I think there’s a reason tea has such significance in so many different cultures. There’s an intentionality to making tea, the heat of the water, the length of the steep, the brewing of the leaves. It’s its own kind of magic. When I lived in Japan I learned of Japanese tea rituals, where so much thought, patience and time are put into the preparation of just one cup of tea. Everything, the leaves, the bowls and utensils, even the layout of the room is prepared carefully to contribute to the harmony of the space. It’s an exercise in honor for the guests and the host, a practice in community, a way to communicate intention and summon peace.
Some cultures view the act of making tea as a magical one. For centuries the Romani have been staring into their tea leaves to reflect on the future and manifest dreams. Romani believe that saliva is sacred, and that when you drink from a cup of tea you become a part of it as your essence is added to the cup.
There’s something special about the process of making tea. Every cup is a different combination of flavors as unique blends of leaves interact with the heat of the water. You’ll never drink the same cup of tea twice, which makes it such a great exercise in mindfulness and meditation. The act of preparing and drinking tea can be a helpful aid for people who are unused to meditating because of the structure it lends: the grounding action of taking sips and the built-in time frame of finishing the cup can be useful if your thoughts are hard to tame or quiet. Whether you are trying to sharpen your vision of the future or simply stretch out a moment in the present, tea offers us a unique opportunity to put everything aside and reflect on the warmth and flavor until our last sip.
Drinking tea always makes me feel connected to the natural world, more than any other food or beverage, because it allows me to focus on the plants that were carefully plucked out of gardens for their specific flavors and properties. Every plant and herb has something special to offer a brew and each has its own significance and benefits, both physical and spiritual. Green teas are great for your metabolism and energy. Black teas are good for strength, both physical and mental. Peppermint can bring clarity, spearmint brings healing and protection, and both can help settle an upset stomach. Lavender can help bring peace and sleep when you need it most and nothing is better for a sense of loving comfort than hibiscus tea with rose hips. Earl Grey and bergamot bring prosperity, and rooibos is known for its ability to heal. When we make tea we select the blend we need most for a certain moment in time, a practice in considering what we need and allowing ourselves to have it. Tea is such a simple and beautiful act of self love, a quiet moment we give ourselves to experience calm, warmth, and nourishment.
Visiting an artisanal tea shop can be a great use of an afternoon, but the truth is that grocery store teas can just as effective as any more expensive specialty blend. The most important aspect of any tea ritual is the time you’re willing to devote and the faith you’re willing to lend to the minutes you spend drinking your tea.
When reading tea leaves, one of the first steps is to think about a question you want answered or explore where your mind takes you while you drink from your cup. I think this is a great practice to bring into any tea ritual. Giving ourselves a specific outlet to reflect on who we are and what we want can be a powerful act. Think about memories you attach to the specific tea you’re drinking; try to see if the flavors remind you of your childhood home or an old love or a favorite haunt. Use a cup you truly love or treasure to make the event feel more special and sacred to you. The more you give to this time the more it will give back.
I take solace in the fact that, no matter what challenges arise in life, my days will always hold space enough to enjoy a quiet cup of tea on my porch or just before bed, for all the peace and comfort it has to offer.
For more information on the qualities of tea, I recommend this beautiful piece written by Katelan Foisy.