Fundamental Concepts in Nurturing the spirit pertaining to The Way of Tea
Hooi Yoke Lien
The Way of Tea Research Institute of Malaysia
Foreword：What is the spirit pertaining to The Way of Tea?
A. The difference between preaching and practising
B. Is it the same as the code of ethics?
- The four dimensions of tea’s “pureness”
- The basic principles in its pursuit
Conclusion：Nurturing a contemporary spirit pertaining to The Way of Tea
Keywords： the spirit pertaining to The Way of Tea temperament pureness conviction code of ethics
What is the spirit pertaining to The Way of Tea? Tea enthusiasts embrace certain principles and uphold particular standards; as such, it is just natural that they apply these principles and standards to their daily lives, for example, using only good quality water for brewing, giving an unwavering attention to cleanliness and hygiene, handling teapots with utmost care, to name a few. Over time, this conviction would develop into a preferred attitude towards different aspects of life, be it basic necessities such as clothes, food, shelter and transportation, or the way we interact with other people. When a lot of us put what we believe into practice — making tea in particular and living in general — an ethos rooted in the ways tea enthusiasts brew, serve and take tea will emerge in the society. Such ethos may be described as the spirit pertaining to The Way of Tea.
A.The difference between preaching and practising
Can such spirit be made out of thin air? The answer is no. Experts pontificating about the Way of Tea in terms of secular values such as happiness, love and harmony do so for the purpose of public speaking. While a world of people living in harmony and love is a laudable vision, one should not arrive at the conclusion that the essence of it is happiness and love. There is a big difference between longing and practising. We believe that for an idea to contribute to the spirit pertaining to the Way of Tea, it must be reflected in every detail when a tea enthusiast brews, serves and takes tea. Without a day-to-day and hands-on experience, any preaching about this subject matter is nothing more than empty talk.
Are we to pursue such beliefs all the time, even when we are not brewing? The answer is yes. When a person first embarks on the experience with tea, he may think that it matters only when he is brewing a pot of tea in a tea presentation setting. However, as times goes by, the same tea enthusiast will be let down by his own inability in applying the principles of the Way of Tea to other aspects of life.
Some may say, “I am fully aware of the spirit pertaining to the Way of Tea, but I haven’t got time yet to implement it.” This is rather weak reasoning, given that its external manifestation comes from deep within us. When we persist in beliefs we truly embrace, we will put them into practice time and time again over the years until these beliefs and their manifestation becomes a part of us. No concerted effort is needed by then, and the impression is that it has been this way all along.
Does it mean that the more experienced we are and the better our ability in brewing a good pot, the more likely we will be recognising the spirit pertaining to the Way of Tea? Well, there is no single right answer. The time devoted to brewing surely counts, and the technique is of much importance; but deep conviction comes straight from the heart.
B.Is it the same as the code of ethics?
Is the spirit pertaining to the Way of Tea the same as the code of ethics? No. It refers to the beliefs generated in the course of tea brewing, serving and taking. The code of ethics, meanwhile, refers to existing ethical principles pertaining to humanity.
Is it possible for just about everyone to capture the spirit pertaining to the Way of Tea by way of learning? Again, no. It is not a matter of “learning”, but rather is a form of “sacrificing”. It happens the time a person with certain temperament comes across tea. When he has gained much experience, steep after steep, sip after sip, he would have developed traits and characteristics reflecting the spirit pertaining to the Way of Tea, and it just follows that he would devote his life to upholding the spirit. This is what I meant by “sacrificing”.
It is fair to say that the tea we take determines the persons we are. It is impossible to talk about the Way of Tea as if it is separated from tea planting, processing, packing, trading, storing, brewing, serving and drinking. The Way of Tea demands a personal stance. Much like everything else, there is a process with many steps, from freshly picked leaves to dried tea leaves, the tea infusion and the residue of infused tea leaves. People handle them differently to achieve their respective goals. Such is the attitude towards tea. If tea leaves are regarded as something separate from the processing methods, skills and techniques, there would not be any “Way” at all, as the Way of Tea could only come from the way we think, work and live.
C.The four dimensions of tea’s “pureness”
Naturally, the spirit pertaining to the Way of Tea is born out of tea. The life cycle of tea can be divided into four stages, namely, freshly picked raw leaves, dried tea leaves, the tea infusion and the residue of infused tea leaves. Appreciating the characteristics of these four different stages in the entire process, we have come to realise four dimensions of “pureness” that tea embodies. First, there are the raw leaves harvested from tea trees. All it needs is air, the right temperature and amount of sunlight, and time required for these fresh leaves to transform into pure tea leaves; no additional ingredients and extra handling are necessary.
