On the Importance of Tea

BY: JOSEPH HULL, LLMSW

I’m more of a coffee person myself, but as I have been working with my clients through their processes of learning to engage with their daily lives, I have found that tea offers something that coffee does not.

Coffee is profoundly important to my day. It is an old friend. It helps me reorient my mind and body to the rhythms of my day and my work week, and I have a boatload of nostalgia associated with the bold, rich, powerful, blend of bitter and sweetness that I find in my first sip each morning. More than just a tool for effectiveness, I enjoy my coffee deeply. 

But to me, coffee is not about being in the moment; it is about getting me going, out the door, and helping me ask, “What is next?”. 

Tea, on the other hand, has been helping me ask, “What is here, and happening now?”. In some ways it has been helping me not ask questions, but instead has been helping me just be wherever I am as I appreciate what that cup of tea offers. As it turns out, tea has a lot to offer a person looking to connect with the present moment. 

What I’ve found in my “tea time” is delicate and easily missed, but profoundly helpful and enjoyable when it is noticed. Tea does not blow me out of the water with the force of its caffeine or the potency of its flavors. It does not energize me in the way that I have come to expect from coffee or -dare I admit- a Red Bull. 

The preparation and enjoyment of tea offers me the sensation of the hot/warm water transferring its heat to my hands, the steam carrying the complex aroma of the tea leaves to my nose so I can appreciate them, the ritualistic moments of waiting for it to be just cool enough to drink and enjoy, the attempt to parse-out the complex blend of flavors in the tea itself… those are the experiences that tea offers. It pulls me into the present moment. 

I would feel like a real phony if I did not mention that I am not the first person to stumble upon and celebrate the mindful opportunities that tea offers. Japanese culture may have grounds for a lawsuit if I attempted it. The Japanese Tea-Ceremony has existed for somewhere around 1300 years, and is a beautiful, intentional sequence of movement and preparation that allows the preparer of the tea to be fully involved in the act of preparing the tea and offering it to the drinker of the tea. This ceremony is a profound meditation ritual that acknowledges the uniqueness of the moments in preparing that cup or pot of tea, and that those moments have never been before, and will never be again. Appreciation and thankfulness for the moment and those sensations are an essential part of this practice. So is the knowledge that complete participation and engagement in the moment and experience is something never quite grasped in full, and something to return to perfecting with each new cup or pot. 

My purpose in pursuing the meaning in my cup of tea is not to reach Zen at this point in my life, but it is to remind me that my body, mind, and emotions exist in this present moment. I am beginning to see the stages of preparing and enjoying my tea as guides to finding my own mind, body, and emotions in the present, and living a life a bit more in touch with myself and my surroundings. Preparing and enjoying tea is only one, small activity that a person can choose to pay attention to in their day, but it might be the first step in learning what it feels like to slow down and live in the small moments of your life.

Lindsey Bandy