Archive for the ‘Illuminations on Tea’ Category

Generation Tea

Jin Chan's Bath

Purple Tip Pu-er served at the Zen Dog Tea House Gallery

“Brewing is easy with eyes closed…misunderstanding all you steep” Yes another blog with tea puns, but read on you may actually extract something from this. This is more of an observation than an argument: We are in the middle of what will later be known as Generation Tea. In lieu of formal terms given to generations, I am speaking solely in terms of beverage(s), and the consciousness that they represent, that end up defining a generation. Looking back at previous beverage generations we have mostly alcohol-related entries, and it is true, you must stoop before you steep, especially when considering the 16th century born sōan or low grass hut style tea houses, requiring crouched knees and a bowed head just to enter. Alcohol aside, we are moving out of Generation Coffee and into Generation Tea.

 

For millennia Tea has remained the second most consumed beverage only to water and when tea is used in these terms suffice it to say, that it stands to mean any herb that has been thrown into boiling water, mindfully or otherwise, is called Tea—not good enough! When I say Tea I mean TEA, Camilla Sinensis; all 600+ Varietals and their various methods of processing such. Using the loose-leaf given statistic previous, many would probably argue that generation tea has either been happening for quite a while or has even come and gone several times over since. This too needs clarification.

 

As the World continues its trends toward responsibility, awareness, partnership and equality, Tea, being the supreme beverage/offering of peace naturally finds itself more of a permanent fixture in the lives and homes of those who are opening and trending with the new wave of changes and less and less with those who are bucking and riding against inevitability. The dividing lines which so represented Mans’ overall consciousness are dissolving and it is fitting that Mankind’s behavior, perception and relative actions evolve alongside this energetic shift.

 

The entire point of this observation rests on the idea that a cup of tea is not so much a cup of tea merely; but rather a representative for a new way of living, acting and sharing the World as we know it. I do insist on Tea and not just any old herb [I do love herbs dearly, but that is a different blog] because there is a specific resonance between Humans and Tea that co-relates to how we treat those whom we walk with and the planet on which we walk.

 

The wisdom that comes from tea, comes in two ways: Ancient and Relative. Just as any good religion practices, teachings must have a good balance of these aspects; being able to make what has been given in the past applicable to what is happening presently. Similarly, Tea trees whether old or new give us an offering every season. Aging certain teas like pu-er, is like tracking a time-capsule that can be re-opened at any time and will share with us what was happening not only in nature but also in the World at that time. Pu-er, much like history, becomes richer and fuller over time and is best when it can be shared with others. On the other hand looking for the freshest teas is equatable to getting the newest transmission of information or ‘download’. Fresh teas like fresh produce serve as a conduit for information from the Earth, telling us what is happening in the plant kingdom up to the moment. Again both are necessary and each contains an aspect of the other within it.

 

The virtues of Tea are wide and varied, especially as each culture has developed it’s own understanding of Teas significance. I will attempt name a few commonly agreed upon virtues: Compassion; expanding ones’ sympathies to include others, Humility; remaining in awe of the grandeur of nature, Tranquility; the ability to be still and listen, Simplicity; living within your means and being charitable, Honesty; respect for all life and keeping the highest good at the forefront of your mind.

 

Though there is plenty to ‘learn’ about tea, our interaction and enjoyment must not be bereft of an understanding of what Tea really is and what it represents. Our collective ‘coming of age’ as human beings on Earth, requires us to put our head to the ground and find water when necessary, to remember the traditions of the past while accepting the values of the present and to find the beauty we wish to see in the World, first within ourselves.

 

Tea the change you wish to see in the World.  Brew Here Now.   Namastéa

 

Why Tea? Why Now?

As we continue to live on this planet we keep making discoveries and advances, yet in the words of any great sage ‘No-thing is really new’. The explorations that we make in the world also have an inner conscious component to them, whether it is implored or left unobserved.

Among other things Tea represents our connection to Heaven and Earth and also to each other. Far from being a ‘new’ beverage, tea is emerging in the west now in its fully conscious capacity. Again, tea for our sake has always been there, yet it is us living in the west who are finally opening up to it. Because we are able to approach this age-old tradition with beginner’s mind, we have the potential to expand the joy of tea drinking farther out in the world and also deeply within ourselves.

Tea is simply a beverage that requires more awareness, and with our attentiveness to it, we can fully imbibe all of its qualities and incorporate them into every facet of our life. When taking in any substance responsibly we should ask ourselves: is the spirit of this substance something I really want to be a steward of? Unlike a martini on a mountain top it is a very high-’bar’ for us to grasp, becoming aware at this level of subtlety and understanding, although gradually we do; but we do not do it alone. Everything that we take into ourselves has a particular spirit or Way about it and we become representatives for the spirit of those things we partake in. Witness a session at a wine bar and a tea house: both parties have a ‘good’ time, it then becomes a question of which way the energy is flowing.

There is no right or wrong, only truth and non-truth, transcendence or bondage, light or shade, oneness or duality, expansion or contraction. The question then changes: does this action/substance expand my awareness or contract it? Even those rapidly mind-expanding substances come with their inevitable intense mind-contractions. Yet what about a supreme substance that can bring you as much experience as you would but pay it attention, without any negative consequences? Sounds too good to be brew.

