Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Building a relationship with tea

This post might come across as a bit obsessive to focus on tea in such a way, but I feel it's a life lesson that can be generalized to every other aspect of life. If you are like me and struggle with knowing who you are as a person, tea is a great way to practice getting to know yourself.

This blog is a reminder to me that I used to drink a lot of tea. I had a large filing cabinet in my closet to store my huge tea collection. When I met my girlfriend, the tea cabinet was no longer big enough to fit all our teas. As time went on, I felt more burdened by having so many samples, and a closet that is limited in how much clothes I can fit in it. By finishing up, throwing away stale tea, or giving away tea, I knocked my collection done to a drawer full, and I got rid of the tea cabinet. Around this time, I also lost interest in tea, and focused on yerba mate. I feel like I learned more drinking the same yerba day after day compared to all the teas I tried and posted about on this blog.

Looking back, I'm not sure if I gained anything from this blog. I never blogged with the intention of getting people to read my posts, I just wanted a reference for myself, and a tool to learn more about tea through writing. I posted about oolongs and puerh because they are more interesting to write about, and exploring the world of these teas was exciting. What I've come to learn is that new and exciting doesn't lead to contentment and happiness. New and exciting is only enjoyable because it's novel, but novelty doesn't last. Developing an interest in tea as a hobby can be like starting a romantic relationship. It's exciting at first, but then you get used to it and it becomes less exciting. You could try looking for new teas to try, new teapots, but the novelty will always wear off. Instead of casual encounters, try focusing on a few teas you really enjoy, and build a relationship with those.

I'm not sure if I really enjoyed the teas I posted on this blog. I'm not sure if I enjoy oolong or puerh all that much, but they were exciting to get into. It was exciting enough that it pulled my focus away from the greens I was previously drinking. Obviously, the novelty couldn't last, and I lost interest in tea. I just naturally drifted towards yerba, and I didn't even consider the fact that I was drinking the same yerba over and over again. Or at least until I went on Teachat and was asked how much variety is available with yerba. There is some variety, just no where near as much as there is with tea. This didn't bother me as I found trying different yerbas to be a bit overwhelming anyway, so I stuck to my usual Rosamonte.

There's something about the comfort of familiarity that is more enjoyable than the excitement of something new. Our brains are hardwired to find novelty exciting, but novelty is hard to maintain. I can only speak for myself, but I feel like the constant search for novelty makes happiness harder and harder to attain. It's just like a drug addict that needs more and more of the drug to be satisfied, but ultimately never is. The drug addict will live a life of always wanting, but won't ever get what they want until they give it all up. Tea on the other hand is a simple beverage, and a very enjoyable one. Why did it ever become more than that?

Talking to my girlfriend today brought us back to an old idea. She is interested in herbal teas, but doesn't like to blend them. You need to get to know the herb individually, and the only way to do that is to build a relationship with that herb. In order to benefit from that herb, you need to have a one on one. Blending it with other herbs is like getting to know a person in a group setting. You will only get to know the person as they are in a group. Tea is unique in that it physically becomes a part of you. It interacts with your physiology, which can affect the physical and mental. Completely ignoring the hype that tea is incredibly healthy, tea is healthy in the sense that an intimate relationship is healthy. Tea is widely regarded as comforting and calming, but I think that's only because of the small amount of caffeine and because it's familiar. It tastes good, makes you feel good, and you can probably remember the last time you were comforted by it. It makes you think of the cold days in winter when you found a cup of tea to be just what you needed to warm yourself up.

Even though I never thought of this, I feel this is why I was drawn toward yerba. After drinking tea in many complex ways, yerba was simple and that's all I wanted. I just wanted something familiar I could rely on. Now that I'm getting away from yerba, I feel like I'm rebuilding my relationship with tea. Since I didn't have any tea in my collection, I had to decide what tea to buy. The me in the past would have been bored by my choice: I bought Silver Needle. When I tried it, I immediately wondered why I thought so little of white tea. I then ordered some Rishi Jade Cloud and Golden Yunnan, bought a green from teavana, and just recently picked up Rishi Wuyi. So now I have a black, a couple greens and whites, and an oolong. I don't know which I'll buy again, and which I'll lose interest in. I also don't know if I'll ever get back into gongfu. I'm brewing the Wuyi gongfu at the moment as a comparison, but I've been really impressed with "grandpa style" in a simple glass lately.

