On several occasions my wife has told me that she’s not a tea person—a categorical assertion which I must say leaves me quite breathless. Yet when I make a particularly interesting tea I feel compelled to offer her a taste; I just can’t help myself. She never refuses—she takes a few sips, and being a great cook, offers precise and highly perceptive comments. It’s always fascinating to hear her reactions to an infusion because compared to mine, her senses are downright bionic, but she never asks for more than those few sips, and she never says anything like, “Oh, you’re making an Oolong, can I have some?” Well, why in the world would she, not being a tea person, after all?
I know several people who do not eat meat, but I haven’t ever heard them say, “I’m not a meat person.” I’ve heard people say that they are or are not a cat or a dog person, a night or a day person, even a computer person. but it always sounds so fixed to me, as though it is in the DNA, and you either do or do not have the dog/cat/day/night/computer/tea gene.
Apparently dog/cat/day/night/computer/tea people love their dogs/cats/days/nights/computers/teas enough to self-identity as being that sort of person. Curiously, loving vegetables isn’t enough to qualify as a vegetarian, which is probably why they don’t go around saying, “I’m a vegetable person.” A good thing, too, because that sounds like someone with brain damage.
I suppose I really am a dog/cat/day/night/computer/tea person, but I would never put it that way, and I have to admit that being both a day and a night person does make for difficulties; both in living and identity. Being a tea person in the U.S.A. is also difficult these days because there is a political movement popularly called the Tea Party, with which I do not self-identify, I’m not going to get into it. Suffice it to say the Tea Party it has nothing at all to do with tea. I guess that makes me someone who self-identifies as a not-comfortable-self-identifying-as-being-a-whatever-person person, and for obvious reasons, I’m not very comfortable with that.
I’m probably going on like this because I wish my wife shared my tea obsession. Tea does that to people; it makes us obsessed in a congenial sort of way (coffee and alcohol do too, but they are not without their dark side); tea seems to have a luminous nature of its own that gives rise to a kind of quiet evangelism. Apparently tea is now the most consumed beverage in the world, after water. I predict that in time the margin between tea and whatever came in third (beer, actually) will only grow. Tea is sneaky that way.
A while ago I had a minor confrontation of sorts with a co-worker which ended with each of us feeling raw and misunderstood. It was uncomfortable and awkward and I wasn’t sure what to do. After spending ten minutes at my desk, simmering, I made a small pitcher of tea, walked over, and offered him some. In retrospect, this was a no-brainer seeing as how he is a tea person, but I was feeling pretty annoyed at the time, and my usual inclination would have been to stay away. When he saw me approaching, he picked up his empty cup and held it out, looking at me with relieved sort of smile which was utterly disarming. I don’t think coffee could do that anywhere near so readily, and even though the whole episode sounds like a sentimental cola commercial, I don’t think a cola drink would lend itself so well, either.
Here’s an excerpt from Lu Yu’s The Book of Tea (written in 780 CE); he is excerpting yet another book, Rebellion of the Four Princes (Si Wang Qi Shi), a Jin Dynasty (265-420 CE) history book:
“When the fourth prince of the Jin revolted, Emperor Huidi fled away to escape the calamity. When he eventually made his return to the capital of Luoyang, dirty and thirsty from the trudge, the guard at the imperial court welcomed his majesty with tea in an earthen bowl.”
I can’t figure out which Emperor Huidi is being referred to, but whichever it was, I just bet that that was one hell of a great cup of tea.
Apparently there are many Chinese traditions and customs involving tea as a means of facilitating such things as showing respect, saying thank you, welcoming visitors, and making apologies; you can read about some of the here. The only other beverages I’ve known to have such resonance all have alcohol in them, but I think that tea is more powerful in many ways. Drinking tea can be more than symbolic—the tea itself can be a contributor, it can change you; tea has a lot of soul.
Have Some Tea
There is a famous story about two traveling monks visiting a zen monastery. The abbot of the monastery asks both of them, “Have you ever been here before?” One monk, the older of the two, says that yes, he has, and the abbot replies, “Have some tea.” The other monk, quite young, answers no, he hasn’t and the abbot replies, “Have some tea.”
A senior monk standing by wonders about this and asks the abbot, “Why do you say the same thing to a novice that you say to the spiritually accomplished elder monk? ” To which the abbot replies, “Have some tea.”