I love tea. And I love to drink tea just before going to bed. Tea relaxes me. It makes me feel good and there is something special about the solitude of having a late night tea. It seems to reset my clock and clear my mind of the day’s happenings. Inevitably, the tea makes me relax and feel ready for sleep. Nowadays, this will not influence my ability to fall asleep except on rare occasions. It didn’t always used to be this way. When I first started getting into tea, I remember lying down to sleep only to find my mind racing as I recounted every caffeinated beverage consumed throughout the day: “One cup of coffee, two full gung fu pots of cooked puer, and one full gung fu pot of high mountain green oolong.” A full gung fu pot would usually consist of six to ten infusions. I remember many restless nights when I would lie awake until three in the morning before reaching sleep.
Really, this would have been okay with me. However, at the time, I was very focused on Chinese medicine and adhering to the body’s natural rhythms. I learned from an old recluse known as Teacher Lee, or “Li Lao Shi,” that in order for the liver to rest, we have to be in bed lying down and preferably asleep between the hours of 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. Not sleeping during this time is one of the big no-no’s in liver maintenance. It is also important for the kidneys as well. Spending a great deal of time with Teacher Lee, an acupuncturist/fortune teller, I was completely obsessed with learning the Chinese secrets of health preservation (保護養生). Though this was important to me, I wasn’t going to let not sleeping stop my tea drinking. Virgos like myself have been noted to be very concerned with physical state of health while having an affinity for mild mind altering substances such as tea. The caffeine combined with the l-theanine found in tea, is a healthy choice that satisfies the desired outcome of imbibing a substance that both expands and massages the mind.
Also, Teacher Lee was no help when it came to this subject. I visited him regularly in the evenings. We would sit in his living room talking late into the night. I often didn’t head home until after midnight. More often than not, about halfway through the visit, he would stand up and clap his hands together and ask, “Want to drink some tea?” Teacher Lee always had good tea on hand, and he was a brew expert. So this was not the time to exercise what little self control I have. I would accept the offer for some expertly made tea. He would get excited and take the opportunity to share many brew tips with me. He would talk about various positive attributes of the tea, indicating what was special about the pot he was using and why he was holding the pot a specific distance from the kettle. “At this distance, the water cools a degree or two as it passes through the air into the pot.” Eventually, after a very sleepless night, I had to refuse Teacher Lee’s offer. “I want to, but if I do, I wont be able to fall asleep." To which he replied, “That's the best part!” What? What is this old man talking about and why the mixed messages?
Ah, life in Taiwan is so full of seeming contradictions and mystery. This is not just because I was an outsider. One can hardly speak of Taiwan culture if they are not willing to speak of ghosts. Nonetheless, I would have to go elsewhere, if I were to remedy my sleep disorder. I don’t remember who first told me, though I am pretty sure it was tea people, or closely related to those living in the tea industry, either as farmers, producers, vendors, roasters or artisans.
Eat Sugar and Talk to Yourself:
First, I was advised to “eat sugar.” I don’t think I really believed it the first time I heard it. But then I heard it again, from another source. “How do I eat sugar?” I asked, feeling stupid. “Put a little spoonful of sugar under your tongue and let it dissolve.” Even though this seemed counterintuitive, in the land of seeming contradiction, why not give it a try? I ran some tests. The first time, it worked pretty well, then not so well and then really well. The effectiveness depended on two things. If I placed the small spoonful under my tongue and then went right to bed without delay, it worked well. I could effectively drown out the noise in my head. If I delayed and let my mind fill with detailed and colorful information, the effect was significantly lessened. Anyway, there has to be a better way. I am rotting my teeth out.
The second answer I heard was from a fellow tea enthusiast who described another process: “I give myself a talk.” That was many years ago and I forget how the talk went, but here is what might have been said. “I tell myself that I have consumed a natural substance and that it is natural and good for me. I tell myself about the natural effects that this substance has on my body and its rhythms. I explain how it might seem overly exciting, but given its organic nature, I can just float in its pools and tides and eddies as it squirts me out to sea once again. Nothing bad will happen. Enjoy the sensation and feel the ride.” This talk, or some variation of this talk, was what I remember giving myself. Perhaps I reprogrammed my brain, or maybe it’s just a temporal state, but now I seem to be able to enjoy a nice gung fu tea session just before lying down to sleep—which is a most enjoyable experience.