Tea is more than a beverage. Discovered over 5000 years ago in China, it was first consumed as medicine, up until the Tang Dynasty when it became an art form. During that time in 780 A.D., Lu Yu, the tea sage, authored the Cha Ching, or The Classic of Tea. In his treatise, he went into great detail on how to cultivate and prepare tea for maximum enjoyment, his writings inspired by Taoist, Buddhist, and Confucian aesthetic sensibilities. Lu Yu developed a tea ceremony using over two dozen utensils. At the time, only scholars and members of the royal court could afford these, allowing them to enjoy the ritual exactly as Lu Yu prescribed.
Eventually, tea spread throughout China and people from different walks of life could enjoy it in a simple way. Indeed a few leaves dropped in a large cup of hot water, was how the beverage was prepared by many.
It wasn't until the Song Dynasty that the Chinese method for serving tea called gong fu cha—meaning to make tea with skill—was developed. A ritualized service (or ceremony, as it is often referred to as), it quickly became the preferred preparation technique to maximize the flavor of tea leaves and enjoyment of the beverage. Today, gong fu cha is still very much in use by connoisseurs and increasingly by those who simply enjoy tea and its medicinal effects on body and mind.
I have been drinking tea for a long time. As a child, I didn't understand nor did I ever question why I drank tea whenever it was offered. Growing up in a Chinese family, when visiting friends or family, we were always offered a cup. When they visited us, we always returned the gesture.
The offering of tea symbolizes many things. It is a show of respect, gratitude, peace, and celebration. Quarrels between friends can be forgiven, anger subdued, with a simple cup of tea. A loved one can be celebrated with a cup of tea.
Over the years, I have felt the benefits of each sip. A meditation can be enhanced with a cup of tea, allowing for greater focus, therefore facilitating stillness. Tea can alleviate anxiety, and turn sadness into happiness and contentment. I have served tea to many guests, each steep only seconds long, releasing a fragrant aroma that promotes relaxation instantly.
All true tea (camellia sinensis) has healing properties, whether white, green, semi-oxidized (oolong), red ("black"), fermented and post-fermented. Full of antioxidants, it has anti-viral and anti-inflammatory properties. It is believed that tea can help fight cancer, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, boost the immune system and enhance heart health. An appetite suppressant, it can help with weight loss. It has been prescribed as medicine for much more still.
When drinking small doses at a time, we can feel the tea's energy released ever so slowly over the course of several steeps. As we go about our day following its arc and mimicking its energy, we can experience balance in both body and mind. This healing energy can only be felt, if tea is prepared using the gong fu method, drinking it in its pure form. Add dairy and sweetener and it all goes out the window!
Tea is a way of life. It is a meditation. It is medicine. It is a gift to be shared, and therefore a heart-opening experience.