Tea is a beverage of expanding conscious awareness. This is  indicative in the limitless ways you can process tea leaves to taste differently, as well as the myriad ways that you can brew tea. From what we know of coffee: we have a bean that can be roasted to any degree of delight to bring out its best qualities and has various methods worldwide to extract its flavor, correlating to the coarseness or fineness of its grind. In general all coffee must be brewed using high heat for proper extraction, which depending on the grind requires exact time-frames, to the degree that the entirety of the coffees’ taste depends on it. Under extraction leaves one with a watery unsatisfying warmish coffee-flavored mouth swish. Over extraction: a biting acidic brew that makes bitter beer face look like graduation smile fit for a mothers mantle. With the degree of exactitude required, there is certainly little room for error and also little room for intuition. As for tea it is built-in, i.e. (in-tea-uition).

Most people ask, ‘how do I brew tea?’ It is one of my favorite questions and it tells me that people are thinking beyond bag teas and really using their loose-leafed, free will of thought. It none the less suffices that I always seem to supply them with the same answer, ‘however you like!’ Unlike the cold and unthinking science of making coffee the possibili-teas for Camillia Sinensis are literally endless. You can use a little, you can use a lot, a large space or a small space, hot water or cold water, the end goal remains the same: pulling the joy out of the leaves. This phrase has become a personal goal in the aspiration for attainment of full teawakening through the art of Gong Fu Cha. After experimenting with tea, you begin to develop an understanding with the leaves, the processes that they have undergone and what amount/temperature/time will be best for their teachings to be imparted; their joy to be shared. You could call this listening to the leaves, or in this case: trying to predict the next steep.

Whether we like it or not the world is changing, and whether you believe it or not; evolving. Every man, woman and child must make the necessary changes in their individual lives so that we can collectively move forward on our necessary destiny towards completion.

Our choices are becoming weighted more heavily by the second as the propelling force of ingenuity connects us in new ways, helping us to realize that we are responsible not only for ourselves and our family, but also for the world and all of its inhabitants. The more we choose to partake in peaceful, calming and conscious activities; the more we shed light into the world by being an example of how peace can manifest on the planet. For our sake if peace is what we wish to promote, we had better know what it looks, feels and tastes like. Share a cup of tea!

by Steve Bonnell

 

Chocolate and Tea: A valentines Day Event with Intrigue Chocolates at Zen Dog’s Tea House Gallery

Thursday afternoon in Seattle was sopping wet with plump gray skies overhead and into the distance. ZD and me arrived S. Washington street at Intrigue Chocolates to unload a wealth of tea gear including Tea-Mobile, the traveling fully equipped tea cart. We met Aaron, the proprietor and his events assistant Megan and soon got to work. With only 5 days to the big event we had no time to lose, our next moves had to be exact.

Across a mini plateau of stainless steel we laid out the laboriously: weighed, sealed and labelled tea samples to the side of a dozen hand-made chocolate truffle samples. The goal: use our taste buds and in-tea-uition to create perfect pairings fit for lovers, of life. Aaron told us that he does 12 signature truffles featured in a month and that he has hand crafted over 120 varieties! First tasting the chocolates one by one ZD and I took sealed tea samples that we thought would pair well with each one and placed the bags down in front of the truffles. Then came the fun part.

With dual Capresso kettles fully boiled we engaged Tea-Mobile and began our pairings session. The first and obvious question of utmost intrigue for the well-steeped Pu-er Head was: what would complement Tea House Gallery’s most celebrated tea, Purple Tip? This was indeed a hard place to start especially considering that Aaron and Megan had never tried Purple Tip Wild Tea. ZD brewed up a dark gaiwan of the sultry broth, not a leaf spared, we paired this with one of Aaron’s most time consuming truffles, Fig; hand made from a reduction of the water of soaked figs. Purple Tip’s dried fruit note was immediately accentuated, followed by a chorus of oohs and aahs of individual experience with how the two had harmonized with each other, according to our individual palates. Cherry wood, moss, earth and even cream were vocalized as this long-lost, now found, union was dancing on the (purple) tips of our tongues. Enchanted, we poured more tea to prolong the elation of the experience even when the chocolate was absent.

Although the tangible satisfaction and joy felt after one pairing would have been enough to leave on we decided to honor our efforts and try matching some of the less obvious combinations. Our next best guess was Tie Guan Yin with a truffle crafted from the essence of a peppery seed whose lineage is to the ginger family, known as Grains of Paradise. Aaron crushed a few of these seeds in order to ‘open’ them up, they were pleasantly floral with a familiar yet undeterminable scent. After rinsing the Tie Guan Yin, we inhaled its aroma; high mountain flowers and fresh green flora. As we married these two in our mouths a floral sweet note was brought out in the Grains of Paradise truffle while an earthiness was pronounced in Tie Guan Yin, seemingly the two traded qualities on either side, while the spirit of both was joined in the middle, a perfectly balanced relationship.

We tried 8 pairings in total and even saved an obvious but essential Wild Red Rose Bud and Rose Truffle pairing for those present at the event Tuesday Feb. 14th. I will elucidate on one other pairing before going into the deeper aspects and symbolism of Tea and Chocolate.

Damiana is a South American small shrub which grows tiny but potent yellow flowers well-recognized in South America and Mexico for it’s dual effect: stimulating the libido and acting as an aphrodisiac. When mixed with chocolate the taste alone is romantic! Again there is a awkwardly familiar yet un determined flavor present on one’s palate after consumption. The closest we came up with for the Damiana truffle was leather, tobacco and a musk with lilies of the valley, which sounds like a hippie on a Harley? We chose Special Grade Phoenix Oolong, which for many has a pleasantly familiar yet flabbergasting flavor. This relationship I would almost equate to online dating, hear me out. Two very independent, complex beings whose initial link is not in the presence of each other, leading to building sense of intrigue, excitement and longing. A first date, an intuitive knowing of what is possible, how each other can push all the right buttons. Did these two hungry lovers skip dinner and go straight for dessert? Guess you’ll have to join us for event to find out!

