Tea is the ultimate mental and medical remedy and it has the ability to make one’s life more full and complete. (Eisai).
We all know tea. It has been around for almost two thousand years, at the least. Its origins go back to ancient southwest China, where it was used as a medicinal drink during the rule of Shang dynasty. The earliest evidence of tea consumption goes back to the 2nd century BC, being found in the mausoleum of Emperor Jing of Han, although the earliest records of tea consumption date back to the 10th century BC. It is, however, unclear whether the ‘tea’ used at that time was the same tea as we know it today.
Before the mid-8th century tea was mostly consumed in southwest China, but became widely used in Japan, Vietnam and Korea during the 8th century, despite being introduced to Japan much earlier, around the 6th century AD.
During the following centuries the Chinese learned new ways to process the tea, thus creating different types of tea: green, yellow and Oolong.
Around the 17th century black tea became popular in Britain. The British then spread the drink to colonial India, and so the mass production of tea has begun.
Tea ceremonies and traditions
Introduced to Japan, green tea has become a popular drink for religious classes, royalty and later, warriors, but even then it was still considered a privilege and could not be afforded by lower classes until the 16th century.
Tea was believed to have a lot of health benefits and the famous Japanese priest Eisai wrote in his book “How to Stay Healthy by Drinking Tea” that ‘Tea is the ultimate mental and medical remedy and it has the ability to make one’s life more full and complete’. The Japanese, however, did not just drank tea purely for its medicinal properties; tea drinking also served as a spiritual practice, and its consumption led to the development of tea ceremonies.
The tea ceremonies existed in one way or another in many cultures across the globe. From Zen Buddhists’ tea drinking practices as a form of meditation to the Victorian era ‘high tea’ that was used as a means of socialisation between people of the upper classes, there was surely a lot of differences between the ceremonies in various cultures of the world, but they all had one thing in common – the drinking of tea had a purpose other than just having a drink. Tea drinking was a kind of art. Be it for a spiritual enlightenment or for reinforcing relationships in the social circles, tea was treated as something special, and that is something that we, the modern people, have lost.
Tea in modern days
Our lives get busier and busier these days. We run around in our hamster wheels trying to fix and balance the important aspects of our lives that have been long out of balance. For many of us, drinking tea has become an unnoticed habit. We do it because we were taught to. We pour ourselves a cup of water, throw a tea bag in and gulp down that tea in front of the TV or while reading the news. Sometimes we even add a dessert that we forget to truly enjoy but later fret over the eaten calories. In another scenario we get so caught up in the drama we watch or the Facebook newsfeed we read that we forget about tea at all and only realise it when starting to wrap up the affair. We see a pitiful cup of cold tea, over brewed in some cases because we forgot to take the tea bag out, and then we either drink it hastily almost disgusted by the taste or dump it because we know we’d be disgusted.
Although mindfulness is a completely different topic, it is still relevant, even more so when speaking of tea. Let’s just stop for a moment and ask ourselves: why do we drink tea at all? It is a very healthy drink indeed, but it’s not as essential as drinking water. Mostly, we drink tea because we have come to like the taste. But do we savour the taste when we drink it? If not, there’s a problem, and being more mindful wouldn’t hurt.
First of all, if our lives are so busy and we keep running around like crazy, wouldn’t it be nice to pause for a moment and do something pleasant? It might seem like wasting time, but in the long run it will only do us good. We have all heard of how bad it is to chug food down on the go, how our digestion needs preparation and time to accept food properly and properly digest it and use for fuel. Why should it be any different for drinks? And it’s not only the digestion that benefits from slow and mindful tea drinking. It’s our mind, too.
No matter the deadlines, the business of our work and life schedules, we all need breaks. It’s so worth it to step back, let your body relax and your mind drift away, even if for some 5 or 10 minutes. When you return to your work, you feel fresh, as if after a power nap. Add to that a cup of tea, and you get double benefits of having a break and a drink filled with health-boosting compounds. There are studies that show that even regular black tea, so often forgotten in the health industry, can help unwind and relieve stress.
So the next time when you are worked up and stressed out, consider taking that deserved tea break and enjoy it either alone, meditating on your own breath, or with a friend or a colleague to catch up on your social life and help them unwind, too. Either way, don’t forget to drink your tea slowly, savouring the bitter and rich taste of the black tea or the green, almost leafy freshness of the healthier green tea. Maybe it will be a fruity tea bursting with energetic flavour. Even if it’s a cup of full-bodied Arabic coffee and not the tea, taste and treasure every sip of it. After it’s over, you’ll be glad you did!
It’s been a long time since I wanted to write a piece on teas, being the tea lover that I am. I hope you enjoyed the Part I. If you did, hit the ‘like’ button and stay tuned for part II, where I plan to discuss different types of tea and their properties, plus my own tea arsenal.