Seasonal Tea Club Summer 2022
“For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation.”
Rainer Maria Rilke
Welcome to the Summer Seasonal Tea Club. As we emerge from the long hibernation of the past two years, we are all hopefully enjoying the sense of renewal that comes with taking off our masks, connecting with friends old and new, and finding a fresh perspective on what we most value in our lives. It’s liberating to have a naked face again, but a bit unsettling too, like your first day in a nudist colony. No matter how desperately we crave being done with COVID, the pre-pandemic world we once knew is gone. The reality of the past couple years has insinuated itself into our culture, our consciousness, and every aspect of modern life. The idea of living in seasonal alignment may seem irrelevant in such precarious, volatile times, yet I believe that the enduring themes of seasonality allow us to live with the stability and security that comes from recognizing that which transcends social change. The themes associated with summer’s fire element help us to rediscover the importance of social bonds, social virtue, and interdependence. After all, if COVID has taught us anything, it’s that humans are not meant to be solitary animals. We learn the essence of who we are and what gifts we bring to the world through the mirror of community.
Each season I briefly review what it means to follow the Way of Tea. By observing six fundamental practices and principles, we stay closer to this path. From the inner to outermost, the practices include Meditation, Virtue, Vitality, Tradition, Methodology, and Community. Each season corresponds well with a particular aspect of the Way of Tea. The spring season was a time to follow the rising yang energy as nature comes to life. This was a time to focus on one’s Vitality by increasing movement, mimicking the plant kingdom by “stretching the limbs,” creating a vision and plan for the future, and nourishing liver health in general. The theme of vitality and health is central to nourishing the spring wood element. As we transition into summer, we shift focus to the fire element: the cultivation of social virtue and connection, and the realization of our spring plans.
As spring transitions to summer, there’s a qualitative change in the way nature looks and feels. The intense, erratic emergence of spring wood energy in nature begins to mellow out. The upward movement of rapid growth slows down and the day’s length levels out. Strongly uprising energy in the body stabilizes. We feel an outward expansiveness with increased social interaction and activity. We shed layers of clothes with the heat and stay out later into the warm evening. The fire element is associated with the heart. Healthy expression of the fire element finds us feeling less inhibited. We seek out activities that bring us joy. Warmth and conviviality are symbolized by the hearth and the campfire. Expansive, open-hearted connection around outdoor activities defines the season. This is the season of connection and joy. After the past two years, may we all feel a sense of renewed social bonds.
We hope the Seasonal Tea Club equips you with tools and concepts that help you become your own healer. The ideas presented in the Tea Club help you develop trust in your inner guidance and deeper self-understanding. The Summer Seasonal Tea Club focuses on the fire element and virtue in general. We’ll explore psychosomatic aspects of the fire element and discuss ideal fire teas, and why we’ve chosen this special batch for you. Please consult our blog to read previous Tea Club booklets, which explore many other details of the elements including diet and lifestyle, psychospiritual aspects of the elements, the history of tea, traditions associated with tea, and different methods of processing and brewing. Also, for a deeper exploration of the role of Virtue in the Way of Tea, please watch our recorded talk on Virtue, which you can find on Living Tea’s YouTube channel.
The Chinese character for fire represents flames moving outwards in all directions. It looks like a child running with their arms outstretched, thus evincing the innocent joy, virtue, and play of children. Children are unbiased, unprejudiced, and lacking the egoic perspective of superiority or inferiority. As one of my teachers in Chinese medicine taught me, children are pure yang: bright, expansive, active, moving in all directions like a joyful flame. Their capacity for ebullient, open-hearted connection represents a sort of innocent virtue that is closer to our true nature. This essential nature shines forth in children, uninhibited by the restriction of social conditioning and assumed identities. When we meet an elder who has that child-like twinkle in their eye, it’s often the result of all the work they’ve done to unlearn social norms and identification with roles. Childlike freedom and spontaneity capture the spirit of summer’s fire element.
In pre-Christian Europe, May 1st (or May Day) indicates the beginning of summer. Lying roughly halfway between the spring equinox and the summer solstice, this cross-quarter day marks the beginning of a deceleration in the lengthening of the daylight hours. As discussed, the fire element is strongly connected to relationships with others, as well as the heart, the seat of emotional intelligence and awareness. The senses associated with fire are speech and touch, the two most fundamental aspects of human connection. Speech and language give humans the capacity for storytelling, which helps us to define our identity within a group, organization, tribe, village, city, or country. They are essential to our ability to relate to one another through shared identity, and through that identity to feel a sense of belonging, care, and love. Speech and language allow us to communicate the feelings of the heart and the content of the mind. To the ancients, heart and mind are one and the same. Modern western culture has created an imbalanced dichotomy that often treats the intellect as superior to the feelings and sensations. This imbalance leads to a society in which individuals often feel disconnected, alienated, and socially isolated. The ability to speak freely and openly, to share vulnerably, to express emotions, and to offer the passion of the heart all serve the healing of a culture in which cold intellectualism is given superior status.
