There is a sort of meditation that naturally arises from making tea. I’ve tried to ignore it and cannot. It is unavoidable. It is the meditation on change. You put leaves in a vessel. You bring water to a boil. You steep the tea until it offers up its flavor, until it cannot offer any more. The aroma and notes that play on the air and in the mouth come and slowly fade into nothing. Into memories. Over time, these too may pass.
This ebb and flow of actions, of movement and resting, of coming forth and waning into ether are mirrored in the material affects of tea too. It is in the way the clay of an old teabowl was once locked within the earth, formed in the hand of the potter, fired in a furnace, brought into this world and has since, by chance, lasted for generations. It is how the forces of heat and flame bring rise to vibrant reds and earthy greens, turning glaze to glass and clay to stone.
I sit with this as I sit for tea, pairing a newly-acquired antique 宝瓶 hōhin (handless teapot) from the kiln of 信楽 Shigaraki with an ancient Chinese teabowl.
Together with these I place a wooden teascoop, made from a branch of an old gnarled tree.
Once turned over, the rough, sinuous exterior gives way to a smooth and shaped interior, revealing the flame-like colors of heartwood. In turn, this vibrancy was kept in suspension through the artist’s application of a thin layer of translucent lacquer.
Onto this void I place the twisted leaves of an ancient tea tree, 景迈古樹生茶 Jǐngmài gǔshù shēng chá, a fresh, raw puer tea from Jǐngmài in southern Yúnnán, purportedly from tea trees several hundred years old.
For a moment I admire the contrast of leaves upon wood until this, too, shifts as I follow by placing the tea within the warmed stoneware vessel.
Pouring boiling water atop the leaves begins the process of brewing, causing them to slowly unfurl, returning them to a state which closely resembles when they were once alive atop an ancient arbor.
With the lid set over the hōhin, the tea continues to brew until the desired flavors have been expressed.
Emptied, the leaves appear caught in mid-phase, somewhere between tightly-curled and fully-opened.
Peering into the wide expanse of the shallow teabowl, the color of the tea is a soft, amber hue. A gentle aroma lifts from the surface of the liqueur. A complex flavor invites my senses to explore the depths of the lush forests from which this tea was grown.
How much it has changed since when it was but a seed. How much it has developed over the many years it grew. From this came leaves which were labored over by countless people, which now I have just begun the process of understanding.
Caught in constant change. From clay to kiln. From wood to leaves. Moment after moment, a meditation.