Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Tea and the financial crisis

Chinese history is a succession of dynasties. Each new dynasty marks a time of crisis when power was grabbed by another clan or ethnic group. And during weaker dynasties, the fighting never really stopped. The Sung dynasty (960-1279) comes to mind as having been very troubled. And yet, this was also a great time when it came to tea. Sung style tea (matcha) was so important and popular that it has been adopted by the Japanese and has been elevated to a tea ceremony. Properly whisking the fresh grinded green tea takes a lot of concentration. Your mind needs to be focused on making the tea and then on enjoying the fine nuances. So, tea was a kind of escape from the troubled times. But it wasn't an escape in artificiality (like opium, wine), but a refuge in aesthetics (the beauty of the bowls), fine and healthy food.

Most important, the drinkers were able to connect to nature and achieved a certain inner peace and harmony. They learned to live each moment in the present mode. When drinking tea, tea was all that mattered. Worrying about the past or the future was pointless. Then, calmed down by their tea, having a different perspective, maybe they were a little wiser as they faced their world in crisis.

Throughout history, it used to be that banks were blamed for NOT lending enough to low income groups or that interest rates were too high. During the agricultural age, loans were extremely rare: a tea farmer knew he can only drink the tea after the harvest. (A loan is what lets you enjoy something before having earned the money to pay for it.) Then, loans slowly became common during the industrial age, as workers would be paid only at the end of the month and their income was more predictable than a harvest. Still, the image of Scrooge (Dickens, a Christmas Carol), a cold-hearted banker who is not interested in lending, except to the wealthy, is the familiar cliché. The fact that this crisis came from the opposite excess (too easy credit) is the result of much progress. It also shows, I think, that the world has vast amounts of excess capital looking for sound and safe investments. For instance, the US government seems to have no problem finding 700 billion dollars...

What will change for us with this financial crisis? Rates might increase. And it will be more difficult to qualify for credit cards, loans... Home mortages, especially, will require substantial downpayments again.

Here is some advice I would like to propose/share with my readers:
1. No need to panick, have a cup of tea and think:
2. Do you feel that your financials are sound, that you have control over them or that they control you? Do you feel comfortable with the amount of debt you have? How will you be impacted by tightened credit?
3. If you feel fine, then continue drinking tea. I'm glad for you that you have learned to live within your means and find happiness in simple things like a cup of tea.
4. If you don't feel comfortable, if you can't enjoy this cup because of the financial situation you're in, then I suggest that you take action today. It's better to reduce you debts when you decide so than when you're forced to. This means spending less and/or making more money.
Some practical ideas for those who choose to reduce their tea budget without compromising tea quality:
- Freeze your spending on tea accessories. You don't need to be a collector of pots or cups to enjoy tea.
- Before your next order, finish all open packs of fresh teas (green tea, unroasted Oolongs...). Drink them when they taste best.
- Learn from the Chaoshan tea culture: Enjoying high quality tea and quenching thirst are separate. Use a smaller vessel to reduce your leaf mileage! (And drink plenty of water!)
- Or select cheaper teas when you drink mainly to quench your thirst. Keep the more expensive leaves for special moments.

Enjoying tea has helped many in times of crisis. And so I hope it will also help you to relax and find your way to happiness.
At the end of this road is a plantation of Oriental Beauty!


Philippe said...

Amusante la 4e photo !

Anonymous said...

Some mighty good tea advices!

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Stephane. I needed that one.


Laurie E. Miller said...

I've found that the simplest teaware and very high quality greens make an inexpensive combination -- some of the more delicate flavors don't even appear until the fourth infusion, and I hate to miss them. A little of such leaf goes a long way.

Which is a good thing for me, since grad students don't get paid much.

Bret said...

Sound advice, coming from someone who sells tea ware your advice is sincere. But just the same, I want those celadon tea cups. Financial crisis or not. My tea habits consist of good quality but affordable everyday teas and then my not so affordable teas for occasional tea sessions.

Anonymous said...

Some mighty good tea advices!