Whether it’s Tea, Chocolate, Coffee, Wine or food that you’re exploring the most important thing to consider is the Consciousness and quality of product. There’s a reason we didn’t just open up a box of Lindt® assorted truffles and start pulling bags off the shelf haphazardly mixing some of the best tea in the world with an oily mass-produced downgrade product. When you are truly pairing, blending, harmonizing and marrying two things together, to create that magic spark of union, the quality and the consciousness must be on par with one other. If not than you may be walking home alone, empty-handed, with a 3/4 full box of chocolates and no stories to tell the boys in the break room.
By Steve Bonnell

 

The Importance of Sharing Tea

Tea embodies the elements that make us human and also incorporates those ideals that teach us that we are not solely human.

Tea is often referred to as a cup of humanity. The symbolic identity behind using three fingers to hold your tea cup is that they indeed represent: Heaven, Earth, Human. So what is it about tea that captures all of humanity in a cup? This very question asks us to define our concept of humanity. Without lengthy discourse on the Philos of man and existence, suffice it to say that for our purposes humanity is our ability as humans to coexist and look upon each other as equals. Just as tea in 14th and 15th Century Japan was served in severely small thatch huts where participants were made to kneel before entrance simply to even fit through the door if not also as a display of deference. Around these tea tables men became equals and tea acted as a great unifier, so great that at one point Aesthetics were able to view the Japanese and Chinese cultures as being equal.

Upon first glimpse tea is simply a hot beverage served and enjoyed world over. The various shades of yellow, green and brownish broths that have been named tea seem somewhat unimpressive until tasted. Most people in the world have their interests, it seemingly is the thing that keeps most people living a life on the planet. Without these interests life seems dull and it is too easy for humans to become disengaged, depressed or worse unobservant. Tea like anything else has its secrets that are revealed only unto sincere seekers. For most who have had a tea-wakening there is no turning back. Once someone knows, even at the most nominal level, the potential for tea to change ones’ entire perspective in an instant, they cannot look back even for a second. For many this awakening is a cup of tea that has been brewed  for them. The smooth body and beautiful liquor take the once passive observer so completely off-guard that there is a moment when thoughts cease and there is no longer a question that proceeds us, keeping us eternally distant from our ever-present reality. For us this is exactly where we should be all the time, beginner’s mind. The difference is that even if that moment comes once we distort it with our romanticisms about it and try to replicate it with the exact external agreements that were present when it happened, as best as we remember them, soon forgetting that the only experience that ever happened was internal. The taste of Zen and the taste of Tea are the same -Buddhist Saying

Consider the Zen idealism: every act no matter how mundane should be seen as a step towards enlightenment. The act of making tea has acted in many traditional and ancient cultures as a vehicle for enlightenment. What seems simple in today’s modernized society is none the less still practiced with great reverence and focus the same way it was practiced hundreds of years ago by few. The difference is presence. Tea becomes a vehicle for enlightenment when we realize that even a seemingly mundane act is a an opportunity for us to step out of the way and allow the presence of Spirit to flow through us uninterruptedly. The metaphor thus extends itself to all aspects of our life, it is not as though one is only enlightened when behind the tea table and then steps down to play folly in any number of worldly pleasures. No matter the task the ingredients for success remain the same: Presence, Dynamic Focus and Joy.

We share tea for a number of reasons and also because there is no reason. Many spiritual Masters are depicted as sharing a cup of tea with their students. Tea traditionally drunk in silence allows for the highest possible transmission of spiritual vibrations to be imparted unto those present. Tea is shared in many remote parts of the world as a literal sharing of sustenance or life force. Tea can be shared to close or open a business deal. We share tea as a way of saying that we agree with one another or that our feelings are mutual. Any one tea ceremony can be powerful enough to bond souls for life or even lifetimes of friendship. Our agreeing to be a tea server represents our willingness to be of service to all of humanity no matter what is needed or when, we are flexible and will sacrifice our desires to create a sustainable future for all who would agree on the truth of one universal humanity.

Like a truth serum, tea can loosen us up to the point where people who were unknown half an hour ago are now more like fun relatives who have just come over for a visit. If we are going to talk about tea, we may as well include Par-tea! A time for tea is a time to get loose and the older the tea; the greater the Qi. With our bodies, physical, emotional and mental being bombarded by external and internal stressors we are too often, locked up. When energy stops moving through the physical and spiritual bodies it is literally like our bank accounts being frozen. However, when this happens we call the bank in a panic and demand that we be un-humiliated or given back the right to spend our money. But when energy is locked in our own being it often goes unnoticed for days, months even decades. The Qi energy in tea is not unlike our own Qi and interacts with us in such a way that there is a mutual exchange, using one to move or complement the other. As Qi blocks, different than LEGO® blocks, are released any number of pent up emotions, fears, mental disturbances and even physical pains may come undone. Without words or reasons tea silently heals us.

by Steve Bonnell

 

Teanunciation

Tea does not ask us to renounce the world but rather to unite all the elements that determine its make up with the heavens. Said more simply, when we make tea we use all of the five natural elements, according to traditional Chinese philosophy, and we give those elements expression of consciousness, determined by our own perspective and intuition. In this way our body becomes a laboratory. Our bodies innately contain all of the elements needed to sustain physical life on this planet, otherwise we would not be living, yet we are also vehicles beyond our predetermined electrical imprint, for the mysterious presence of That which animates the flesh.

