After a good night of sharing tea with friends, I’ve been thinking about the effects of tea on the body and mind. From a scientific standpoint, tea is comprised of the right amounts of caffeine, tannins, catechins, flavonoids, and amino acids. It always amazes me that although approximately 99% of the tea we drink is water, the compounds that make up that final 1% can produce the effects that have made humans interested in tea for such a large portion of history.
There is also a more mental or philosophical way to interpret the effects of tea, but whichever way I look at it tea has come to be a positive and relaxing force in my life. I haven’t found many other types of food or drink that can offer the same soft & round feelings of elation that can be produced by a well brewed tea. Perhaps these feelings remind me of those produced by good stretching, tai ji exercises, or time spent with close friends in a casual environment. With this type of feeling my body and mind can feel at home and comfortable with themselves, and are able to set down certain kinds of tension produced by daily life – these kinds of tension could perhaps be compared to the apprehensive feelings caused by a networking event, or the despondent state caused by watching our president address the U.N. General Assembly.
Recently these soft, straightforward, and relaxed qualities (without any rough, harsh, or other types of negative feelings) have formed the basic standard of how I judge a good tea from a bad one. I don’t really think that every good tea needs to have intense or unusual flavors, an extraordinary history, or any other novelty “wow” factors that contribute to a good marketing copy. I’ve been able to find some teas recently that fit this standard of being simple, pleasant, robust enough to be stored and aged, and cheap enough that they can be afforded on my meager salary. I’ve realized that I value these kinds of tea more than some of the expensive, premium, and overly marketed teas that can make a tea drinker feel pressured to enter into a pretentious mode of brewing. A mode that can have the goals of extracting the choicest of tasting notes from a tea, or finding the deepest meditative experience.
Not every good tea is necessarily expensive, and not every expensive tea is necessarily good. There are always exceptions in every category that challenge generalizations, but this search for a tea that offers the kind of relaxing and pleasant force that I enjoy has been a good compass to help navigate the sometimes spooky market of tea, and find teas that I perceive as valuable. If a tea doesn’t offer something enjoyable – or even worse, makes one feel bad in the body or mind… Why drink it at all?