The hidden minstrel in a cup of tea

Tea is more than just a heap of dried and/or oxidised leaves. Tea is associated with relaxation; taking time to distance ourselves from everyday activity and to allow our mind a moment of peace. Recent research has pointed out that tea contains certain components that actually help us to relax and relieve stress. And more than coffee – which is mostly consumed for its stimulating effects – tea has become identified as the tool to obtain that what we lack most in our contemporary lives.

But tea is not a medicine; and stress is not a sickness. Tea cannot be relied upon the way we do with contemporary medicaments. Whereas with coffee for example, we can drink a mug of black to get an instant boost, tea doesn’t ‘work’ in this magnificent manner. A cup of green won’t give us instant relaxation. It isn’t the wonder potion we sometimes believe it is. But then how does it work?

Tea, as I indicated above, is but the ‘tool’ that can aid us in finding a rare moment of peace and tranquility. It provides us with the means and the opportunity to create such a moment for ourselves, but unfortunately it isn’t going to do it for us. Running to the kitchen to pour some hot water in a mug in which to dip a low quality tea bag, just to hurry back to the computer to continue work won’t do anything more than just quench our thirst. Tranquility is not obtained that easily and, contradictory it may seem, in fact requires a little effort.

It is not the tea that relaxes us, it is the moment; that instant with tea, that provides that well needed break to reset. Now, how does tea actually help us to obtain such a treasured moment? Since we have all become too used to teabags, instant coffee and vending machines, tea does seem tedious to prepare. But it is exactly the time taken in carefully brewing a cup of tea that focuses our attention on doing just that. The care and caution taken in the preparation, simultaneously enhances our drinking experience, because our taste is not just limited to ‘strong or weak’, ‘sweet or bitter’. We can start to recognize less outspoken flavors and scents that – even with the same tea – change with each brewing. It is the understanding of how we brew our tea that allows us to recognize in greater depth what it as a beverage comes to express.

This being said, it isn’t only our understanding of the brewing process that adds to our experience of the tea. It is ‘understanding’ in general that widens our pallet, and the way we get to enjoy our brew. The more we understand, the more we start to recognize the true taste of tea.

It is my experience that – having sampled a great variety of tea – it is not the one that said ‘premium’ on the package that was most delicious; it was the tea that I understood best that appealed most to my taste. If we allow ourselves to fully emerge in that tranquil moment with tea, and open ourselves to listen to it carefully, we may discover that tea can tell us many stories. Some teas tell stories of blood, sweat and tears; the effort that went into their production. Others bring tales from the times of old. Each tea has a story to tell, and listening to this story while savoring the moment in the company of tea is what I believe to be the strongest tool to momentarily forget our daily worries and find that moment of peace that we so strongly crave.

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