Issue #8  January 2009

by Daniel Reid    danreid.org

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Welcome to Tea Tidings 8

      Happy New Year, OolongOz tea people, and warmest greetings from our tea table here within the corniced stone walls of the Old City of Dali in Yunnan, China, where we have been roosting comfortably since late September. When I say "Happy New Year," I of course mean Chinese New Year, which falls on January 26, giving me one more month of celestial blessings and good fortune in this waning Year of the Earth Rat, my "destiny year" (ben ming nian), the year of my birth 60 years ago.

"Rats Rule!"

      The Rat is the first critter in the lineup of twelve in the Chinese zodiac. The leader of the pack in the race arranged to determine the order of the years was the Ox, but just before the Ox crossed the finish line, the clever rat scurried up his tail from behind, ran along his back and down his head, and leaped across the finish line first from the Ox's nose. So Rats rule the stars....

      Snow and I were both born in the Year of the Rat--I in 1948 and she in 1960--and our inner entourage is littered with rodents. Each of the twelve signs passes progressively through each of the Five Elements (e.g. Earth Rat, Metal Rat, etc.) so the complete cycle takes 60 years. The Chinese believe that reaching your 60th birthday is the most important milestone in life, and that Heaven rewards those who reach their "destiny year" with abundant good luck and happiness from start to finish. This has certainly been the case for me.

      So it seemed appropriate to celebrate my 60th birthday here in China, land of my dreams and source of my greatest inspirations in life, and to have my party here in the Old City of Dali, where there remains at least a semblance of traditional China. Eighteen friends arrived in Dali for the event, including my brother Fred, who I had not seen for eight years and who flew in all the way from San Francisco to sit at my left side at the banquet table (I'm a "lefty," so that's the "right side" for me). Snow's sister Jolene, who handles all your tea orders on our website, flew in on the last possible flight from Taiwan, arriving just as the first platter of food appeared on the table.

      Eighteen dishes were served in a progression of ever more elaborate culinary extravagance that continued for nearly four hours. Among the many gifts presented to me that day was a fine lava-clay teapot and a bag of rare vintage High Mountain Oolong Tea from Cedar Lake Plantation, my favorite tea.

      The upshot of all this is that, having reached 60, I'm now regarded as an "elder" in Chinese society, and unlike the Western world, where old people are usually treated as a nuisance and left to linger in lonely obscurity in "old folk's homes," I'm finding an ever growing demand for my presence, my opinion, my advice, and my teaching, and I'm receiving more respect and affection than I ever imagined could come my way. So I've decided to make my tea table serve as office, court, classroom, shrine, throne, and inner sanctum for my relationships with friends, family, and the world at large.

Jia Jiao: "Teach Your Children Well"

      "Teach your children well," sang Crosby, Stills, & Nash back in 1968, echoing an ancient Chinese axiom that children can only be taught how to become mature, responsible adults at home, not in school, and that it's the parents' responsibility to do this job and do it well. The Chinese call it jia jiao, literally "home teaching," and regard it as an indispensable prelude to adulthood. Whenever they encounter naughty children who act rude in public, blatantly defy their elders, and behave like wild animals, they always remark disdainfully, "Ta mei-yo jia jiao!" ("He has no home teaching!"). It's sort of like saying that a dog hasn't been properly house trained.

      While jia jiao still prevails in traditional Chinese homes, it's beginning to lose ground to the modern Western preference for letting children learn their behavior from endless hours of television and film, video and computer games, and unsupervised time with their peers on the street. The result of such parental negligence is what one sees today all over the Western world: rude, aggressive, often violent children who are clueless in the finer arts of life, have no respect for their elders, and grow up "raw and wild," as the Chinese put it. Mature adults and civilized ladies and gentleman are not produced this way.

      The Chinese word for "adult" (cheng ren) is instructive: it literally means "to become a complete human being," a "mature person." This implies that untrained children are not quite fully formed humans, that they remain incomplete and immature, like unripened fruit. Children need to be cultivated to full fruition as mature adults and refined to completion as human beings by their parents, whose responsibility it is to teach their children well.

      Good manners, proper etiquette, courteous consideration for others, and a sense of responsibility were social virtues that were drummed into Chinese children at an early age in traditional Chinese society, and one way this training was accomplished was to teach them the basic arts of life. Prominent among those arts taught to young children at home was the Chinese Art of Tea, which not only trained them how to make a fine cup of tea but also provided the perfect framework for cultivating focused attention, concentration, serenity, composure, and a sense of service to others, virtues that are sorely missing in most children today.

