The Art of Life in Summer 2020
As we transition from spring to summer, we find ourselves in a world irrevocably changed. Most years, early summer brings the prospect of increased social engagements, outdoor activities, new projects, graduations and weddings. . And yet, the streets, shops, restaurants, parks, plazas, and airports remain eerily desolate, our natural human inclination to emerge from the colder months curtailed. While human life has been dramatically altered, nature hums along in her natural cycles. The soil grows moist and rich, the days grow longer, the weather is hot, and frequent afternoon rain evaporates the settling heat. Stalks appear, followed by the growth of grains, crickets and toads are heard at twilight, and hydrating fruits mature on trees. Paradox seems to define so much of our current reality; we are isolated from one another physically, yet people from New York to Milan, Seoul to Sao Paolo, are connected by a virus that reminds us of the fundamental truth of our interdependence; the human world appears quiet and still, yet the world of social media and technology has erupted with noise and speculation, which leads to yet more uncertainty. Our concerns are deep and stark: the untimely death of thousands worldwide, global economic recession and the potential collapse of the healthcare system. Society-in-waiting and the events transpiring portend a transformed world, while mother earth experiences dramatic reductions in atmospheric nitrous oxide, animals wander safely through urban areas, and the trade of wild animals for consumption is banned in China and Vietnam. And while we settle into a simpler, slower mode of existence, for however long this lasts, we must come to terms with our restlessness, our need-to-know in the face of uncertainty, and the many hum-drum luxuries that we previously took for granted. While we must maintain optimism, hope and solidarity, we find it oddly comforting to follow the relief from industry that we find in Nature, and gain some much needed rest.
Over the years, we’ve curated and shared a handful of very special, seasonally-appropriate teas at the beginning of each season. We’ve also offered various aspects of what it means to live a “life of tea” through the accompanying literature. The seasonal pamphlets detail ways by which you can develop robust health in mind, body and spirit by observing seasonal cycles. We’ve explored the five elements (wood, fire, earth, metal, water) in traditional medical theory, the importance of seasonal foods, food preparation, the physiological influence of flavors, medicinal herbs, the relationship of climactic changes to organ systems in the body, the psycho-emotional attributes of each season, types of movement and historical developments of tea. We encourage you to consult our blog to review these pamphlets, and normally we would continue in this current of thought, but we find ourselves in a moment that is anything but normal.
This is an apprehensive moment marked by periods of grief. As I discussed at length in the Autumn tea club, grief teaches us the all-important lessons of respect and reverence. When confronted with the prospect of losing a loved one, or the suffering of another, we are suddenly struck with a deep sense of care, with a greater awareness that we are connected to something bigger than ourselves, and with the preciousness of human life. Many of you may have found yourselves in hours-long conversations with old friends, family members or even acquaintances on the street. As we recognize the fragility and precariousness of life, we no longer take for granted opportunities for authentic connection. Also, over the past two months, many people have started creative projects or new endeavors that they’d put off for years. There’s a real sense of “if not now, then when?” I believe this has to do with a recognition that the present is what’s real more so than the fact that we have more “time on our hands.” This deeper intimacy with life has affected us at Living Tea as well, and to that end, we wish to prioritize authenticity over “offering value” with this seasonal offering. I’d like to share a bit about what’s currently happening with Living Tea, what we are personally doing to stay healthy during this time, what it means to approach COVID-19 from an integrative medical perspective, what tea has to do with any of this and, of course, the seasonal collection.
As many of you know, my better half Jade Rose and I began working on a big project last June to create a teahouse and art gallery in Telluride, Colorado. We named the space Mountain Gate because our tiny town sits at the end of a box canyon that leads into the vast wilderness of the western San Juan Mountains. As a former silver mining camp, the town is rustic with many historic structures that hearken back to a bygone era. Long before the region was settled by mining camps, during the 1870’s, the valley was part of the land used by the Utes as sacred seasonal hunting ground. Surrounded by soaring snow-covered peaks, Telluride sits at nearly 9,000 feet, with the waters of the San Miguel River winding through its lush vegetation. The idea of a Mountain Gate honors the seasonality of the place, the coming-and-going of crowds during the winter ski and summer festival seasons. For those of us who live here year round, it’s a true gift to recognize each month’s individual glory.
