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.

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