Though it is true that we can stray far away from the truth that is our very own being, we can never remain that which we are not, forever. That is to say, That which we truly are will reclaim us in the end. Tea lacks judgement or reason by man’s standards, it simply is. He who is married to judgement and reason cannot relate to such a simple reality, instead the eternal elixir of tea would soon be better spent run into a gutter, for at least there it will eventually merge with a great river back to the ocean.

If we see imbibing tea as an opportunity for two distinctly unique parties to work together toward achieving the same end than we have seen far beyond the grosser act that is taking place on the physical plane and delved deeply into a subtler reality that involves cooperation, transmutation and transformation.

Regardless of the unheard stipulations on behalf of the growers and producers of tea there is but one major responsibility on behalf of the drinker, along with a many minor responsibilities; Enjoy Thyself. Tea is truly the beverage of Joy! Tea is a gift mostly because it offers itself with a complete lack of self-interest, instead moreover we are given the choice to enjoy it or not to enjoy it.

Because our culture is silently obsessed with science and exactitudes, I am often asked the same questions about tea by many: what temperature? how much tea? and what length of time? Other than responding kindly to another fellow human being these words uttered, often as if life itself had never been tasted, mean nothing! That is to say, we are completely unaware to the extend to which scientific homogenization has not only de-humanized us but also left us with no sense spontaneity, this stark adjustment from what makes us human in the first place has bred a complacent race of beings not merely controlled by fear but bound by a far more dismal fate: lack of imagination. Though you can give rough estimates for brewing this mysterious leaf for consistency in taste and strength, you can never teach someone how to pull the true joy out of tea leaves.

The Gong Fu Cha Master who makes good tea does so not due to skill alone. Their consciousness is elevated to the point where they are able to be fully present with the leaf: understanding it at a level that must be intuited by the heart. At this level there is no question about temperature, duration or amount, all become a fluid recognition between brewer and leaf. The mind of the Tea Master must be still, because tea itself is like a clean mirror, it reflects the every thought, emotion, even distraction ever witnessed by it unto those who imbibe it. When the consciousness of a group of drinkers is fully present with the tea, the tea takes on sentient qualities and is able to share a tangible personality and reality with those present. Furthermore the Tea Master brewing the tea is far from being the star of the show, he or she simply acts as an instrument to brew in the manner that is best for others enjoyment, even if they themselves do not get to taste the tea.

A Tea Master is like a band’s drummer. A good drummer is able to hold an entire band together while remaining for the most part unseen and unheard. A good drummer plays just enough without overplaying to give the perfect accentuation to the other players. A good Tea Master brews without the thought of becoming known as a good tea brewer, rather to pull the joy out of the leaves for others that they may glean what he or she has bore witness to many times before.

In the quiet, still, pale moonlight I retreat to my humble thatch hut, leaving my shoes of worldly duties at the door. I reverently enter this temple of solitude alone. Here I witness each moment as its own, each unique and beguiling. I brew tea with both concentration and consecration, for even here I am brewing not for myself but to probe the mystery of true being itself. If I am successful than this session with have been observed by nothing and no one.

Though service as a Tea Master can give one great joy it is not to be confused with the necessity for deep exploration in the laboratory of the heart. The very fact that we recognize tea’s gift and have a desire to share it gives new added depth to tea and ceremony. If we took in all of the factors that bring tea to the proverbial table, a ceremony seems like the least we can do to honor its very existence. All this said tea is a vehicle for understanding deeper truths about ourselves, our relationships to others and also to the universe at large. In the very end even tea will cease to exist period as all of our memories will fade back into their original state, silvery beams projected onto the fine tapestry that is our individual and collective lives. But for now, all things considered and for the sake of true humanitarianism lets sit for a while and enjoy a steaming cup of tea.

by Steve Bonnell

 

Walk your Talk, Drink your Tao

We all play the part of being helpers to one another, even to the extent that we profess about things which we ourselves have absolutely no idea on how to achieve. As the story goes one friend inspires another who is down on their luck, to reach great heights and live for something greater than themselves. Without hesitation the friend who was originally down takes their words to heart. A year later the two friends meet and the one who gave the advice see’s the other shining with success, new job, new relationship and new sense of purpose. So what’s left? In comparison the friend who was originally a little down has risen to such a great height that the original comparison seems minute when put into perspective. What changed?

Our words have as much power as we would give them. If we do not often keep our word or carelessly arrive late with no factors worthy of excuse, than the power that might have infused our words has all but flown, our words then are more like a love letter used to catch kindling in a bonfire. When we keep our word and try our hardest and even admit our failures, our words eventually become like those written in stone, whose legacy has survived many a century, many a moon. When inspiration is combined with dynamic will power, it is like turning the ignition key, the more combustable fuel added to the project or situation the smoother and faster it goes. Friend A had the inspiration, but friend B had the purpose to put it into action. This same principal is also true for those who aspire to become sports players or movie stars, though many can buy their way to the top, the ones who have clearly struggled to get where they are, are all the much richer for the life and soul experience that they have gained through the process. Those with a reason to rise above their present situation can use their dissatisfaction as fuel to reach great heights, no one will change you from the outside-in, the work must be done from the inside-out.