The project required a tremendous effort, as the space had been a run-down bike shop for over twenty years. When we first peered through the front door, it was difficult to imagine a beautiful teahouse and fine art gallery. Between June and December, we raised money, mapped out the full vision, hired contractors, and worked with architects and engineers. Because the building is a historic structure, the city’s review committee required our jumping through endless hoops. By February, the ceiling, internal walls and floor were rebuilt, the drywall was up, a commercial kitchen was in place, and local carpenters had delivered all the furniture, which we commissioned from old Pine and Douglas Fir repurposed from the demolition. Some dear friends from Brooklyn and San Francisco arrived to help us finish the ceiling, wood floor and painting. We received our final inspection from the building department on March 8th. Friends from around the world sent a stunning selection of hand-thrown teaware and rare teas to accompany the opening and we scheduled a lineup of extraordinary artists for monthly solo exhibitions. At last we were ready to open the doors to the public on March 15th. As news trickled out about the virus, we paused to assess the situation, assuming it wouldn’t last long nor affect us so far away from the place of origin. All of a sudden, businesses were shut down until further notice, and, bewildered, we cancelled the grand opening. And so today, along with the rest of the world, we wait. The teahouse is empty, yet it brims with tea spirit as we add finishing touches whilst watching waterfalls thaw outside the window. With the arrival of summer, we hope that soon we can welcome passersby through the Mountain Gate.
In the meantime, we are doing our best to stay as healthy as humanly possible. I’m grateful for my training as a physician of traditional Chinese medicine. In terms of our daily routine, we are observing five aspects of health that are foundational pillars of preventative medicine: meditation, tea (or any consistent daily practice), movement, diet and sleep. While a detailed exploration of this list extends beyond the scope of this pamphlet and in fact only comprises a portion of the 12 Virtues of Health (book forthcoming), by observing some simple guidelines, we can significantly improve our health and immunity.
Perhaps this is the most important of the “six healths” as it helps us to develop the attention, focus, will power and self-awareness necessary to maintain the other practices. We begin and end each day with seated meditation. There are endless practices available, ranging from Zazen, or “just sitting,” to complex, esoteric practices that include visualization and breathwork. Whether beginners or veteran meditators, two phenomenal meditation teachers are Tara Brach and Jack Kornfield who have hundreds of free meditations on their websites. By starting the day with meditation, we are able to gather ourselves, which brings greater presence, focus and energy to all our activities. W.B. Yeats wrote in his autobiography that a poet “is never the bundle of accident and incoherence that sits down to breakfast; he has been reborn as an idea, something intended, complete.” Rather than start the day as said “bundle,” one can arrive complete unto themselves and life through the practice of meditation.
I suppose it goes without saying that we find the daily mindful practice of tea to be rather important. The previous spring seasonal tea club goes into great detail about the significance of a tea practice in modern life. You can read that pamphlet on the blog. However, any practice that allows you to grow and progress will both impart a sense of accomplishment, and help you obtain greater mastery, which leads to deep, lasting joy. After all, it’s the things we do well that we enjoy most, and nothing supersedes practice in developing mastery. Perhaps one has a different creative practice, such as painting, gardening or playing music. Whatever the practice, we find it beneficial to consistently cultivate something daily to help move stagnant emotions and energy, to anchor oneself in the present moment, and to develop proficiency.
We begin our tea practice with three silent bowls or cups, followed by formal study. Tea can significantly help us to address many of the issues that we collectively face in the metamodern age. Tea helps us to: develop greater attention and focus within the present moment; alleviate the anxiety caused by the pace of modern life; develop closer relationship; appreciate the changes that come with seasonal tea harvests and the changing seasons; recognize traditional cosmological and seasonal rhythms; explore creative and healthy outlets within our fast-paced world; detoxify the body and explore a healthy alternative to the social lubricant of alcohol; connect with trees and nature within cities where we are increasingly estranged from the natural world, and; cultivate a mindfulness practice as a gateway to meditation.
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 also suggest limiting one’s intake of coffee, which is addictive, and heating in the body, dehydrating our vital systems. Coffee stimulates the adrenal glands, the regulators of stress hormones, androgens and mineral corticoids, which maintain fluids in the body. All this has a physiological relationship to the hypothalamus, which is the time-keeper of the brain and the pituitary, which is the master hormone regulator- the HPA access. When you speed up the activity of the cells, you also speed up metabolic waste production, which puts strain on the liver and detox systems, causes toxicity, shuts down the thyroid, and dries you out. All this speeds up the aging process.
Tea is much gentler on the vital systems. We recommend introducing strong green tea or cooling peppermint on particularly hot days to clear heat. During the summer, the sweet, lighter teas are often appreciated for their aroma, reminding us of the burgeoning floral life and ripening fruit we witness in summer. We tend towards Liu Bao black teas, which have a cooling effect on the body, as well as young sheng puerh, which also clears damp heat through slight bitter flavors. We also enjoy more delicate sencha, white, yellow, and lighter red teas, as well as matcha for more active days.
