Routine and Spontaneity in Tea Drinking
One of my hobbies other than drinking tea is practicing Tai Ji Quan (太极拳), a form of Chinese martial art. I’ve only been playing with it for a few years, but one thing becomes clear very quickly is that it is a large world of different practices with many different styles. Some emphasize strength and a ‘hard’ style of Tai Ji. Others will emphasize balance, coordination, the breath, etc. in a ‘soft’ style. I think having a wide variety of different methods and ways of approaching the mind and body makes sense, because there’s a really wide range of human experience to draw upon. This is also constantly evolving as each new practitioner finds their own way. To speak to this there’s a joke that my Tai Ji teacher sometimes tells:
“How many Tai Ji players does it take to screw in a lightbulb? Well don’t be silly, it only takes one. But then the other 99 Tai Ji players in the room would tell you how they would have done it in their style.”
Yesterday I was fortunate enough to attend a gathering focused around one Tai Ji game called push hands (推手 or Tui Shou in Chinese). Teachers and students from two different schools, some from Maine and some from Massachusetts, came to our studio for a few hours of playing. This gathering was a fun way to be exposed to different approaches towards Tai Ji, and use this information to reflect on my own development. During a break some of the students were sharing different breath work (气功) exercises and stretches with each other. One of my partners was doing some interesting stretches, so I asked him something along the lines of: “Are there any particular stretches or breath work exercises that you like to do routinely that you could share?”
His response was something along the lines of: “I usually approach movement and stretching in a spontaneous manner, making whatever adjustments feel good to my body at the time.”
I thought that this comment was interesting, and it sparked some thought on routine and spontaneity in my life – especially in how they relate to my tea practice. At their core preparing and drinking tea are very simple. This is why I think that they can be very relaxing and meditative. Giving time for this preparation can help quiet the daily chatter of the mind, and one can begin developing a sensitivity towards how many seemingly unrelated and minute factors such as weather, personal health, tea ware, water quality, water temperature, infusion time, mood, music, time of day, etc. can affect the quality of the tea in our cups.
Recognizing this in tea has led me to feel that routine and spontaneity in life do not have to be mutually exclusive things. I think that most of the time in our lives are composed primarily of simple things such as preparing meals, eating, drinking, going to work or school, exercising, washing dishes, using the restroom, etc. In this way I feel that learning and choosing to notice and appreciate the little differences in moments such as these, along with occasionally choosing to create new opportunities or ways of approaching our routine tasks can act as a form of therapy towards a mundane and monotonous view of life.
Drinking High Mountain “Pomelo Flower Aroma” Dan Cong Wulong Tea
For my morning tea I spent a couple of hours with a kind of tea that for whatever reason I do not normally drink – Dan Cong Wulong Tea. Dan Cong Wulong (单丛乌龙) is a type of partially oxidized Wulong tea that comes from the Phoenix Mountains (凤凰山 or Feng Huang Shan in Chinese) outside of Guangdong Province’s Chaozhou City (潮州市, 广东省 Chao Zhou Shi Guang Dong Sheng in Chinese). Within this category of tea there are a wide range of tea varietals, oxidation levels, and roasting levels on the leaves.
The particular tea that I drank was called “Pomelo Flower Aroma” (柚花香 You Hua Xiang in Chinese) and came from the northern part of the Phoenix Mountains. The tea seems to be slightly more oxidized, because the leaves have a dark and twisted appearance.
Pomelo is a kind of citrus fruit native to Southern and Southeast Asia. I’ve never tried this particular kind of citrus, but after smelling the tea and drinking a few cups I could understand why it might be named after the flower of this fruit. The fragrance of the tea was sweet, and the flavor complex. The flavor seemed to have floral, citric, and almond notes. However this flavor was complex and hard to put a finger on. The tea had a creamy and thick texture that was paired with a slightly astringent aftertaste. It was an interesting combination because my mouth would become somewhat dry after drinking the tea, but the sweetness and aroma would then cause my mouth to water wanting more! The tea brewed up a golden orange color, and I was able to get roughly 10 or so infusions that had interesting flavor.
One final thing about this tea that I wanted to mention is that after being brewed, the wet leaves seemed to reveal that the tea is somewhere in the middle of the oxidation spectrum. They were composed of a blend of colors including green, yellow, and brown. For this reason it seems somewhere in the middle, because the leaves of lightly oxidized teas will be mostly green when brewed, and the leaves of fully oxidized teas will be mostly darker in coloration when brewed.