Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Beyond the Binary: Getting Closer to Tea by Mical Lewis

Before coming to J-Tea, I was a black-tea-served-English-style kind of girl. I was a votress at the temple of Earl Grey and a devotee of English Breakfast (both served with milk and probably made from a bag: gasp!). I inherited this preference from my father who, being an avid Anglophile, would bring a hot cup of Bigelow's Constant Comment tea with milk to me in my bed if I was having trouble waking up. I have probably had black tea with my breakfast for as long as I can remember.

As I grew older, tea became my main coping mechanism for dealing with life. If I was feeling ungrounded, I'd make a cup of tea. If I was feeling particularly content, I'd curl up with a cup of tea and a good book. If one of my friends had something they wanted to discuss, I'd make us cups of tea before sitting down to talk. However, as much as I found solace in tea, I always felt that there was a missing piece in my understanding of tea. I wanted a deeper and more spiritual connection to my beverage of choice. Of course I knew that tea was a big deal in Asian countries, but I just assumed that their rituals and theories were out of my league.

With this background, you can probably imagine what kinds of assumptions I brought with me when I got hired at J-Tea and what kinds of surprises were in store for me. The first surprise awaiting me was the lack of any sort of organized, cohesive system for learning about the teas. Part of this is that my boss and teacher isn't a terribly linear person, but I am also convinced that tea isn't terribly linear either. Tea and its world is more of an interconnected web than a progression. Sure, there are linear elements to it, but for the most part there is nothing hard and fast about tea. Tea is the constantly changing interplay between many variables. The farther into tea you get, the more you realize that you don't really know anything about tea.

Another surprise was how important it is to occupy the present moment when you're dealing with tea. Whether you're making it, selling it, tasting it or even just talking about it, things will always go more smoothly if you're grounded in the present. Granted, life is generally better if you're able to stay in the present moment, but tea is an excellent context in which to learn how to do that.

When I came to J-Tea, my eyes were opened to a brand-new universe of tea methods, tools, tastes and varieties. I am still partial to my old way of doing things (much to Josh's dismay) but I feel that what I have learned has given me a new appreciation for tea itself, but also everything that goes into making tea.

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