A gentle hum that grows louder, then turns into a hiss that becomes a gurgle The water is boiling, bubbling, impatient. The teacher removes the electric kettle from its base, and pours its contents into a clear glass pitcher. This hot waterfall emits steam, like gossamer climbing up the inside walls of the container, then spreading in the room, invisible, yet present.
Patience is about waiting and being open to wonder.
A few seconds later, the teacher pours the water into all the double-bottomed glass cups arranged on a slatted bamboo tray. The winter sun filtering through the window gives the small, clear glass a glow. Another kettleful of water is put to boil.
It is by watching that you discover magical secrets.
He sits on the small black cushion on the floor, while we, his students, form a horseshoe around the small, beechwood tea table. Some sit on chairs, others on the floor. Nobody speaks. He takes the earthenware bowl with the tea, and passes it around. In turn, each of us gently fingers the black leaves, feeling the texture, smelling the slightly tart scent.
There are a thousand worthy words concealed in silence.
One by one, the teacher empties the cups into the slatted tray. When the bowl of tea is returned to him, he tips the contents into a new glass pitcher. The black leaves fall down the transparent shaft, with a soft rustling sound. Once again, he transfers the freshly-boiled water into a glass pitcher, waits a few seconds, then pours it on the tea leaves, and puts the lid on. Slowly. Tea leaves, swelling with water, rise through a wavy sea of deepening amber, swirling, gathering on the surface where they linger for a minute or so. We watch as the first tea leaf detaches itself from the other and gently sways down, landing lightly on the bottom of the pitcher. Other leaves follow, and soon they are all quitting the surface, drifting to the bottom. The infusion is now a rich golden amber.
Who would have thought that there is so much beauty is watching tea draw?
The teacher pours the tea into every cup. We all take ours but nobody drinks yet. Each cradles the cup in the palms of his or her hand, admiring the colour, inhaling the steam, slowly, eventually bringing the tea up to our faces, feeling the warm condensation on our noses, guiding it through our nostrils until we can define its fragrance, delicate, slightly smokey, and send it down our throats and into our lungs.
True pleasure is in sensing every detail, every stage, every minute impression.
We take our first sip, hold the hot liquid in our mouths, inhale through our noses, filling our lungs. The terrain for a full experience of the flavour has been prepared. After expelling the air, we swallow the tea. A velvety, smokey, subtle tartness fills our mouths, then trickles down to our stomachs, like warm gold.
If you honour the food and drink, it will honour your body.
Red Robe Oolong. Reserved for honoured guests. It grows on the mountains of the Fujian Province, in China. They say the mother of an emperor of the Ming Dynasty was cured of a serious illness by drinking this tea. The grateful emperor sent swathes of Imperial red cloth to dress the bushes from which this tea had been picked. Others say this tea saved the life of a much-respected scholar at the Emperor’s court.
A small, shrivelled leaf that bursts with magic.
We take another sip. It never tastes like the first. The surprise is replaced with a closer acquaintance with the taste of the drink, a closer awareness of its effect on our bodies. The third sip is pleasure, pure, rewarding pleasure.
Awareness flings open the gates to a universe of unlimited possibilities.
It’s not just about drinking tea, it’s about getting to know it like a friend, getting to know yourself, getting to know the world. It’s about learning, and learning leading to loving.
Happy Chinese New Year to all!