As mentioned, the other sense associated with the summer fire element is touch. It is a primary component of most relationships, from the handshake to the hug to the tender embrace. All of the fire meridians travel along the arms and hands, providing a medium for sensing the world and communicating the feelings of the heart. Here we begin to understand the role of Virtue and its relationship to fire. For many people, it’s easy to be virtuous if they somehow lived alone on an island. Within the complexities of human relationships, we discover our virtue and sense of propriety, or lack thereof. As profoundly social beings, we can learn a lot about the health of our Fire Element through the many levels of relationships in our lives. The local shopkeeper, the barista, the postman, our colleagues, and family members – all of these relationships exist on different levels. Friendships, family relationships, and close intimate relationships represent important dimensions of our daily lives, and many of the challenges to our virtues. Why is it that relationships are often so challenging, and might this question offer clues to unravelling the difficulties of living Virtuously?
The core virtue associated with the fire element is Propriety, which is the condition of being right, appropriate, decent, and respectable. Through the heart-mind, humans are imbued with awareness of appropriate social interactions. It would be improper, for example, to insist upon a kiss every time the postman delivers the mail. More commonly, an imbalanced fire element might manifest as someone who finds lascivious behavior with strangers to be normal and healthy. This imbalance relates to the faculty of touch, while imbalances in the fire element can also be seen in speech. For example, we all know someone who lacks awareness of social cues in communication. They speak incessantly, interrupt regularly, and show little sensitivity or restraint in discussing any and all topics. They communicate as if a fire is burning inside that manifests as excessive, scattered talking. This type of manic behavior, the need for constant stimulation and human interaction, the inability to be still, calm and relaxed, all demonstrate an imbalanced fire element. To the extent that propriety, virtue and relationships are related, we can reflect on the difficulties that are often present in relationships.
So often, especially if we have an imbalanced fire element, we project all kinds of assumptions and beliefs onto others. We see others through many layers of filters based on our history, rather than seeing them with any objective clarity. We love someone because they remind us of our kind aunt, or we dislike someone because they look like an ex-boyfriend. We unconsciously believe we love someone because of how they make US feel instead of really seeing them for who they are. These experiences from our past distort our views of others and prevent us from maintaining true Propriety in our relationships. When we interact with others, we have all kinds of reactions to how they are, what they are saying and doing that are based on our history and self-images. Relationships from the ego create a chaos of interacting histories. With this in mind, how might relationships help us to cultivate virtue as we move through the summer season?
As the primary source of all our triggers, relationships create the mirror for us to see ourselves more clearly. Every time we find ourselves reacting to someone, we are being offered the gift of exploring our unconscious, unresolved beliefs. All struggle, on one level, is the ego. Every reaction we have to someone else provides a clue to that which is unclarified in ourselves. Friction creates heat, and through the friction of relationships we are able to spark the fire that burns up our ego. Whether it is irritation over the way somebody uses their utensils, or your partner leaving the keys in the wrong place, or sadness that a friend didn’t invite you to a social engagement, all these reactions have nothing to do with the other person. They are all about you, and if you can orient differently, they are doorways to self-understanding, inner acceptance, and ultimately, the cultivation of virtue.
In Taoist understanding, the heart is the supreme intelligence. The virtuous path of relating to all of our relationship difficulties is to surrender them to the heart. The heart knows how to simply BE, and in that place of being there are no veils distorting the truth of ourselves or others. This is the virtue that we might learn from children and in doing so, relearn the essence of what it means to love one another.
THE SUMMER COLLECTION
Living Tea seeks out farms or wild tea gardens that have a healthy, reverent relationship to all aspects of tea production. The following are qualities of a Living Tea: seed propagation instead of trees from grafted clippings with shallow roots, plenty of room for the trees to grow instead of tight rows like you see on tea plantations, biodiverse growing regions instead of clear-cut mountainsides or valleys, growing practices that avoid all chemicals including pesticides, chemical weed-killers and fertilizers, no irrigation, and living wages for all employees.
During the summer, we recommend drinking teas that are mildly bitter to clear heat, uplifting to support greater activity, sweet to harmonize digestion, and aromatic to open the senses. We generally explore more gongfu cha, brewing these delicate teas in small zisha pots with small porcelain cups, honing the craft of the perfect brew. We also enjoy early morning bowl tea sessions with large-leaf loose teas. This important time of the year is about connection, expansion, and sessions with other people. Having cultivated vision and planning during the spring, we take tea outside for sessions in the park with friends, to the mountains where we harvest fresh spring water, or under the summer moon on warm nights.
