satisfaction of a pot of good tea greatly outweighs any gallons of poor tea I could have bought previously.

I guess here I’ve found the beauty in tea which had been missing for me. If I had to give a recommendation to fellow travellers wanting to experience tea culture I’d say ‘by all means go to China, experience what there is there and appreciate it for what it is, but make a stop in Taiwan too, appreciate the tea culture and see what beauty there can be in tea too.’

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  • toki

    I am so glad you found what you are searching for…. Siting down and sharing a good cup with stranger without materialistic tie, and common interest is a blessing from tea. – Tok

  • chen

    We follow our path, we will find tea beauty and culture…then happy.Thanks for tea destiny.-kt

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the openness and sharing the journey experience.

    It is the small matter of finding the excellent bing in place of the mediocre tong.

    Any advice?

    Lethargus

  • nada

    Dear Lethargus,

    Unfortunately, while one may be able to stumble upon the excellent bing from a computer on the other side of the world, there really seems to be no substitute for making a trip for oneself.

    I think it would be wise to make sure your bank account is healthy before you make the trip, I’m sure you’ll find many things which you’ll want to bring home.

    nada.

  • Tuo Cha Tea

    Dear Nada,

    I have a question. We all hear from every source, that direct sunlight damage the tea and especially pu-erh.

    But many collectors display their best teas as we can see in the picture. Are these teas for display only, aren’t they ruined?

    Tomas

  • nada

    These teas were not this person’s best teas – they were ones that had been given to him as gifts.

    I’m not sure about the answer to this – I see many shops displaying precious teas on their walls.

    The one place I did see this taken into consideration was in Kunming in the shop of 12 Gentlemen. They had taken the wrappers from their cakes and wrapped cheap cakes in the wrappers for display purposes. That way it doesn’t matter if they sit in direct sunlight all day.

    My feeling is that it’s probably best not to leave your bings in sunlight. If you want to display some cakes maybe this rewrapping approach is good. That way you get to drink the good teas too!

  • Sacha

    Hello Nada,

    I’m just back from Taiwan myself and I beleive I recognize your host’s tea room… Great person, great place!

  • nada

    Hi Sacha,

    I believe you do indeed. I’d heard you’d been visiting a few weeks ago.

    I hope you had a nice time.

    n.

  • Anonymous

    So, then, the art is in the experience as much as in the cup?

  • nada

    I would say so, yes.

    As with other things, I think it is most important to improve the mind that experiences the tea. With a lousy mind even the best teas can taste bland and uninteresting.

    With a calm focussed mind, it seems the experience of good tea can really come alive.

    nada.

  • Bill

    I am happy to see you back! Lovly pictures!

  • chen

    N,
    Glad you can go back home…
    Kt

  • tsultrim topden

    big bussines and enjoying cup of tea in the hut its same ,.important is who enjoying this cup,.if you meditate as you wrote ,.it s must be obviuos,.nice day ,: D