Ok, Ok, but what does this have to do with tea, well, nothing per se but let’s contemplate together, shall we? First of all, their are many types of tea and many ways that tea is produced packed and sold. No matter how high our aspirations are in life, if our motivation is like tea bag tea, than we may only get the proverbial car out of the garage and decide otherwise once the weather changes. Most people these days consider themselves to be coffee-seurs or purveyors of fine and distinct coffee’s from around the world, yet the tea bag remains the standard issue for restaurants, grocery stores and just about any venue where beverages are sold. Ok, imagine this. You take your partner’s family out for a surprise engagement dinner at a posh hot spot in your favorite city. The food looks amazing, you haven’t even ordered yet and your watching artisan plates drop down all around you. Your excited, the Fam is excited and then you ask to see the wine list. Instead of a bottle list you get a postcard that says White, Red and Blush. Amused you smile and catch the attention of your nearest waiter and ask, “Can I see a bottle list?” He is now smiling also and tells you that they conveniently serve 3 types of Franzia® box wine. Wow, you didn’t think that your imagination of expectancy for fine wines could possibly relate to how a tea lover feels when they walk into their favorite restaurant and are shot down. The maitre de will surely try and calm you by saying, “well, this is what we carry and no one has ever complained.”

I’ve got another one, for the coffee lovers. Dinner is over, fine steaks and seafood, with local farms listed, amazing in-house cellar aged Pinot Noir, directly from a winery within an hours’ drive, great appetizers, time for dessert. Luscious black and white molten chocolate cake with white chocolate drizzle and 80% dark chocolate flakes. Ordering this is no problem, you take the time to ask, “which coffee roaster do you work with to get your beans?” Your host who has been amazingly knowledgeable all night draws a complete blank, they say, “let me check” and run off. Looks across the table, is this person new? They seemed to know so much about the menu. When they return they tell you, “It’s a Bunn®, that’s the roaster we use”. You say, “Isn’t that a coffee maker?” they say, “Yeah, roaster/maker isn’t that the same thing?” The person who you’ve invited to this Wonderful-up-until-this-moment evening asks, “What kind of coffee do you brew here?” “Millstone”.

Not so funny. Welcome to the reality of every card carrying tea lover in America. Yes high demand for finer wines and coffee’s has driven the market to an insatiable thirst. A time machine would show a different story, a story of what beverages were like before we ‘Knew too much’. If we drink coffee in the morning and wine at night to ‘balance’ ourselves, what takes us out of the rat-race? No matter how you ‘cut it’ Tea is a beverage for transcendence! The higher quality the leaves the higher the high. Tea in silk sachets are merely paying lip service to those who crave high quality loose leaf tea. Is the world awake yet? Or do we just lie down and accept the fate of a great beer, wine and coffee selection at the expense of tea bag tea? Watch the restaurants who have already opened their ‘sails’ to the wind of change, the wind of high quality tea. They are like the movie makers who put their movies into Blu-Ray® format when they went to sell them, long before we knew which format was going to edge the other out, these in other words will be the survivors. As the world wakes up, it requires better fuel, it demands high quality tea!

I have been personally appalled at the restaurants that I would have figured to have the best tea, yet it was less available there, than the restaurants that have showed me no love by giving me a selection of Tetley®, Chinese restaurants. Serving poor tea is one issue, but denying something that is so engrained into ones’ culture, quite another; no one in Texas turns down a steak, expect for the owner of Whole Foods®, a self-titled vegan. I would be thrilled to know if there was a secret code character for really good tea, that only those within the culture knew to ask for and everyone else, myself included, was served lousy tea. Sure it may exist, but on a whole that is not the case. Even within the district of internationality it is every man for himself. No restaurant owner walks a block to his favorite teahouse and pays for a pound of choice tea, that he could potentially turn profit on, for his place. [excuse blatant but not mal-intentioned racism] People are still given a small cup after dim sum and told, “this-a dark tea, very good for digestion”. Dark what? where did this come from?

If no one is educated about the possibility of choices that exist, than no one will ever think to make them, or at least that is the model that has worked thus far. When we educate we share living ideas that they may be passed on, when we reserve information for a limited few, we deny the progress of the human race and inevitably, ourselves. If you are a restaurant owner, look into buying high quality teas, you’ll educate your market, end tea-lover suffering and yes, even turn a decent profit! If you are a restaurant goer, and love tea, grill them about their tea selection, ask them if they carry loose leaf, ask them if they think Folgers® is a good choice for their coffee, ask them to call me, on my day off, start a riot! The more momentum, the bigger the wave, Surf’s Up!

Watch as the world changes beneath your feet, do you ebb and flow with it or resist hard it’s unpredictable nature. What begins as excusable static later becomes a gong, ringing ever-louder, and finally a drum that beats steady, your heart is either in-tune with this drum or it is not, your choice.

Walking your talk and drinking your Tao are one in the same. What you put in your body eventually comes out, in more than one way. What we fuel our body with affects our physical form, yes, and though we may not always pay attention to it, our energy body can as clear be as a Montana sky or be clouded to the point of trying to spot a small schooner across the lake on an otherwise foggy morning. You wanna be the supermarket Shaman? Keep telling others how to run their lives, whilst ignoring your own. If you wish to ride the legally-sold upper and downer roller coaster, be my guest. But if you’ve just purchased your last ticket on the Puker, than let me know I have a Way off of the ‘ride’.

