Jack Kerouac, "The Dharma Bums"
A visitor to my blog points out that I mention tea in several of my postings, and asks what role, ceremonial or otherwise, tea plays in my life.
When I was in college, I used to drink gallons of tea so that I could pull all-nighters studying for tests. My favorite blends were Twining's Earl Grey and Tetley's, both taken with enough sugar to trigger diabetic shock.
When college ended, so did the tea orgies.
And then I moved to Japan.
For many Japanese, tea isn't just a drink. It's a way of life called Sado (or Chado), the Way of Tea. At the center of this art is the Japanese tea ceremony, steeped in Zen and requiring a lifetime to understand. I don't know much about Sado, so I won't delve blindly into it here.
But I can tell you that on a more mundane level, tea infuses most every aspect of Japanese life. It's a token of hospitality and friendship, a cue to relax and take a break from your office work. For me, it was always a subtle reminder that I was a guest in someone's house or workplace, a formality that officially marked the start of a visit.
When I first got to Japan, I thought green tea was green tea. But I quickly learned that that's like saying the "Mona Lisa" is just a painting.
I discovered the differences between common-grade bancha and higher-grade sencha. I grew fond of the nutty taste of hojicha, so inexpensive and so comforting on a cold winter's night. I loved the strong, slightly bitter matcha, that staple of the tea ceremony, so expensive that it was only an occasional treat. I liked the woody taste of kukicha, the subtle hint of puffed brown rice in genmaicha.
And above all, I savored that ambrosia of the gods, gyokuro, as if it were the very breath of life itself.
I've been back from Japan for nearly eight years now, but my green tea habit is as strong as ever. Lately, I've added Quan Yin tea, an inexpensive import from China, to my stash.
When I drink tea, time melts away, the pace of my life slows. Nothing assumes greater importance than enjoying the warmth of the cup in my hand and the warmth of the tea that spreads like a down comforter across my chest.
This is my tea ceremony.
I never got into the coffee habit. I never cared for the taste. I equate coffee, probably unfairly, with morning rush hour, stress, a caffeine fix, high blood pressure, lives of quiet desperation, cheesy Folger's TV commercials and Joe DiMaggio ("Mr. Coffee").
Ironically, coffee has become more popular in Japan than tea among younger people. But then, I've always bucked trends (or at least I like to think so).
So there you have it.
Tea is my heroin, my obsession, my savior, my teacher, my excuse to procrastinate (as if I need one).