      In our home, we teach our Chinese nephews Jody and Joey, aged 7 and 12, how to prepare, step by careful step, a perfect pot of High Mountain Oolong Tea, and we brook no nonsense or childsplay when they're at our tea table. It's amazing how swiftly the Art of Tea calms them down, how pleased they feel to handle the teaware, how quickly they learn the skills, and how happy they are when an adult tastes a cup of tea they've made and exclaims, "Hao cha!" ("Good tea!"). The last thing on earth you want anywhere near your tea table are loud, raucous, clumsy children, so teaching your children the Art of Tea at home while they are still young and pliant turns them into civilized tea people at an early age, thereby earning them a welcome at your and any other tea table.

      We suggest getting novice children their own inexpensive "trainer pots" to start, rather than taking the risk of letting them fumble through their first lessons with one of your own favorite tea pots, but it doesn't take a child very long to learn how to handle precious teaware with proper care and respect, especially if you teach them the right attitude along with the correct technique, and always impose strict discipline.

      This sort of jia jiao training at home should begin around the age of 5 or 6 and continue until puberty, thereby providing a firm foundation of aesthetic refinement that is not taught in school and that provides manifold benefits to your children, and to society, later in life.

Moreover, it instills a discerning taste for good tea and its proper preparation early in life, a taste that will serve them well throughout their later lives, while also providing you, their parents, with the perfect setting to do what the next line in that Crosby, Stills & Nash song suggests: "And feed them on your dreams......"

"Don't Forget to Brush Your Tea...."

      We have recently obtained a supply of another traditional Chinese tea tool used in the Chinese Art of Tea, and it will soon be available on our Tea Shop menu: The Tea Brush.

      The tea brush is used for two basic functions. One is to sweep little puddles of tea water and stray fragments of tea leaf that accumulate on your tea tray into the drain pipe or tray slots, in order to keep your tray clean and orderly. The other is to brush your tea pots and tea friends with tea water, before polishing them with a tea towel, in order to cultivate that beautiful patina that tea people prize so highly in their teaware.

      We got our supply of tea brushes from our tea friends at the Yu Lin Tea Shop in Kunming, where traditional teaware is still produced at reasonable cost. The handles are crafted from polished bamboo, and the brush is made with the same type of fur used in calligraphy brushes, which may be kept wet for prolonged periods without deteriorating. They feel very good to hold in your hand as the brush glides softly and silently around your tea tray and across the surface of your precious pots. Simply leave the brush lying on its side on the tray, where the bristles will stay wet until you pick it up again to stroke another tea pot or tea friend, or to sweep another puddle of tea from the tray. If you want to let the brush dry out for storage or travel, just hang it brush-side down on the string looped into the end of the handle.

Tea and Chi

      After reading my books on various natural ways to cultivate health and longevity, people often say to me, "You write about dozens of different ways to protect health, prevent disease, and prolong life, but no one could possibly do all those things every day, so I want to know what YOU yourself do every day to stay healthy!"

      Good questions deserve good answers, so I I tell them the truth: "There are only two things that I do each and every day, without exception, to stay healthy, and those are 'tea-gung' and 'chi-gung.'" Other regimens that I write about in my books, such as diet and supplements, fasting and detox, heliotherapy and hydrotherapy, medicine and meditation, I practice periodically, according to my particular requirements, but the ancient Chinese arts of tea and chi have become the two main supporting pillars in my temple of health, and I practice them every day.

      First thing each morning, I start the day with cup upon cup of organic High Mountain Oolong Tea from Taiwan, which I steep a bit longer than usual in order to provide a strong therapeutic boost to my whole system. After drinking at least a liter of this superb elixir, I start my daily morning chi-gung practice, focusing first on a series of basic body movements designed to loosen joints, relax muscles, stretch tendons, and open the energy channels of the meridien system. While practicing these movements, I can feel the tea circulating throughout my body, alkalizing my blood, detoxifying my tissues, stimulating my nerves, and clarifying my mind. After finishing this basic warm-up set, which takes 20-30 minutes, I go back to the tea table and prepare a fresh pot of tea, then get up again and do some synchronized chi-gung breath and body movement forms to draw fresh chi into my system through the energy gates, circulate it through the meridiens, distribute it to each and every organ, gland, and tissue, balance yin and yang, harmonize the Five Elemental Energies, and integrate the Three Treasures of life--body, breath, and mind.