In Chinese medicine, the summer season is related to the heart and small intestines. The hot weather of summer, the metaphorical fire, the blood vessels, the color red, and cardiovascular exercise are all related to the heart. The heart, or fire element, manifests emotionally as laughter and joy, but excessive “scattering” joy can cause a depletion of the heart energy. Cooling and bitter herbs and food can be used to counteract too much summer heat in the body. The bitter taste is associated with the summer because the hot weather produces the metaphorical fire, which can burn and char, producing the bitter taste. Thus, bitter-tasting substance can clear the heart of stagnation. One should strive to refrain from anger and stay physically active, to prevent the pores from closing and the energy in the body from stagnating. The ultimate expression of fire is the sun, which allows for increased growth and activity during the summer, as well as the power of creation and creativity.
For movement, we tend to run or bike with our year-old “puppies” on mountain trails around our home. They require a lot of exercise so we’re a bit limited in terms of options. However, whenever possible, we explore many forms of compound or composite movements including calisthenics, yoga, tai qi, qi gong and martial arts. These practices impart innumerable benefits including lubrication of the joints, stability, strength, mobility, flexibility, as well as balance of aerobic efficiency and anaerobic peak. Finally, many of these practices help strengthen mindful movement, as opposed to “lost-in-thought movement,” the current state of the world.
I’ve written a lengthy article regarding diet on the Living Tea blog, but in short, we suggest following the simple axiom by Michael Pollan, author of Omnivores’ Dilemma: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” As Pollan suggests, eat food your grandmother would recognize, not processed food out of a box. Eat foods that you can pronounce. Shop the perimeter of the supermarket where the real foods that can perish are placed because they are closer to the loading dock. Leave the table a little hungry. Slight caloric restriction and eating within an 8 hour window everyday (intermittent fasting) are the current proven strategies for longevity and healthy weight maintenance. In 2018, Valter Longo, PhD published “The Longevity Diet,” which represents over 25 years of research on longevity. This is an invaluable resource for those looking to live long and healthy lives. Another phenomenal resource is Dr. Peter Attia’s voluminous publications, blog and podcast.
With the introduction of more movement and heat during the summer season, we no longer need heavy dishes, sauces, pastas, slow-cooked stews or root vegetables, but naturally crave fresh fruits, vegetables and grains. To eat fresh, simple and light food is to avoid adding to the sluggishness of the summer heat. Here are some simple food ideas to keep your digestion strong and energy levels high. Quinoa or rice with kale, spinach, rocket, beets and beet greens, blood-nourishing avocado, cooling mung-beans, light vegetables and berries, all help to keep the body cool and light in summer. If you generally have digestive issues, lightly steam all veggies and eat at room temperature. Add a little grated ginger if you spend most of the year feeling cold. Avoid eating really cold food and drinks, even on hot days. Icy drinks and cold food only cool you down for a moment. However, on the inside, cold is constricting the flow of Qi, which compromises digestion and adds to pain in the body. Especially avoid cold substances if you suffer from muscular pain, stomach pains or period pains. Incorporate at least 2 liters of water per day, ideally at the beginning of the day, as well as hydrating foods like watermelon, cantaloupe, cucumber and pear. Other hydrating vegetables include: iceberg lettuce, celery, radish, peppers, cauliflower, and carrots. Mint and chrysanthemum are ideal cooling, hydrating herbal tisanes. While it’s still the social season (albeit digital for the moment), be mindful that alcohol has a warming effect on the body, adding to the summer heat, and is immunosuppressive. Further, alcohol is a sedative and depressant, which generally will not help during an already anxious moment on the planet. It is classified as a central nervous system depressant, meaning that it slows down brain functioning and neural activity. Alcohol does this by enhancing the effects of the neurotransmitter GABA. It goes without saying that smoking during a viral pandemic, causing diffuse alveolar damage and severely compromised respiratory function, is a no-no.
We achieve much deeper levels of sleep if we fall asleep in a calm manner, as opposed to looking at screens just prior to bed. For this reason, we eat dinner quite early, allowing at least four hours for digestion before bed, which also allows for better meditation prior to bed. From Arianna Huffington’s The Sleep Revolution, “It’s our collective delusion that overwork and burnout are the price we must pay in order to succeed… When we shrink our whole reality down to pending projects, when our life becomes our endless to-do list, it's difficult to put them aside each night and let ourselves fall asleep and connect with something deeper.” As we stated in the beginning, perhaps this is a time that we can follow the model of Nature at this moment, and gain some much-needed rest.
