I took these pictures of Chinese figurines in the garden of Taipei's Bao An temple. They show how tea is closely associated with Chinese culture and buddhism. Religions are often closely associated with a drink, rather than with food. In Judaism (and the Ancient Testament), olive oil plays an important role (see this article in Divine Tastes blog). For Christians, wine is probably the most spiritual drink, as it is used for the communion with Jesus.For my confirmation, the pastor chose this verse from Luke (4:4) for me: "It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God." Thus, in the bible, food (bread) is viewed as very materialistic. And catholics even call its excess one of 7 capital sins: gluttony.
Tea, on the other hand, is often viewed as the opposite of food. Instead of feeding, it purifies the body and clarifies the mind. When this idea is taken at the suface, tea is then touted as healthy or even helping you loose weight! This utilitarian view of tea is still very materialistic. It's all about chemical components and how they react in the body.
For me, the first step towards something 'spritual' comes when you realize that tea tastes good and is fun! Tea is not just another way to quench your thirst, but it's a pleasure. Life is short, so let's enjoy every sip (of tea)!
Tea is also fun, because there are so many different teas and the way each brew is influenced by so many parameters: kettle, tea vessel, water, temperature, brewing time, pouring speed, tea cup... Very small variations can have big impacts on tea. It's so amazing! And with amazement come the questions and the thirst to understand more about tea.
The next step is then to learn more about tea culture and Chinese culture in general. The final step, I believe, is when tea brewing is similar to meditation. Experience tells the tea drinker that a peaceful mind is one of those details that helps brew better tea. No wonder then that many Buddhist monks and Chinese thinkers love tea so much!
Related: A Felicific Life is a recently created tea blog from a Buddhist tea drinker.
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