Second, there are the dried tea leaves that require little more than clean tea ware and brewing utensils, clean water, clean hands as well as undivided attention and an undistracted mind of the person who brews to release their aromatic substances.
Third, there is the tea infusion, the consumption of which involves nothing but clean cups and good health of the person who takes it. We need neither special setup and attire, nor activities and flavours to enhance the enjoyment of the infusion.
Fourth, there is the residue of infused tea leaves, which bear traces of the entire life cycle after they have unreservedly presented us the substances that have gone into our tea infusion. Tea is an experience at its purest; it does not need price tags, packaging and brands to speak for itself.
D.The basic principles in its pursuit
Tea enthusiasts stand up for what they belief by giving it their best shot. Growing quality, unpolluted fresh leaves; brewing a perfect pot of tea; taking tea the way it deserves; and appreciating the residue at the bottom of the cups are but some of the ways to reiterate their conviction. The pursuit will be nothing more than empty words if there is no personal commitment or hands-on experience. The four dimensions of “pureness” discussed above has shed light on three basic principles we need to follow in order to capture the spirit pertaining to the Way of Tea, namely, quality, cleanlinessandcharacter. In between sips, we should be contemplating the satisfaction and joy such principles bring, and the effort we have to make and the responsibilities we have to take. Whiling away the hours or delivering hollow rhetoric could not be further away from the true spirit pertaining to the Way of Tea.
We need to differentiate between good teas and good-looking or expensive teas; they are not the same. This is a key concept behind quality, the first principle. It takes fresh raw leaves properly processed to impart natural aroma and yield tea infusion that satisfy our needs. The same goes with tea ware. Aesthetic tea ware made of not-toxic, hazard-free materials is not only a joy to behold but also gives you peace of mind.
Consideration as to the duration, space and time, seasons and times must be made throughout the entire process, from planting to clearing of tea residue. For example, duration may refer to the length of time required for fermentation of the tea leaves, ageing of vintage teas, or steeping the perfect cup. There is no room for impulsive decisions when timing is concerned.
Fresh leaves harvested from different locations of the same mountain at different times of the year vary noticeably in terms of quality. Space and time, therefore, is important to bring out the best of the harvest. Meanwhile, the place of origin should be transparent and clearly stated.
With the natural phenomenon of the seasons comes periodic change of climates. Conditions such as the amount of sunlight, wind intensity, rainfall and relative humidity affect the growth and characteristics of tea. As such, it is important to present the best possible quality of each season.
Times refers to a combination of traditional ways and new practices. Thanks to the effect of technological advancement, our lifestyle is changing from day to day. It is necessary to keep abreast of the development and move with the times by, for example, adapting tea making methods to suit modern interior setting.
Cleanliness is defined as sustaining a healthy, hygienic and coordinated state of existence for humans, objects and the environment throughout the entire process, from tea production to its use. This second principle goes beyond zero pesticide residue on tea leaves to prevent the intake of harmful substance, and covers an amicable coexistence between man and nature. Otherwise, depleting clean air and destroyed land ecosystem will be the prices to pay as we pursue the Way of Tea.
Neglecting such impact on the world around us is the very source of destruction inflicted upon Nature and human life. For example, a shift in marketing trends to smaller pack size has seen a large number of teas sold in 10g individual aluminum foil bags. This way, a kilogram of tea would mean 100 aluminum foil bags, not counting similar packaging used for snacks accompanying a cup of tea. The number aluminum foil bags disposed of is alarming. This “throwaway” culture incurs a high cost not only economically, but also environmentally. It certainly has a negative impact on the land, the people and the Way of Tea.
What do we mean by character? The third principle points to the support we should lend to people who insist on a rational approach to tea production and consumption; we need to do so regardless of the size of their operations, or the person’s background. They should not be exploited, and diversity needs to be respected.
We must reflect on the ways in which market control exercised by large corporations and standardisation of our industrial mechanism. The model of standardisation propels our economic growth; however, such development may not be as good as we would want it to be — greater accessibility to tea does not automatically make us great tea connoisseurs.
In similar ways, some of our invaluable cultures are rapidly fading away. For example, the dark roast Tieguanyin and Lapsang Souchong we used to enjoy in the 1990s are hard to come by these days, which means that certain values have been abandoned. Which tea craftsman has made this wonderful tea? How did this tea collector manage to keep his rare fine for 30 years? Which tea enthusiast has brewed such a good pot? Indeed, tea is a lot more than its blend or technique; it is the embodiment of a tea enthusiast’s attitude, vitality and belief.
Conclusion：Nurturing a contemporary spirit pertaining to The Way of Tea
Only if we appreciate the ideas of “pureness” with regard to the people, utensils, time, land and tea, and stand by the basic principles of quality, cleanliness and character, can we embrace the Way of Tea and its contemporary spirit to its fullest.(16)