Then I go back to my tea table and drink more tea......

      Tea and chi go very well together in the morning, and together they cleanse, purify, detoxify, alkalize, stimulate, regenerate, balance, and harmonize every organ, gland, and tissue in the body, while at the same time turbo-charging your chi battery, boosting your energy and hormone levels, and driving blood, energy, and neurotransmitters through the three primary circulatory systems of the body--blood vessels, energy meridiens, and nerve fibers.

      It has always been my guiding principle as a health writer to practice what I preach and to preach only what I practice, but it's impossible to practice everything I preach every day. Some things I do weekly, some monthly, a few yearly, and the rest according to the shifting tides of circumstance and necessity. Only tea and chi have become embedded as indispensable programs for daily practice--always first thing in the morning, sometimes again in the afternoon, and occasionally even at night. If I don't do them both in the morning, I don't feel right all day long, and thus I've done my chi-gung every morning since I started in 1976, and my tea-gung every morning since 1986. Consequently, today at the age of 60 I don't feel a day over 30, I don't get sick, I still have all my mental marbles (though there are some who would challenge that claim), I still climb mountains and go body surfing, and I still enjoy food, sex and other pleasures. And yes, without question, I attribute all this primarily to my morning tea and chi.....

Cha Jen: Tea Pillows

      Speaking of "chi," there's an easy and pleasant way to get the essential chi of tea into your system while you sleep, by saving the spent leaves from your tea pots to make tea pillows. Tea pillows (as well as other herbal pillows) have been used for millenia in Traditional Chinese Medicine as an effective way to assimilate herbal essences into the human body. In Handbook of Chinese Healing Herbs, I introduce five classical herbal pillow formulas, one of which is the Tea Pillow.

      For best results, tea pillows should be made only with the best grade High Mountain Oolong Tea, such as those you get from our website tea shop. This is a great way to get double benefit from these fine teas. People often ask us, "What can I do with the spent tea leaves from the pot? I hate to just throw them away because it's such beautiful--and expensive--tea." We always suggest that they try making tea pillows.

      The first step is to thoroughly dry the tea leaves. Save all the spent tea leaves from a day of tea drinking by putting them in a big bowl set by your tea table. The next day, spread the damp leaves loosely on the bottom of a shallow basket, large sieve, or slotted tray, and set them out in the sun to dry. Turn the leaves over occasionally to make sure they dry evenly and completely.

      When dry, store the leaves in a large plastic bag, and continue drying and adding more leaf to the storage bag until you have accumulated enough to make one or two pillows.

      To make a tea pillow, use a plain cotton pillow case that is about half the size of an ordinary bed pillow: about 15 inches square is a good size. Fill the pillow case with dried tea leaf until it is quite firm and dense, then either sew it up or, better yet, close it with a zipper. Slip the tea-stuffed pillow into another pillow case, and it's ready to pave your way to dreamland.

      Although most of the herbal essence in tea is extracted into the hot water during the steeping process when preparing tea to drink, there remain many potent therapeutic elements in the used leaf, and these are released slowly but surely during the night when you sleep on a tea pillow made with top quality leaf. The heat and weight from your head warm and compress the dried leaves in the pillow, gradually releasing a wide range of aromatic elements that have potent therapeutic properties, which you breathe in as you sleep. The pillow produces a cloud of aromatic vapor around your head that holds manifold benefits to your health.

      The essential energy of the tea enters your body with every breath as you inhale the herbal vapors while you sleep, and this essence circulates through the heart, lung, and spleen meridiens, which distribute its healing properties to those organs. Sleeping on tea pillows made with the finest High Mountain Oolong Tea also improves cerebral functions, enhances vision, calms the nervous system, deepens sleep, and helps prevent hangovers after excessive consumption of alcohol. I find that sleeping on a tea pillow also sweetens my dreams.

      After a month or two, it's a good idea to open the pillow and spread the leaves on a tray to re-dry them in the sun. Sift out and discard any old pulverized leaves, and replace them with newly dried leaf before restuffing the pillow. If you drink tea daily, you will have plenty of dry leaf to keep your own tea pillows aromatically fresh and therapeutically active, and plenty of extra leaf to make a few more pillows as gifts for friends.

