02 January 2018

Grow by Letting Go

I try to spend about a week at the end of each year in solitude doing a "year in review" and to make goals for the upcoming new year.  It's a great way for me to recall past successes, areas I can improve upon, reflect on gratitude, as well as to catch up on reading and correspondence.  I spent some time on my most recent retreat writing outlines for new blog posts to come.

Although this blog was on hiatus for several years, my adventures in the world of tea continued and my appreciation for the "inner" world of tea deepened.  Winnie Yu's passing late last year, which I wrote about recently, led me to more consideration about the nature of my continuing tea education.  I started this blog years ago both as an online journal of my adventures in tea as well as a way to disseminate the education and experiences that I was able to enjoy, and in her memory, the sharing of my learning and ideas should continue for as long as my passion for tea remains.

I've been traveling back to Taiwan on a regular basis these past several years, and each journey is somewhat like 1 step back and 2 steps forward.  So many things that I have learned over the years have been wiped away and replaced by new methods and thinking.  Conventional tea wisdom or knowledge about things like brewing temperature, varietals, growing conditions, "terroir," etc are not so conventional.  The charcoal roasted, grown-in-Yunnan, Qingxin varietal that one of my teachers roasted last year was probably one of the most surprising teas I've had in years. It had the structure of a cliff tea, the complexity of Taiwan high mountain oolong, and the freshness and energy of pu'er.  I also met an award-winning oolong producer who roasts his high mountain tea at nearly 20% higher heat, something that several of my other teachers think is impossible.  I wouldn't have believed it if I didn't see it for myself.  I tried his tea and it was pretty delicious, too.

I've been asked what I think is the most important lesson to know about tea and nowadays, I'd say that one should consider the mentality of loose-attachment.  What I mean by this is that one should not rigidly adhere to a set of rules for tea (ie preparing/storing/drinking tea a certain way) or obsess about collecting and regurgitating knowledge or procedures.  I find it lamentable when I meet fellow tea lovers who are so passionate about their point of view that they cannot accept other interpretations or methods.  We cannot learn and grow if we don't listen, explore or keep an open mind.  

I got to accompany Shiuwen of Floating Leaves Tea to Taiwan when she went to film her oolong documentary last summer.  We spent time with some of our teachers, as well as new teachers whom we met.  Master Big Way's teachings on tea brewing profoundly changed the way I prepare tea leaves and brew tea.  I'll get into this more in future posts, but his lessons begin with cultivating our heart and energy before we even touch the pot, let alone the tea leaves.  After you've sipped your cup of tea, he will give your cup a quick smell, through which your level of cultivation and mental state will be revealed to him.  Amazing?  You bet...and a little unsettling for sure.  Shiuwen's documentary will be out later this year and you'll be able to see how beautifully he prepares and serves tea.  A couple of trailers for the documentary have been completed, and the first one can be viewed here:

Happy New Year.  Drink good tea and enrich your life.

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