COVID, Integrative Medicine and Tea
This is arguably the most important moment in Chinese herbalism in the Western world in modern history. As western biomedical science works arduously on vaccines and drug therapies, Eastern (and Western) medicinal herbs have proven highly effective in helping to treat Corona. Currently, it is speculated that up to 70% of the world population will be infected with a 2-5% death rate. Most patients will experience a mild illness and will not require medical attention. In China, where the virus has been largely contained, over 85% of patients received both herbal formulas and western medicine. As of April 28th, China has recorded more than 84,347 cases and a total of 4,643 deaths, and they’ve begun to gradually reopen after months of paralysis. Whereas in the US, there are more than 1.03 million people with or recovering from the virus and 58,955 deaths. While there are numerous reasons for these significant disparities, officials from Hubei Provincial Hospital and Wuhan Union Hospital largely attribute their success rates to the use of Chinese herbal formulas. In two studies out of Hong Kong and Beijing, out of 4030 healthcare workers, zero Corona infections occurred. All of the workers were taking a specific preventative anti-viral herbal formula, which we will detail later.
While a detailed analysis of COVID-19 exceeds the scope of this article, we would like to share a brief overview as it relates to our own personal health regime and recommendations for our friends out there. The respiratory signs and symptoms for COVID-19 are: fever, dry cough, sneezing, runny nose, sputum production, nasal congestion, shortness of breath, lethargy, muscle pain, dehydration, headache, loss of smelling and taste. 5-10% of cases will also present with fever or nausea. Part of the challenge with COVID is that many of these symptoms are identical to those of the common cold or influenza, so it’s difficult to differentiate. Corona becomes serious as it progresses deeper into the lung, causing pneumonia, and leading to a cytokine storm. Many patients have a dry cough and shortness of breath because the lungs lose their spongy elasticity, becoming rigid and hard. Once the virus enters the cells, it will replicate exponentially, causing the immune system to send out proinflammatory cytokines. This extreme inflammation causes diffuse alveolar damage and severe damage to the lung lining. The lungs fail to transfer oxygen into the blood, and other organs do not receive adequate blood. Pneumonia leads to ARDS (acute respiratory distress syndrome), which leads to sepsis, and ends in multiple organ failure. This extreme case describes the pathomechanism of corona virus in fatality cases.
Western medicine and traditional medicine take different approaches to the treatment of COVID-19, and what we are seeing is that a combination of the two is most effective in treating the early stages of the disease. Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) is a viral respiratory illness caused by a coronavirus called SARS-associated coronavirus (SARS-CoV). The 2003 virus contains a nucleotide sequence that is 96% identical to COVID-19. For this reason, much of the current drug research for COVID treatment has focused on what worked with varying degrees of efficacy for SARS. Currently, drugs like acetaminophen and Aspirin are being used to treat fever and muscle pain. Antiviral medications like remdesivir and lopinavir are being explored during the current trial-and-error period. These have been used to treat ebola and HIV. Steroids are given to reduce lung swelling, and while reducing inflammation during a cytokine storm, steroids also speed up viral shedding and compromise the immune system. Supplemental oxygen or ventilators are prescribed when necessary. In severe cases, blood plasma from someone who had already recovered from COVID is administered. However, there is not yet enough evidence to prove that any of these treatments are effective. Currently, we only have two cures: 1) The body overcomes the virus and develops antibodies 2) We develop a vaccine, which we currently believe is 1- 1.5 years out.
Between the Eastern Han and Qing Dynasty (roughly 2000 year period), China experienced 320 large-scale epidemics. Much of the medical theory on treatment developed iteratively over this time period, culminating in the approach to disease presented by Dr. Zhang Zhong-Jing and Dr. Ye Gui. Many of their theories and approaches to epidemic treatment have been tested and refined over time, with great success. From this approach, COVID-19 can be understood to progress from an exterior condition, affecting us at the more superficial levels of the body, to an interior condition, eventually affecting our vital organ systems. Each of the four stages is treated differently with herbs, acupuncture, moxibustion and diet depending on symptomatic presentation and the severity of presentation. If you know somebody currently experiencing the early stages of COVID-19, please contact us and we will share the herbal formulas and treatments that are being administered as the disease progresses. For now, however, most people are in the prevention phase. The formula being used throughout Chinese is a modification of a famous formula called Jade Windscreen, or Yu Ping Feng San. The formula contains strong antiviral herbs, immunostimulants, herbs that dry lung phlegm and strengthen digestive function, and herbs that treat the early stage symptoms like headache, fever and muscle pain. As a preventative, this is a powerful formula especially in light of the fact that we don’t know how long this situation will persist. The studies out of Hong Kong and Beijing claim that the zero infection rate among healthcare workers is due to its use. At Living Tea, we’ve also developed some potent medicinal mushroom blends to boost immunity, tinctures for respiratory health as well as anxiety, as well as an herbal immunity blend centered around the chief herb in Jade Windscreen- Astragalus Root. You can find all of these formulas on the Immunitea page of the website. If finances are tight at the moment, please contact us directly and we’ll find a way to get you medicine on the cheap.