      For the man or woman who has everything, a tea pillow is always the perfect gift and a pleasant surprise--a practical present that pleases the senses, heals the body, and soothes the soul.

Tea and Tao

      Pin ming lun tao -- "to drink tea and discuss tao"-- is how an old Chinese adage describes the essential spirit of drinking tea the traditional Chinese way. And it's true: drinking Chinese tea the Chinese way, especially our best High Mountain Oolong Tea prepared with our finest teaware, always seems to end up driving the vehicle of our discussion onto the Great Highway of the Tao, even if it's only to take note of the beautiful scenery along the Way...

      The Way of Tea itself -- the Cha Tao -- is an embodiment of the indescribable, unnameable Tao in manifest form, and every aspect of preparation engages the enduring principles of the Tao in a way that you can feel in your fingers and see with your eyes: the interplay and balance of yin and yang; the functional harmony of the Five Elements in the form of clay pots (Earth), bamboo trays and wooden tools (Wood), Water, and Fire; the Eight Trigrams of the I Ching spontaneously manifesting their meanings. You don't need to be a Chinese scholar to understand these things. You just need to pay attention, and they reveal themselves silently, without words, in universal ways that anyone can recognize.

      The taste of tea itself, and the art of appreciating its subtle nuance, fleeting fragrance, and ineffable flavor, clearly reflects the mystery of the Way, and wordlessly expresses the essence in the first two lines of the Tao Teh Ching (The Way and Its Power):

The way which can be spoken
is the not the real Way;
The name that can be named
is not the real Name...

"Zen And Tea Are One Taste"      It doesn't take many rounds of good tea, properly prepared and enjoyed with friends in a pleasant peaceful setting, before the discussion turns to the Tao. One way or another, practicing the Chinese Art of Tea tends to steer the mind in the direction of the Tao. All of my Taoist teachers in Taiwan drank Chinese tea, and they usually gave their best teachings at the tea table. The natural balance and harmony inherent in the traditional Chinese way of preparing and enjoying tea, and in the taste of the tea itself, manifests the Tao in simple ways that anyone can appreciate without effort, and in subtle esoteric ways that it doesn't take long to learn.

Truly it is said: Cha chan yi wei ("Tea and Zen are one taste")

Tailpiece

      During the Sung Dynasty (960-1279 AD), a Zen adept and scholar named Dzung Peng, who authored several important Zen texts in Japan, traveled to China in order to collect key teachings on both chan (Zen) and cha (tea) and bring them back to Japan.

      Significantly, what he learned about tea in China he learned in the same places he learned about Zen -- Chinese monasteries.

      Here's the conclusion he drew from his experience in China, which he recorded in writings that have become foundational texts in Japan for both Zen and tea:

The essential idea in tea is precisely the same
as the essential idea in Zen. Without the Zen
intent, the meaning of tea is lost. If you do not
know the taste of Zen, you cannot know the
know the true taste of tea.

The Japanese monk and Zen master Ju Guang, who studied the writings of Dzung Peng and cultivated the Chinese Art of Tea, agreed, and he further fused the two grand traditions to form what today has become known as cha tao, the "Way of Tea." As he put it in his writings:

The root purpose in the Way of Tea is
to clarify the mind. This is also
the heart of the Way of Zen...

      The best way to verify this for yourself is to drink your best tea early in the morning, alone and before eating, in a quiet setting, with single-pointed attention focused on the art of proper preparation, and feel how each cup of tea sweeps another cobweb from your head, progressively clarifying your mind and purifying your body. How many cups it takes depends on how bogged your body feels and how muddled your mind is when you get out of bed in the morning.

For me, it takes
many cups, but it
always works
without fail, and
I always know
I've reached the
magic mark when
the last few cups
taste like sunlight.



 

 

 


 

ONLINE TEASHOP SPECIAL NOTICE:
DELAYED ORDER PROCESSING
DURING CHINESE NEW YEAR

Due to the Chinese New Year, all orders received
between 22nd January and 2nd February
will not be processed until after 2nd February.

Our Online Shop will still be open
but those placing orders should not
expect to receive them until around
9th February or shortly after.

So we encourage you to place any orders
now so our team in Taiwan have time
to get them out before business and postal
services shut down for the holiday season.



 

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