Nourishing Life #5 - Do Nothing in January (The Way of Tea)
This article has been adapted from a piece I was asked to write for the British Acupuncture Council magazine.
The magazine column I contribute to is called ‘The Qi of Tea’. In it I give advice to Chinese medicine practitioners on using tea in Chinese medicine, tea rituals and the art of tea. This is collectively known in Chinese as chadao - the Way of Tea.
Chadao itself can be seen as a Nourishing Life tradition - hence its inclusion in this series. It is a wonderful practice that can elevate the ordinary to the sublime and one I turn to often. I
The theme of the magazine issue was honesty and integrity. In that spirit, it is important that I declare an interest here as I run an organic tea company!
This, however, is not an advertisement for tea, but more an encouragement to take time for a tea break each day in which you can stop and reflect on life.
Do Nothing in January
“This issue’s theme of honesty and integrity neatly coincides with what can be a somewhat perverse and misleading time of the year - the ‘festive’ period. Second only to the runaway consumerism of Coca Cola Christmas is the festive fallacy that is …. the New Year’s Resolution.
‘New Year. New You’. Have you ever seen that in your inbox on January 1st?
The year turns. Gym memberships boom - then bust. Festive frolicking gives way to a dry and joyless January as we switch gear from excess to abstinence.
We get swept up every year and yet it can make us feel uneasy and empty. Come February our resolutions have lost their lustre. Somehow we got duped.
As an advocate and practitioner of Chinese Medicine it's clear to me why this happens: we are acting out of balance with the cycle of Nature. The year may tick over on the calendar but we are still in deep midwinter. We burn the midnight oil then try to start new projects when we would be better served by resting, recuperating and turning inward on ourselves.
If you find this hard to think about in the run up to Christmas just look outside your window.
The signs are everywhere.
Our natural world is resting. Animals are going to ground and hibernating. Trees are shedding their leaves to conserve energy. Movement (yang) is giving way to stillness (yin). Nature is storing up ready for the emergence of Spring in February.
As a tea lover there is a tea which I feel is the perfect muse to bring us back in tune with this natural process.
The Perfect Tea for Winter
In China, autumn / winter is the time to drink ripe or shou puerh teas. Shou puerh also known as ‘cooked’ puerh is a tea that is fermented after production. The basic process involves piling the unrefined, astringent raw tea into a meter thick layer.
It is then sprayed with water and covered with a thick blanket. Over 45-60 days heat builds in the pile of tea as it would do in a compost heap and ‘cooks’ the tea.
Chinese Herbs and Red Dates
The resulting tea colour is dark brown and amber with a liquor that is a thick and brothy.
Good quality shou puerh has rich earthy flavours and aromas that recall Chinese herbs, red dates and the musty rainforest soil of Yunnan. It is deeply nourishing, sustaining and grounding. As with all fermented foods in Chinese medicine, shou puerh is known to benefit the stomach (aiding digestion) and to warm and nourish the foundational energies of the body (Kidney Yang / Gu Qi).
A Handful Of Dirt
But tea alone is only half the story. Just telling you to drink shou puerh relegates it to the realm of a superfood without context.
If we take a beautiful tea and throw it on the ground it is just a handful of dirt. If we take the time to respect what Nature has given us and prepare, serve and drink our tea with an open mind and a attitude of reflection we can elevate an everyday experience to a sublime one.
As the saying goes - chan cha yi wei - 'Zen and Tea are one flavour'.
So if it’s not too late, ask Santa to bring you a nice new tea pot or even just put leaves in a bowl. Either way, create a small tea ritual to foster stillness from January until the end of winter. That way you’ll have plenty of energy when you can really use it.
For your Chinese New Year resolutions in February.