I admit it, I travel with my teapot.
Two of them, actually.
One is a small, sky blue, infuser style pot in which I brew my black tea; the other is an Asian style cup of pale green porcelain (with a ceramic diffuser and lid) in which I steep my green tea.
Yes, a box of teabags would certainly be easier for a traveler but they make for a poor cup of tea (albeit the newfangled ones with quality, whole leaf tea are a dramatic improvement).
I take my camellia sinensis rather seriously. For nearly a decade now, long before I moved abroad to England—where most of the tea is, quite frankly, rubbish—a nicely brewed cuppa has been a daily ritual for me.
At the risk of sounding terribly English, there’s something wonderfully civilized about it—though I’d far rather be authentic, artisan, creative, old-fashioned or bohemian rather than “civilized.”
Honestly, I try to not to get too precious about tea, especially when away from home, but like many things, when you learn to appreciate something, it doesn’t do to skimp or suffer a poor substitute.
The other day, running low on the black tea I’d brought along on my travels, I wandered into a popular kitchen shop where, among the shelves filled with cookery tools, pans, dishes and ingredients, I spied some appealing tins of tea.
My gaze was drawn by a red tin of Letterbox Tea (inspired I guess by the iconic, red English ‘letter box’). It wore an appealing postage-stamp label with an ornately stencilled hand, and it contained a chai blend called Ritual.
Chai, with its warming, pungent spices, is usually a morning drink for me in winter, seldom an afternoon affair. Not feeling any attraction for the few other teas in the store, I debated the tin of Ritual, carefully examining the ingredient list on the label, scanning for red-flag items such as orange peel or “fragrance.”
I’m very particular about chai—even more than other types of tea—it has to be the real deal; often times, for want of finding something adequate, I have simply made my own blend.
Tea geek moment: the preferred tea for chai is a grade known as ‘CTC’ (Cut, Tear, and Curl) which is a low moisture, heavily rolled leaf pellet ideal for boiling.
I wished I could open the tin to view and smell the blend inside, gauging its spices, looking at the tea, but in the end I took the plunge and purchased the red letterbox. How could I resist the inscribed hand on the label and the allure of a chai “Ritual?”
Chai has its own ceremony: rather than steeped in a teapot, the unscented loose black tea and whole spices are simmered in a pot on the stove, and then a bit of milk added for another two minutes of infusing. Add your sweetener of choice, and voilà!
Later that afternoon, I found myself thinking about tea and ritual—both the immediate context of a proper cup of tea and also the larger metaphor of personal ceremony. Usually twice a day, a cup of tea, whether black or green, offers a lovely little respite and ritual during my waking hours. It’s something that I pause for and invest some time in its preparation.
Compared to a high ritual of Japanese tea ceremony, it’s nothing at all. Utterly amateur.
Still, the ingredients and how it all comes together matters: good, loose leaf tea; fresh water and the right tea pot (warmed briefly before the actual steeping of leaves); brewed with diligence and attention so that it doesn’t steep too long and offers its full potential of taste without being too tannic or bitter; and served in an appealing, attractive cup.
Then I sit down to enjoy it, accompanied perhaps by a little nibble of something sweet.
Modern notions of actual nutritional value aside, there’s a deeply nourishing element to this little act. It offers a pause, a chance to savor something; not just the well-brewed tea and the tasty cookie or treat, but the fleeting moment of the day, the wind in the trees outside, the birdsong or the sirens and noise of traffic, the way the afternoon light dances on the wall.
In a tea ritual, we’re making a conscious and deliberate choice to inhale the moment and open the senses.
Rituals nourish us in some way—they root us, inviting us to be present and more fully in the here and now. In that, they also tend to create a sense of expansion, openness and possibility in the bodysoul.
Even something mundane as a daily chore—washing the dishes, hanging out the laundry, pulling weeds, making tea—can become a ritual if we enter into it with the appropriate frame of mind. On the other hand, something that’s already appealing—like sex—can evolve and become a deeply nourishing ritual.
And while some ceremonies and rituals can be complex, in general they help shift us from doing to being—invaluable in our haggardly disconnected lives.
We are nearly all of us busy and swept up in the details and demands (and sometimes the drama) of our days. Many of us don’t take the time to adequately nourish our body, let alone the mind, spirit and soul.
What do we make time for in our busy days that nourishes us?
A cup of well-brewed tea might be overly simplistic when speaking of ritual; it’s not an obvious or typical route to the holy, is it? Yet what if you had a practice of taking a pause during your day to reconnect with your self in some nourishing way? What might it look like?
You could explore creative, artistic expression. Play music. Gather flowers from the garden. Walk through your neighborhood, looking for beauty. Prepare a nourishing meal. Greet the dawn with prayer. Rub your beloved’s feet. Really, the possibilities are endless.
It needn’t be elaborate; in fact, simple is probably better.
Ritual feeds the soul. It affirms the deep essence of who we are and connects us to something larger. Much larger. It makes room for—and welcomes—the sacred.
Wherever you’re going, don’t forget to pack your teapot for the journey.
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Author: L.R. Heartsong
Editor: Renée Picard
Image: Snak at Flickr