When we walk our talk, our words become carvings etched into massive stone walls held in place by our will to carry things out. Don’t we need an elixir that is in alignment with these principals, one that has withstood the test of time, one that is completely natural, one that will wont fill you up and never let’s you down, for real. If we are to walk our talk, we must drink our Tao, our truth, our transcendence, otherwise talk is cheap.

by Steve Bonnell

 

Tea as a Path to Higher Consciousness

Of all the things that tea affords us: civility, calmness and community among others, higher consciousness should be considered the most worthy gift of this infusion blessed by the Gods. Why all the fuss over a few dried leaves? The attitude expressed by those who often find themselves on the outside of a tea circle is fully justified by witnessing tea solely as a physical act: you heat the water, steep the tea and drink the tea, big deal right?  Right!

Contemplating the fact that most of Asia’s exports are dehydrated and later…rehydrated to the delight of the consumer I find tea in this category yet also far far beyond it. When tea is steeped the consciousness of everything that the leaf has known is released. This also means that our consciousness is affected by this transfer of energy. In Dr. Shan Tung Hsu’s book, The Essence of Tea, he explains that each type of tea has certain characteristics that can be explained when compared to members in a family. White and Yellow tea: two delicate young maidens; Green tea: the energetic young teenager; Oolong tea: a mature woman; Black tea: the assertive gentleman and our favorite; Puerh tea: the warm and benevolent grandparent. In this analogy we find great truth. For our purposes here I propose that we tune into the consciousness suggested for each tea and how it relates to our own selves. This model in tandem with our theme allows us to begin shifting one of Western societies axiomatic paradigms: caffeine content. Hopefully this article will be out of date within the next year or so, but for now, we live in a time where everything is compartmentalized to the umpteenth degree: grams of caffeine, calories per serving, suggested daily value and on and on. Looking at comparisons that hint at subtle energy allow us to transgress the thought of caffeine until it is no longer factored into our great choices, making equations that decide what will be good for us in any given moment. We can still use our well-trained faculty of discrimination without falling victim to societies misinformed notion that all caffeine has been created equally. Instead we will ask ourselves questions like: what qualities do I want to bring into my life at the moment. If it is the morning the quality of an energetic teenager may be a good one to affirm, or possibly an assertive gentleman who makes decisions and is ready to take on any challenge. If we follow subtle energy and beverage consumption we agreeably see that black tea is most likely the closest to our dear friend coffee, however if black tea is indeed an assertive gentleman it makes coffee seem like a ebullient, capricious friend lacking direction or focus. Which would you prefer roaming through your consciousness?

Of all the great stories related to tea, the greatest is our own testament to its truth, our own experience. The same is true with most anything in life even something mundane like a good restaurant, anyone who has heard stories about people eating there and enjoying it can relate those stories back to other people. Yet there is something lacking, conviction maybe? Without the experience, the heart is not really talking, just the mind. When we combine the heart’s experience with the mind’s intellect, we can reach people on a much deeper level. The same is true when we are in a receptive mode. Any experience where the heart accounts for 60% or more of the actual witnessing is undeniably richer than those experiences where we forget to listen with the heart. Even our intuitive faculty is located first at the heart, whereas the mind must then sort out the ‘meanings’. I imagine the mind often as a giant mail house, receiving 1000+ packages a minute from all different locations, it takes in a given package, assesses it, and then spits it to the correct location of interest. The heart  immediately detects the truth in all things and relates the messages to the corresponding energy center. If there is a block between the heart and the head or if the head is muddied by distractions then there is generally little to no real conversation inside or outside of the body. This also relates to how we know ourselves and others.

Tea is a catalyst for the coalescence of the heart and the mind. When we begin to clear up any confusion that exists between the heart and head we begin to see the perfection that is ever-present, yet often hidden. The government, which has been primarily seen as the institution that seeks to keep people in the dark, afraid and generally fearful would do good by making tea illegal and marijuana totally legal, that is assuming that numbness is more desirable than awareness.

Imbibing tea is like weaving two strings of consciousness, the leaves and imbiber enter into an agreement to spend the next length of time together, the imbiber is given a new outlook on life and his current situation while the leaves are given full expression in a vehicle that has capacity for full realization. Tea can inspire us to high states of thought and vibration and in so doing asks for nothing in return, do we not owe it at least our full attention and reverence? Tea is not a beverage that allows you to pierce the levels of creation with naked sight, it is not a beverage that will enhance your ability to confuse colors with sounds or smells. Tea does not coerce anyone into friendliness or joy, it simply gives us a choice to realize that these options exist.

Each tea has its assumed depth of experience which can and does often relate to its type, care of production, variety of specie, location of growth and physical age. Again using the family model we see that we can factor in assumed amount of steeps depending on type of tea as well. Most don’t assume to have lengthy conversations with an energetic teenager or an assertive gentleman, which makes sense when you relate that to the fact that most green and black teas are good for about 3-4 brews on average. Oolongs, white and yellow teas slightly more and Puerh teas, usually till the cows come home. I tend to think of steeping tea as witnessing the life of a person unfold, or in this case unfurl, kind of like watching a documentary. If we use 100 years as a general average for a human life span and divide that up by number of brews we start to see which teas afford us greater detail into their mini-dramas. For those teas that we get more brews out of, we also can glean greater overall understanding from them. Puerh teas are the teas where there is much to be absorbed. The best puerh comes from older trees, 500+ years old, where the tea plant has become more like an arbor tree, at this point the soil network and roots system is well acquainted with the earth. So often in these older tree leaves we taste the characteristics of other plants and flora: camphor, fungus, moss, soil, mist. Because tea like humans is sentient it affects the heart, we can immediately feel and benefit from tea right from the center of our being. Tea, because it is so connected to nature allows us a chance to reset ourselves back to a more natural state just by drinking it.