For many that get into tea as a new hobby, they might get carried away with the suggestions of others. What was once simple became complex. I'd suggest to anyone on a similar journey to stop focusing on trying variety for the sake of variety, and to focus on building a relationship with tea. As you try new teas ask yourself how you feel after drinking a tea. Do you feel good because it tasted good, filled a need for ritual, reminded you of something, or was it just a new sensation? More importantly, did you feel like your opinion was already shaped by someone else's opinion? If it was, you might be trying to be a tea snob. Tea is too simple of a beverage to feel the need to conform to others about.

And now, welcome to the rest of my blog! I think I will make this a recurring theme in any future posts.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Less is more - a week without caffeine

(Scatter brain post. Proceed with caution.)

Wait, you can quit tea? Why would anyone foolishly do that?

Well, I wasn't just quitting tea, I was quitting yerba mate. For the last few years I drank yerba instead of tea. Within the last year, The gourd size I used just got bigger and bigger. I eventually reached a point where the side effects of caffeine were too much. I would get wired in the morning, then anxious and depressed later in the day. I often found it difficult getting to sleep and I noticed that my sleep was very shallow. The part that scared me was that it seemed to cause involuntary muscle spasms, a racing heart beat, and occasionally an intolerance to the slightest exercise. Walking to class sometimes made my heart race, and I would have to sit down to let it pass. I'm young, at a healthy weight, and have been active most of my life, so this was very alarming. Once I connected this to caffeine, I tried to get more into tea to get away from the more heavily caffeinated yerba. I started by switching to smaller and smaller gourds, then ditching the gourd entirely to brew it like green tea. Before I actually switched to tea I decided to quit caffeine entirely after reading a number of posts online about the benefits of quitting. Also, my girlfriend quit caffeine a couple weeks before, so it inspired me to quit as well.

I had withdrawal for maybe a day, but it was just a little fatigue. No headache, no irritability, just more tired than usual and maybe a slightly depressed mood. By the second day, I felt normal. I even felt a slight rush of energy as I went over a friends house, and went grocery shopping. This was the case for the rest of the week. The only downside was for the first few days, skipping the morning ritual of yerba took a little willpower. By day 4 or 5, classes started up again which I thought would be a real test. I went from sleeping in 'till 9am over break straight to getting up at 5am and having long days all without caffeine.

This is were I started to wonder about my caffeine addiction. Compared to what I read about the horrors of caffeine withdrawal, I felt like I might not have been significantly addicted to caffeine. I woke up at 5am and got through the day just fine. By the end of the week, I started to wonder why no one commenting on blog posts I read about quitting caffeine said they quit tea. I thought maybe it's just a problem coffee drinkers face and decided to try tea again. I just decided I didn't want to get back to drinking yerba, for reasons I will cover in another blog post.

What I learned from this little experiment was that I don't need caffeine, but I choose to drink tea because I enjoy it. I noticed benefits of quitting caffeine even within the week without, which helped me get over the delusion that I need it. It also emphasized the need for moderation. I felt better without caffeine than I did when I was getting wired on yerba. My mood and energy levels were a lot more stable throughout the day, and much of my anxiety dissipated. The spasms and heart palpitations also slowly started getting better. I even did a short burst of running to the bus stop before class like I normally do, only this time I felt much less strained and I got further before becoming tired. My sleep improved modestly, though I think it would be a longer process before my sleep truly improves.

So far I attribute many of the negative effects of caffeine use I experienced to yerba and to excessive caffeine consumption in general. So far I feel fine with a few cups of tea a day. I'll post soon about my concerns about yerba clarifying why I'm avoiding it.