Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Excerpt From "Conversations Over Tea: The Psychology of Tea"

Conversations Over Tea: The Psychology of Tea
By Josh Chamberlain
We were sitting in my teashop, a small shop in which people had shared so many details of their lives. It is this shop that is ever evolving and that seems to have a soul that we chose to have that my mother and I sat down to have tea and talk about some of teas amazing characteristics. As we waited for the water to boil, I proposed this question to my mother: “Do you believe that tea has the power to positively influence family relationships?”
I’ve often wondered if drinking tea could influence behavior. A few years ago I was living overseas in Taiwan when I was introduced to the world of tea. It was my experience with the timeless tea tradition, the focal point for social interaction in many households in Taiwan , which inspired me to start my own tea importing business. Since my introduction, tea has become so many different things to me: It is a plant, a friend, a social lubricant, a commodity, a means from which I earn my living, a beverage, a tonic, an elixir of life, a pick-me-up, a digestive aid, a health enhancer and a conduit to meditation. But is it also a great cultivator of relationships?
In Taiwan, families are typically multi-generational, often with three generations living together in the same household. Yet in America, it is not uncommon for family members to reside hundreds of miles apart. Take my family, for example. I have grandparents in Chicago and grandparents in Florida while my mother and father live in Oregon, near my home.
America, in direct contrast to Taiwan, is characterized by migration. Rather than remain in one central location with our family members near by, we seem to prefer to be “free” and we emphasize this sense of freedom by traveling the country in search of a place where we feel most at home- a place where we fit.
I’ve often wondered what role tea played in the Taiwanese family dynamic and if the same benefits could be enjoyed by our own movement-obsessed culture, which is how I found myself sitting with my mother, discussing the psychology of tea.

The Top Five Reasons to Go Loose Leaf

The Top Five Reasons to Go Loose Leaf
1. The value vs. quality ratio: you will get a higher grade of leaf for about the same price per serving. It is no secret that tea bags contain mostly dust. When the norm is dust, the leaf, in its full glory, is a refreshing surprise. Also the taste and the mouth feel are far superior. Loose leaf tea is good for multiple infusions (sometimes 6 to 10 infusions), whereas a tea bag is good for two or maybe three cups.

2. The purity: loose Leaf is pure. There is no tea bag flavor, no glue holding the string to the tea bag, no string. Nothing but tea.

3. The variety: as you walk down the tea isle of your local natural product supermarket, you may be overwhelmed by the amount of choices available from a wide range of countries. But how distinct are they really? The tea in the tea bags has been selected for you and they are labeled in many market driven (and sometimes random) ways. When you go to loose leaf you are selecting the tea for yourself. The selection is wider and you can see and understand more precisely what you are getting.

4. The process: the act of brewing loose leaf tea and observing the leaves as they unfurl to reveal the aroma is very rewarding. The act of brewing tea is an interaction with the tea plant. For me and several of my tea friends, brewing tea has a calming effect. By taking the time to go through several steps of the brew process the mind is cleansed and I am ready to face the challenges that life has to offer.

5. The tea ware: cool and beautiful tea ware is not a must when brewing loose leaf tea but it is fun and further contributes to a relaxing and satisfying experience. I sometimes brew loose leaf by simply adding leaf to the bottom of a mug, adding hot water, waiting for the leaf to settle to the bottom and then drinking tea off the top. I have even brewed loose leaf tea at a gas station out of a Styrofoam cup with the scalding hot water that was in the coffee machine (not recommended). For a while, one of my favorite ways to make eastern beauty is to put 3 to 5g (one spoonful) of loose leaf tea in the bottom of a pint glass, add water that is about 180 degrees Fahrenheit (bring water to a boil and then wait 5 minutes), wait three to five minutes and then strain with a fork into another pint glass. Although this minimalist approach to tea brewing is convenient, brewing tea with tea ware that compliments the teas specific characteristics, not only makes the experience more sublime, but the tea actually tastes better. Visually, tea ware has an impact. It can be arranged to be esthetically pleasing, and create a feeling of serenity and harmony.