Finally, in a 2005 NIH study of 720 compounds for inhibitory activity against severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS- CoV), two compounds were found to be inhibitive to viral replication: tannic acid and 3-isotheaflavin-3-gallate. These two compounds belong to a group of natural polyphenols found in tea, with higher concentrations in black/red and puerh teas. For this reason, we included these teas in the seasonal tea club, despite the fact that we wouldn't typically send out aged shou puerh in the summer selection. While SARS and COVID-19 are not identical, they share a 96% identical nucleotide sequence, and thus we believe that the polyphenols in these teas may also be of significant benefit in helping to protect against COVID-19.
(NIH STUDY, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1142193/, Chinese Medicine for CORONA treatment, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BGcsFzKLdTI)
Summer - The 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.
SUMMER TEA SERVINGS: We recommend using 3-5 gm of tea per session, or simply, use enough leaves to lightly cover the bottom of the pot. This is true as a general rule of thumb for all teas included in this collection. You may want to use less leaves of the Red Tea and Oolong, if they are more bitter than you enjoy. Further, some people enjoy Lilac Bloom brewed a bit stronger and thus add more leaves.
BREWING SUMMER TEAS: We recommend brewing these teas by pouring off the first flash steeping to “awaken the leaves,” and brew the first five to six steepings for very short amounts of time (2-4 seconds). This practice of short steepings is different than European tea whereby you steep the tea for a long time.
Lilac Bloom - Organic Bai Mudan White Tea - Fujian Province 1 oz
With a bouquet of flavors that balances sun-dried subtle delicacy with a full-body and patient brew, Lilac Bloom is the finest white tea we've come across. Oily, supple and light, this tea has notes of spiced vanilla sugar, rose, lilac and white peach in the aftertaste. We find green herbaceous notes of fresh floral grass. Organic Fujianese white teas are rare, and we are overjoyed to offer this spring harvest. The brew is forgiving and easy to prepare, ideal at 175-185 degree water. We like the leaves directly brewed in a bowl, or brewed strong in a small gong fu pot with small cups.
Golden Daylily - Jin Xuan Roasted Oolong - 2 oz.
With a pervasive aroma of stewed fruit and a rich floral, buttery flavor, Golden Daylily fills the whole mouth. This well-roasted "Milk Oolong" from Wenshan District, Taiwan is balanced, comforting, substantial and refreshing. The Qi is sprightly and uplifting, making one feel light. It is certified organic by MOA and produced by our friends at Tie Guan Yin Farm. We recommend brewing with water between 185 and 190 degrees in a small gongfu pot with small cups.
Glade of Bees- Honey Sweet Red Tea- Lincang, Yunnan 2 oz.
Glade of Bees is a spindly 2 leaf, 1 bud red tea from the birthplace of all tea - Lincang, Yunnan China. Harvested and traditionally hand-processed during spring 2018, this wild-arbor Assamica tea is rich, spicy, floral and honey-sweet. The balance of flavors is wonderful. It provides ostensibly endless steepings and we appreciate the uplifting but not overly stimulating qualities that you sometimes find in other red teas. We like this tea brewed sidehandle for big bowls as a gently warming morning tea. It's also wonderful brewed gongfu in small pots with small cups. We find 200 F the ideal brewing temp with short steepings.
Samadhi - 90's Loose-leaf Shou Puerh Blend - 1.5 oz
With harmony of flavor, texture, and aroma, this exceptional aged Shou Puerh fits together like a well-crafted poem. A nice balance of astringency and silkiness, the body unfurls a satisfying brew with flavors of deep forest and mossy mineral-rich Spring water. The hui tian (sweet fragrance in the throat) lingers after many steepings, yielding a tea that maintains depth of flavor and a bright lively brew. The Qi is clear and more uplifting than many other ripe puerh, making it ideal for any time of the day. We suggest water just shy of rolling boil (210 D) and small gongfu pots with small cups.