Thursday, February 02, 2012

Full Conversion: A Coffee Expert Embraces Tea by Jonathan Manley

I experienced the world of caffeinated beverages through coffee first. Like many people, I was under the impression that coffee was simply coffee. At age 18, I learned that all coffee is not created equal. High quality coffee brewed properly had a complexity and goodness not found in your average cup of Joe.

Around this time, I made friends with a young man who had spent time in Asia and soaked up Asian culture, including tea. He was part of a monthly tea club and each month we eagerly awaited the new shipment. The world of tea, much like coffee, began to open up for me. It was populated with Japanese green, Indian Darjeeling, and most memorably for me, Taiwanese Oolong.

Soon after, my path diverged from tea. The coffee world was far more accessible —and it became my livelihood. For nearly eight years I lived and breathed the coffee industry, learning much and imbibing lots of great coffee. But over time my relationship with coffee changed. I began to experience health issues and I realized that my excessive coffee drinking was part of the problem. It was difficult for me to accept this—I loved coffee and hadn't functioned without it for years. To help process this realization, I polled my customers and asked them how coffee made them feel. I was surprised to find that many people experienced negative side effects such as stomach issues, rapid heartbeat, exhaustion, and moodiness. This information clarified my own consumption of coffee. Soon after, I bit the bullet and quit drinking coffee. For nearly two years I didn't drink any caffeine, while keeping my barista job. This was not an easy task.

But all endings bring new beginnings. This particular ending marked a return to a former budding interest—tea, especially oolong. I was fortunate enough to be living in Eugene and to find J-Tea. I was also happy to discover not only that tea didn't adversely affect my health but that it was more aesthetically pleasing than I remembered. And, I rediscovered several other benefits—the meditative qualities, the visceral pleasures from the different flavors, relaxation, and the enjoyment and connection of sharing tea with others. I also explored tea more deeply. I delved into rich and intoxicatingly sweet Eastern Beauties, nutty, full bodied, and nourishing roasted oolongs, and delicate, floral, and sustenance-giving green oolongs. I am now a fully converted man. When forced to give something up, it’s natural to feel a sense of loss and longing. Interestingly, I feel no pangs of loss or longing but as if I have been rewarded with a fertile new beginning. 

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