We recommend using 6-7 grams of tea per session, or more simply, use enough leaves to lightly cover the bottom of your teapot. Brew the first several steepings for very short periods (2-4 seconds), discarding the first flash steeping to “awaken the leaves.” The practice of short steepings is different than European tea whereby one uses less leaf and brews for a longer time.
12-YEAR-OLD LIU BAO - GUANGXI PROVINCE, CHINA
BREW AT: 205-210°F
Russet brown liquor with golden edges, accentuating a balanced brew of freshly fallen leaves, old healthy wood, wet stone and vegetal notes. We find this tea evokes a sense of nostalgia, drawing one back to a time before the modern age. We love the settling Qi, a common quality of good Liu Bao, and the magic imbued through the fermentation process. Hidden Virtue comes from South Central Guangxi, China near Vietnam. It was masterfully aged in Malaysia since 2010, and as a post-production fermented tea, this storage is very important to the finished tea.
Liu Bao is fermented and dried in a long delicate process in preparation for further ageing. During the tin-mining boom of the 19th century, enormous quantities of Liu Bao and other teas were imported into Malaya as a customary beverage for the colonies of Chinese migrants who worked the mines. After the collapse of tin prices in the 1980s, mining declined and the huge stockpiles of Liu Bao were left in storage for decades or sold cheaply for consumption by the local Chinese population. Just as the miners appreciated the energetically cooling effect of Liu Bao in the hot mines, we enjoy this dark tea on warmer days. While we tend to drink lighter teas in the summer, Hidden Virtue is perfect for those days when you want an earthy, darker tea that is energetically cooling.
SINGLE-ESTATE SHENG PUERH - YIWU MTN., YUNNAN CHINA 2007
BREW AT: 205-210°F
Harvested from one of the most famous mountains in Yunnan, Grass Hut is a beautiful example of a mid-aged sheng puerh that drinks like a twenty year old tea. Yiwu teas are characteristically sweet, oily and clean due to the old-growth trees and pristine growing environment. We detect mineral sweetness, mild fruit and the gentle pungency that accompanies mid-aged sheng. We love the patience of the tea during a nice, long afternoon gongfu session.
IN PLAIN SIGHT
JIN MUDAN “GOLD PEONY” RED TEA - HUNAN, CHINA 2021
BREW AT: 200°F
We’re drinking a lot of this wonderful red tea at Mountain Gate Teahouse these days. A couple leaves in a bowl (2-3g) make for a perfect afternoon session. The body of the tea is well-balanced with slight floral notes, plum, geranium and orchid, and a mild chocolatey aftertaste. This tea exemplifies what we call Yan Yun. As explained by tea teacher Li Xiangxi, Yan Yun connotes lingering aromatics, sweet sensation in the sides of the mouth, mouth-watering, and a vaporous quality. To explore this quality more fully with In Plain Sight, you might consider brewing it a bit stronger gongfu style in a Zisha pot with small cups. Harmonious and balanced, this tea is ideal for summer sessions. Red teas are the most invigorating type of tea, perhaps best enjoyed in the morning.
YELLOW ROSE ROCK OOLONG - WUYI MTN, FUJIAN CHINA 2021
BREW AT: 185-190°F / GONGFU, SHORT STEEPINGS
We try to bring one unique tea to each seasonal offering, so we decided to include this special Fujianese rock oolong. Wuyi teas captures the ideal growing conditions of the region, surrounded by massive granite cliffs, rivers, and waterfalls. Masterfully hand-processed in the century- old traditional method, the ancient processing brings out the true spirit of Wuyi Mountain, an area with the perfect terroir for this special tea. Sojourn goes through four rounds of roasting with alternating indoor and outdoor drying. The flavor is smooth, floral, and maintains a nice hui gan, or cooling sensation in the aftertaste. With little astringency and great patience, this unusual tea provides for a complex experience that we hope you enjoy on a warm summer afternoon.
KUKICHA TWIG GREEN TEA - FUKUOKA, JAPAN 2021
BREW AT: 165-175°F / 3-4g. SIDEHANDLE
We included a little refreshing Kukicha green tea sample for days when the summer heat is in full force. Kukicha, or twig tea, also known as bocha, is a Japanese blend made of tea leaves and stems. Kukicha is a unique flavor and aroma among teas, due to its inclusion of parts of the tea plant that are excluded from other teas. We love the mildly nutty and slightly creamy sweet flavor. Oversteeping or steeping too hot, as with all green teas, results in a bitter, unsavory brew. A cooler water temperature will bring forward the fresh grass flavor and marine umami without bitterness.