It is said that if you are looking for tea, than tea is also looking for you. We steep tea and tea steeps in us any number of traditions, noble qualities and information about what was happening on the earth at the time of its growth. Good: water, equipage and company honor the leaves that have often traveled far or aged long years, awaiting our excitement, anticipation and most of all, Love.

By Stephen Bonnell

 

Why we Brew the Way we Do

Regardless of the vessel or the method we use, teas’ most important element is the spirit with which we brew. Tea is an innately spiritual beverage, it’s liquor heals the body and elevates the mood. When we brew tea with the remembrance and reverence to the great spirit that connects us all, not only do we honor tea, but also our guests and even ourself. Luckily with tea there is no need to change religious creed, tax status or library card. Much like the wisdom locked within the leaves, tea is automatically built in. In the west we are beginning to see eye to eye with the east, and vice versa, accepting ancient truths and ways of life. Within the last 5,000 years tea has been a part of civilization, culture and life. Often to varying degrees of popularity, depending on region and scope, tea has evolved simultaneously with mankind and has served and sometimes defined the multifarious needs of constantly changing societies, kingdoms and long-held traditions.

The versatility and adaptability of tea has given it an iconic status not only in the regions where it is picked and produced but also on the stage of a global economy. As thirst for eastern culture becomes more pronounced, so also does an interest in differing types of tea, i.e. Puerh Cha, a type of compressed brick tea from China which was barely in the vernacular of a global economy some 15 years ago, yet has existed in China for at least a known 2,000+ years. So it stands puerh tea is still not as widely recognized as green tea, but it has made enough of a mark to be carried at some major health food stores, many tea shops and is ever-so-present on the internet. With a few well placed magazine articles, blogs and a healthy word of mouth puerh tea in particular has boosted its visibility in west ten fold within the last decade and has driven its global demand up to new heights.

With the rise to fame that has seen puerh cha become a household name, there has also been a simultaneous push to have fresh loose-leaf tea available for public consumption. It is true, that tired old tea bag will no longer do. Silken tea sachets with fresh loose tea have become the new norm for many places where culture is even a slight consideration. Many coffee shops have even noted great success with keeping fresh loose teas in jars that can be scooped into individual steeping bags or brewed in house for customers. The importance for loose-leaf tea becoming an institution is that not only is it self-perpetuating, raising the bar for cafe’s and restaurants everywhere, but is also coincides with our collective awareness of the impact of what we put into our bodies having a direct effect to our health and well being. We are now starting to realize that if we change the quality of our food we change the quality of our lives, i.e. organic foods. The same is true for tea!

Most people have never had a decent cup of tea, this often times means that coffee is their beverage of choice. Because we as a culture have invested more interest in coffee over the last 40 years, we simply have reason to be picky about what beans are brewed and where they come from and how we brew them. Though there are still plenty of opportunities to have a horrendous cup-o-joe throughout the west, it is more than likely that ordering a cup of tea at cafe America, Anywhere, USA will do tea as a beverage less justice by comparison. Coffee’s rapid rise to stupor stardom is easily documented by the story of Espresso; a once highly sought after delicacy is found almost anywhere nowadays. While it would be wrong, not to mention radical to have every place that has a hot water tap to order this seasons fresh high mountain Taiwanese tea, it would not be any less outrageous to ask them to stop buying and distributing tea that is D.O.A.

When offering a cup of tea, I can always tell those who have been wronged in the past by a brutal brew, steeped at a scorching 205°, left to sit way to long and arriving down to stomach station, probably with no food, to a thrilling acidic conclusion of nausea, discomfort and possible other things you might find in a Midol™ ad. My friend, I too feel your pain even now as I type this supposedly short soliloquy on tea. Let me but offer this in the stead of this miserable mis-cup, a chance for tea to redeem itself in the cold light of day. Try a cup of tea from a noteworthy tea shop, tea trader or even friend who is passionate about the leaf. Forget the wrongs that have shaken your previous openness to tea. If your experience is a poor one I grant you full lease to hold onto your injustice. However, if it is a good one I ask you to convert another nay-sayer, doubter ever hater into someone who can at least recognize a good cup of tea when they see one.

Ahh…and now to the meat of this essay.

When I say brew the Way we do, I am referring to brewing with a venerable and kind heart, in hopes that those imbibing may share in a wealth of respect and mutual admiration for the gift that is the present moment. While there are many ways to make a cup of tea, there are a few ways that also help those present to slow the busy storm that is their life down to a reasonable hum while enjoying tea. Gongfu Cha is an involved process that takes a more time to accomplish but is infinitely more rewarding. If your average tea, oolong or puerh had a life cycle that was tangible we might say that the rebirth of the tea from being dried to brewed spans a 100 year taste cycle. When we brew tea in a pot or large cup we may see 40-60 taste years steep by at a time, this is not bad if we want to get a larger picture of who this tea is and what its’ overall flavor is. With gongfu cha, we take the same amount of tea that would have fit into our big pot and place it into a significantly smaller vessel, we brew for less time on average, drink from 1/2-1 oz size cups and we glean snap shots of a teas‘ life 5-10 years at a time, noting how this particular tea changes from brew to steaming brew. Though the novice generally shows up to the table slugging tea down as quickly as humanly possible hoping to compensate for the customary 16oz cup that is not in front of them, over time one can begin to appreciate the subtlety of the process of brewing tea in the gongfu cha style, highlight the distinguishing flavors and arise a champion of patience. Many moons and many brews from then one may begin realizing that what happens at the tea table, unlike Vegas, is truly meant to be extended into our daily body of life practice, leading us toward the true life that has long awaited our acknoweledgement and undivided attention; freed from outer distractions and restlessness.

