I wanted to start this out by saying, “When I started to take tea seriously.” But after I typed it I decided that’s just not a good way to start things off.
Why not? A fair question.
My answer: I believe that though tea is something that certainly can be, and often is, taken very seriously, tea is also something that can be done as a form of play.
I’m having difficulty writing this. Perhaps I should tell you a story:
One day, for reasons I don’t remember, I decided it would be a good idea to look up information about tea ceremonies on the internet. I found a great deal of information on Wikipedia, and many different videos on YouTube about something called “Gongfu Cha” which was also sometimes called “Kung Fu Tea” here in the United States.
I was immediately captivated by Gongfu Cha, and I started to try my best to learn it by emulating what I had seen online. Despite my best efforts, I was not able to create a tea that tasted as pleasing as I thought it should. This frustrated me a great deal. Seeing my frustration Mei (my girlfriend) told me, “I think you’re taking this tea stuff far too seriously. It’s something that should be enjoyable, and and fun. You’re taking the joy of of it by trying to be so perfect as you do it. You’re turning it into work.”
I did not want to admit it at the time, but she was totally correct.
The next day, while looking up information on preparing tea, I found an interesting statement in a tea magazine called The Leaf. The article said…
One of the sad things we often see with beginners is that they make their tea into something way too serious, as if it were a college course and one had to read books and articles with the utmost scrutiny, analyze and debate them and then pass examinations to become a “master”. Yet, the whole idea of a certified “master” of any art is absurd. There are no tests. There are no books that teach the Way of Tea. There is no need to scrutinize, develop a working vocabulary, analyze, dissect, record serious sessions and then use notebooks full of reviews to further categorize them. As an art, tea is best expressed joyously from the soul, free and spontaneously.
Instead, try learning through experimental play, the way you once did as a child. The greatest masters always have a childlike grace, and continue to play with tea and life in general despite their age. There is no real need to study. There aren’t any levels to attain. Tea is a Dao because it can’t ever be taught in words. One has to make tea and drink it, and experience comes only after years of practice. And yet, I could never overemphasize the fact that while it may take time to achieve mastery of tea, it takes no time at all to experience the joy in a cup of tea.
There it was again. The same thing that Mei had said was being told to me again.
After reading that article I really started to play more with the tea. I messed around with water temps, steeping times, and different brewing vessels. The results were mixed. Sometimes I’d make a great cup of tea, and other times I’d make something that tasted wretched; but no matter what the result was, I was having a good time discovering new things. Granted, I liked discovering things that tasted good much more than I liked discovering things that tasted bad. Nonetheless as long as I did not get too down on myself those awful cups of teas were valuable teachers who taught me just as much, if not more than, the cups of tea that tasted great.
Now-a-days I will still struggle to not take tea or myself too seriously. This is something I’ll always have some struggles with, maybe even lots of struggles with. But be that as it may, I think that my attempts at making tea are teaching me not only how to make tasty drinks, but how to live a better life.