The Way of Tea

When I’m not drawing I’m drinking tea.

TeacupsWeb

The Japanese tea ceremony (茶道 literally “the way of tea”) conjures up ideas of complex tea ware and formal etiquette that doesn’t have space in our everyday lives. Yet I think if we break down the ideas behind this beautiful celebration of the mundane, we can create our own little ceremonies and tea traditions that add a little art to the simple everyday act of making a cup of tea.

Okakura Kakuzō wonderfully describes the ceremony in The Book of Tea as “an improvised drama whose plot was woven about the tea, the flowers, and the paintings. Not a colour to disturb the tone of the room, not a sound to mar the rhythm of things […] all movements to be performed simply and naturally.” We don’t need to completely mimic the drama of a Japanese tea ceremony in order to put more thought into the simple act of tea drinking. We can adapt some of the simpler ideas though, such as creating a peaceful space to sit with a beautiful painting or simple flower arrangement upon which to rest ones gaze in a quiet moment of meditation. Our own ceremony can be developed from what we already have access to and from just giving a bit more time for carefully selecting our favourite cup and teapot.

My partners family teashop is named ‘Seibiant’, a welsh word meaning to pause and take a moment in the day for a little piece of respite. This moment hopefully already exists in your life simply and naturally, and we can take ideas from the tea ceremony to make it a little more nourishing.

Of course I can’t discuss the ceremony without talking about tea, though if you don’t like tea then this can be adapted to whatever your favourite beverage is, even a glass of water. When I used to work in the tea shop I was frequently asked about my views on the British builders brew, as customers would tentatively ask for milk for their tea. I would explain that what goes into a tea bag is classed as “dust”, swept from the floor of the tea sorting room once all the tea grading has been done and the best leaves have been selected. We add milk (and some add sugar) because the low quality and broken leaves make the tea taste bitter. However I’m not going to judge on peoples tea drinking preferences, tea is for your taste and my only wish is for it to be enjoyed. I occasionally do love a good builders brew, I was brought up on this stuff and it is my tradition. Nothing makes me happier than to sit with a friend with low grade black tea improved with a splash of milk and accompanied by a biscuit.

I would hasten to add though that most tea bags are made with plastic and the act of making a pot of  loose leaf tea adds more chance for ceremony, so if you fancy stepping up your tea drinking game, then loose leaf and a teapot would be a great place to start. There are a myriad of loose leaf teas out there filled with stories, traditions, different tastes and intriguing brewing methods. So I would also encourage you to sample some of the wonderful teas that the world offers. A cupboard full of teas is a beautiful thing to have and allows one to choose a tea dependent on your mood, the changing weather, the time of day or season of the year.

To conclude I’ve made a little recipe for making your own tea drinking ceremony:

1. Find a quiet space in which you can sit a few moments, preferably with something simple and beautiful to look at.

2. Select your favourite tea cup and a tea that suits your current mood, the season, the weather etc

3. Take your time to prepare the tea, even if it’s a tea bag in a mug, pour the water slowly.

4. Sit and savour, really focus on the flavour and the way you feel.

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I would love to hear about your own tea ceremonies and feel free to get in touch with any questions (I’m mostly on Instagram @carissatanton). And if you’re looking for some beautiful loose leaf teas, as always I recommend checking out Seibiant.

Happy tea drinking.

C

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