Of the 70% water that our bodies are supposedly made up of, a good portion of mine has been assimilated from tea, though it wasn’t always that way.
As a child and early teenager, I was always irked with hot water. It took too long to cool, and once it had reached an acceptable temperature, it was lukewarm again. Pointless. Why bother with boiling water if we had filtration systems and flavored drink mixes?
During the first year that we moved to China, we traveled to the province of YunNan for a bitterly cold vacation. At the news that we were going to spend an entire day at a tea house, I rolled my eyes. We were seated around a tea table, and my dad whispered to me that at this altitude, water boils at 80 degrees Celsius. I focused my attention onto the lady with the tea set in front of her, and at once I was mesmerized by her fluidity. I followed the passage of the hot water through various pots and filters, the graceful graviational arc traversing the air, all over in half a minute, and feeling like a single movement. In an instant, we each had a tiny cup of tea steaming in front of us, and the tea master was telling us how to drink; not all at once, but taking in the fluid slowly and with a bit of air – slurping, in other words. The water did not scald me this time, and I was grateful for its warmth. Indeed, the intake of air seemed to enhance the taste, and I vaguely felt like an empress involved in a fine art of refinement and pleasure. The tea master proceeded to allow us to sample several other teas, and I savored each with delight. We walked out of the tea house that day loaded with a large purchase of tea leaves, and as soon as we got back to Beijing, I attempted to recreate the ceremony on my own.
So often have I had a cup of tea in front of me now, that I have meditated on how the drink relates to our lives. What fascinated me back in YunNan was not only the flavor of the tea itself, but the manner in which it was made and partaken. The satisfaction came not from the quantity, for the cup itself was tiny, but from the slow, patient method of savoring. Many a winter day have I cupped my hands around a mug feeling the heat, and wondered at how hot water brings out the true flavor of a leaf like nothing else. In the same way, if we are the tea leaves, and hot water our experiences, then our lives are the tea itself, flavored by what we’re made of and dependent on an artful manner of consumption.