Tea Tuition

by Mike
5 minute read
Stacks of 100 dollars banknotes bundles

One of my favorite things about the pursuit of tea is it’s a journey without an end.

It’s like signing up for an education but the point isn’t to graduate. Rather, the point is to explore, learn, and grow. Although money is spent, the value cannot be measured in dollars returned to the drinker. What the student of tea gains is experience, perspective, connection, self-knowledge, and wisdom.

There is something comforting and deeply satisfying about undertaking a journey with no end. Because tea is so much bigger than me, I feel far less rushed. After all, what’s the hurry? Where am I rushing to? Only towards my own death–something that will take care of itself in its own time.

The pursuit of tea is a pursuit for the sake of itself. The form of the tea experience is the content of its education.

When we think about tea in this way, we realize it’s impossible to make any mistakes. After all, if tea is nothing but an exploration, there is neither good nor bad–only curiosity and learning. Certainly, we may make decisions or try things that don’t work out according to our expectations. However, this is no cause for concern, judgement, or criticism.

Rather, these experiences are nothing more than the price of our tea tuition.

Three Teapots

From where I’m sitting, I can see three teapots I never use. One of them, the first clay pot I ever bought, is far too big for me to use by myself on a regular basis. It’s 180mL (~6 ounces), which is too much volume for the gongfu style of Chinese tea I usually drink (high leaf, low water ratio).

Next to it there are two much smaller pots. Although their size is just fine, I can count the number of times I’ve used them both on one hand. The reason is simple: I haven’t found the teas they match with yet. Sure, I could try, but there’s one other confounding element–I bought these pots because I thought they were something they weren’t (80s vintage from China). I still haven’t dealt with that emotional baggage to find out whether, in spite of the lie, they’re still good pots.

I could punish myself for these “mistakes”. After all, I spent no small amount of money acquiring these teapots. Most folks wouldn’t blame me for being hard on myself for “wasting” hard-earned cash on abandoned ceramics.

But most folks would also question the value of investing in them in the first place, so let’s not invest ourselves in the opinions of others.

Learning from Regret

I could torment myself with the regret of their disuse. I bought each piece because I had high hopes for what they would add to my tea experience. Now those hopes are as cold as the pieces themselves. What I intended for these pieces doesn’t matter anymore–there is only what I wanted to happen and what actually happened.

Fortunately, I can find the silver lining in the lessons learned from the buying experiences. First, don’t buy pots larger than you need. I didn’t know this back when I bought my first pot. That’s why I didn’t spend all that much to get it. Second, I learned research goes a long way but there’s no way of knowing what a teapot experience will be like without trying it.

Sure, I wish things worked out differently. But rather than punish myself, I look for the lesson instead. In this way, I will be wiser and better prepared next time I want to make a purchase.

Find the Gift

Life is what happens when we’re busy making plans. Sure, we had good intentions for this or that purchase. We did our best to enjoy this or that tea. But often things don’t go according to plan.

We can’t control the things that happen to us. What we can control is how we respond. This mindset provides the healthy foundation for a long and fascinating journey through tea.

Have you ever used the “wrong” brewing style on a tea, only to find out the change opens a fascinating new dimension previously undiscovered? I know I have.

I’ve poured boiling water on things I’m not “supposed” to (looking at you, Chinese greens) or steeped things longer than I “should” have. Earlier in my tea journey, when I literally tracked my drinking in a spreadsheet, a glitch in the process might have thrown me into a fit. Now, I’ve come to realize some of my favorite teas only found their place in my collection because I did something I wasn’t supposed to do with them.

As In Tea, So In Life

If it’s not apparent by now, while I’m writing about tea, what I’m talking about is life. As tea is an “art of life”, the lessons we learn here will help us everywhere. Hopes, regrets, self-compassion, and living with curiosity are all part of growing as a human. The good news about tea is life lessons often come much more cheaply here.

Sure, tea comes with a cost–but it’s a price I’ll happily pay. We often pay more to learn less. One look at my student loans is a good reminder of that. In the grand scheme of things, a few dollars spent on a teapot we don’t love isn’t the end of the world. Nobody gets hurt when we over-steep a tea (although drinking an over-steeped tea can certainly cause pain!). Unlike life, which no one escapes alive, we will all survive the so-called “mistakes” we make with our tea.

So let’s take our time. Let’s remind ourselves we are students of tea and the student’s only goal is to learn. We don’t need to rush because tea’s education is life-long and rich with knowledge.

And the best part? We can have it all for the low, low price of a cup of tea–the price of tea tuition.

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