Tea is certainly not the end, but can be a means to an end. Let us brew tea and cultivate an awareness that is longer lasting than the next roller coaster thrill ride coffee glut. Brewing tea for oneself is fine, brewing tea for others, sublime!

By Steve Bonnell

 

Do You Care to Expand on that? A meditation for Cui Yu Han (Jade Earring, Green Tea) )

Had you told me that you traveled to the ends of the earth to collect dolphin tears and serve them to me, I might have actually believed you.

There have only been certain times in the evolution of my tea stewardship that I have had to completely rethink what I thought I knew about tea and in the same sip, life.

Mountain mist circles  peaks high above sea-level, they rise up and juxtapose this quiet harbor town. I arise silently with that familiar tap on my shoulder, a heavenly friend welcoming me to wake. I wash and dry and begin my practice. standing here on the shore I can smell the sea breeze fresh and cool. I step my feet apart and begin breathing, becoming ever mindful of energy moving in my body. I close my eyes and begin to move my hands with my breathe, I immediately begin to expand inwardly. Focusing attention on my solar plexus I see energy here as a bright glowing ball of yellow light.

Relaxed, I inhale strength and power from my feet, firmly rooted in the ground and expand outward from my center with each exhalation.

I imagine myself first as a tree on the mountain-side gathering cool air and sun. I continue to breathe deeply, Lo I have become the mountain itself, clouds form around my neck, my spine is a column of vivid light. Dancing star clusters and constellations pulse through me. I wake and watch all things pass as temporary moving pictures occurring simultaneously. Gaseous nebulae show the death and rebirth of life at large, all stories are told and reside in this simple demonstration of being.

Cessation of breath, the cosmic motor hums throughout all space. All life is played out in the flash dance of stars and glimmering space dust. Dreams of any one incarnation are but a simulacrum of eternal life filled with false meaning and misunderstanding. Breathe fills my lungs with sudden force as I cough loudly nearly falling over, feeling again my head and feet, arms and legs. I walk into town and meet a familiar friend, he says, “come sit, we are about to have the last of this new tea”. I can barely speak and find myself sitting in the presence of what appears to be long silvery and green tea buds purposefully curled and now unfurled in the center of a prize porcelain gaiwan. I inhale deeply remembering the smell of the sea in the early morning, taking the cup up to my lips I naturally close my eyes. I have expanded back into inner space, my molecules a silvery collection amidst a vast sea of stars spanning a virtual infinity. So still, there is no moment that exists apart from this place, this experience, this center.

As I open my eyes my friend is emptying his gaiwan carefully pulling out the leaves inspecting their similarity yet also their individuality. I look at my friend and ask him where the two gentleman who were sitting beside us a moment ago had flown off to? He smiles, half bemused, “what two gentleman?” he asks, “I was enjoying this tea in solitude before you walked over, the last was an exceptional 7th cup, eh”. With this a smile spreads wide across my face. My heart sings of merriment, knowing not the source or cause. Infectious, I spread natural joy to all whom I meet and to those whom I know not.

 

Two Star-Crossed Lovers, Bound by Eternity

The story of Cui Yu Han (Jade Earring) and Rose is not unlike the story of two lovers, ever finding one-another, each, ever waking in the others’ blissful existence. When two souls come together there is a flash of bright light in the astral world that attracts a soul seeking to play out an incarnation of earthly drama, to willingly be encapsulated by thick flesh and take on accents, ideas and idiosyncrasies. The noble birth brought, forth into this world, from these two lovers is a divine abundance of joy for those who take the time to marry these two.

While human love is binding and set by contracts, divine love is liberating and ever-expansive. As each day is new, divine love would greet us as a new and mysterious wonder to behold at every glimpse. While trends rise and pass like swollen tides swallowed up by each new big wave, divine love is a constant, inexhaustible flow marked by bliss, sincerity and also forgiveness.

And so our story begins…I searched for thee amongst the sea shells that moved unobtrusively across the vast landscape of sand and kelp, where water threatened to wash away their existence permanently. I shouted thy name into multitudinous cavern, cave and hollow depth. I stealthily searched thee out in thick green forest from shrub to canopy. I climbed high peaks and played hide and seek with thy silence. I stayed up all night to see if thou were hiding in between the light. I plumbed oceans unknown depths and traveled myriad star collections ever baffled by thy place of rest.

Whence all seemed hopeless I turned inside to behold a great light that shown brightly. This light had no voice yet spoke, “For eons now you have thought to capture me, as if frozen in time, you sought to harness and secure my love, divulged thy wonder in my gifts and yet saw me not. Awake now in the truth that is light, beyond concept or circumstance”. I realized that as long as my efforts were centered on personal fulfillment and not on a collective bliss that can be experienced by all, that my distant shore would never be reached. For as long as I continue to seek control, I will be left with my own mistakes.

With great effort and now surrender I found thee humming in all things, thy life shining through them, the illustrious veil of matter could but barely hold back thy luminous presence in all space, in all matter; yet no where to be seen and no where to be absent.

So it is. As Cui Yu Han and Rose meet we see a balancing out of male and female energy that we have long sought in ourselves. As these two new lovers dance about in your vessel they may seem to be playing hide-and-seek with one another. I choose to photograph this glass container which portrays Mother Earth and Father Sky, a collection of both teas, with a single rose petal in the middle, which might represent our own lives caught in between two great forces that are constantly seeking balance; as above so below.