There are thousands of anecdotes and stories about tea being used to open the mind and spirit, and there is plenty of research that confirms tea’s benefits for the brain. Recently, however, I had tea open my mind in a new way.
I grew up drinking matcha, the Japanese green tea powder used in the Japanese tea ceremony. I learned the basics of Japanese tea as a child from my grandmother, who adopted many aspects of the different Asian cultures from her life in pre-state Hawaii, and even converted my bedroom into a Japanese tea room when I was twelve. (My mom was an interior designer, so I had access to a lot of resources the typical twelve-year-old in the rural south probably wouldn’t have had at the time.) I also learned all about British and Indian teas from our English friends who came to winter in our little fishing village on the Gulf each year.
With this kind of background, I had always heard that Chinese tea was inferior, and when I first met Zhuping I have to admit that I was skeptical. Now, several years later, I have passionately embraced the spectacular beauty of Chinese tea, but I never really developed a taste for Chinese black tea. In fact, I bought a bag of Spring Dawn a few years ago solely because of Austin’s enthusiasm for it, and when I made it at home the next day I hated it. I ended up giving it away. (Just so you know, I love Spring Dawn now that I know how to brew it properly. Plus, I think the 2009 harvest was exceptional.)
Just like I was biased against Chinese tea for most of my life, I was also biased against black tea – up until recently. A couple of months ago, Mikel in the warehouse offered me some special rare Lapsang Bohea that had been given to Seven Cups/Green Dragon by Master Liang, the tea master over Lapsang production. It was a revelation! I had never in my life enjoyed black tea so much (although I do like Dian Hong Gong Fu iced in the summer occasionally). I was astounded to discover a black tea that, in my opinion, rivaled the sweetness and complexity found in some of my favorite Rock Oolongs; my bias against black tea was instantly shattered.
It makes sense, however, that I would love this tea so much. The term “Bohea” comes from a mistranslation of “Wu Yi,” which is where the Lapsang teas and Rock Oolongs come from. In a way, these teas are close sisters to one another. And, as it turns out, we at Seven Cups have some of the best of both.
I now enjoy our Lapsang Bohea on an almost daily basis and regard it as one of my favorite teas. That’s saying something, because I REALLY love tea and have a collection of hundreds. In my opinion, it’s right up there with Silver Needle, Big Red Robe, Ceremony-grade Matcha, Oriental Beauty, and Gold Medal Honey Orchid.
That’s exciting for me, because I’m the type of person who loves learning new things and having my mind stretched. I studied Social Theory, Racial Theory, Theology, Feminism, and other mind-stretching subjects in college and like to have my presuppositions and assumptions challenged, and to me, tea is one of those things that keeps me on my toes. The tea culture and industry are constantly evolving, and so is my palate, and part of enjoying tea is the constant opportunity to learn and experience something new.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that even though tea has been proven to have beneficial chemicals that help brain health, the experience and culture of tea can be mind-opening in and of itself. One can learn about other cultures, about sustainable farming (and about the outright tragedies and crimes endemic to commercial tea production), about sensory integration, about ritual, about religion or meditation, about health, and even about oneself. That, to me, elevates tea to something beyond a consumable product, and truly epitomizes the entire idea of “lifestyle products.” Tea really can become a gateway to a better quality of life in so many ways.