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The Art of Life in Winter 2020

The Art of Life in Winter 2020

Winter Seasonal Tea Collection 2020

The Art of Life In Winter

“I am the wilderness before the dawn.” – Tao Te Ching

In the predawn twilight of this morning, I climbed out of bed and placed a kettle on the stove. I awoke early to sip some dark Puerh and write these words. Warming my hands on the flame beneath the kettle while waiting for the house to heat, I sensed that something was different in the air. Glancing out the front bay window of my small home in the mountains of Southern Colorado, I observed a thick blanket of white covering the ground, the mountains, the Aspen trees with the last of their yellow leaves in bright contrast to the flurry of falling snowflakes. The first arrival of snow felt like a welcome support to my morning musings on a Life of Tea, and the Winter Season in particular. The “soughing of wind through the pines,” a commonly used term to describe the sound of boiling tea water, called me back to the kitchen. As I sat at my low table, I noted the similarity between the quiet murmur of boiling water and the slow susurrous breathing of my baby boy asleep in the next room. For a moment, it felt that life was conspiring to draw me into direct contact with the reality of Winter, and the qualities that define it: the darkness of hibernation, the womb of nature, nascent life, the water element, the source of life, the desolate cold of snow and ice, taking stock of what is essential, storage of resources, the fear that accompanies life at the gate, dormancy, stillness, quietude, and introspection. This is the time to move inward, to gather one’s internal energy, to reflect on the year that has passed, to rest the body and mind. Those wishing to cultivate their life energy, to foster longevity and to transform fear into wisdom, might heed the advice of our ancestors and follow the cycle of the season. 

This winter offering marks the beginning of the tea club’s fourth year.  I am continually astounded each season by the depth of exploration available within the Way of Tea and seasonal living. By drinking different classes of tea each season with different brewing methods, moderating one’s diet, movement, sleep, activities, focus of internal work, orientation to nature and social life, and general observations of nature, we find a different internal rhythm. We discover new boundaries, limitations and strengths. I believe that there’s a great secret to self-cultivation hidden in plain sight. By developing greater seasonal awareness, we naturally balance the five elements of wood, fire, earth, metal and water. Each of these elements corresponds to different organs and physiological processes, including the healthy flow of blood, Chi and body fluids. By developing healthy flow everyday, our lives develop a natural rhythm, and the bumps and bends in the road become less turbulent. By developing a deeper flow within the yearly round of the seasons, our energy and psyche partake more fully in a vaster rhythm of Life and Nature. In the Taoist understanding, this is the practice of merging with Nature, or as I like to call it, “lassoing the stars.” 

The tea club has been following a progression from one season to the next, which at the end of five years we will publish as a short book. We suggest exploring the previous tea clubs through our blog in order to deep dive into what it means to align with the season. Our first year of the winter tea club focused on lifestyle and food choices that nourish the winter organs, the kidneys and urinary bladder. The second year focused on the water element; we delved into individual and cultural manifestations of an imbalanced water element, along with ways to correct this imbalance. The third year focused on the psychoemotional aspects of the water element, exploring the role of fear in our lives and how to go into fear in order to transform it into wisdom. In the fourth year, we are going deeper into what it means to follow the Way of Tea. For simplicity, I distill this Way into “six cups” that move from our innermost experience to outermost: Meditation, Virtue, Vitality, Tradition, Brewing Methodology, and Community.  In the fall offering, we went into detail about Meditation, whereas this winter offering will explore the role of Virtue within the way of tea. Of course, we relate all of these aspects of life to tea and the daily practice of tea as a living art and moving meditation. 

The Second Cup of Tea: VIRTUE

“If you doubt that you are wearing a mask and armor, try telling the world your darkest secret, or deepest wish” – Darion Gracen

The notion of virtue is not a new one. In addressing moral issues, the cultivation of character or virtue as an ethical approach is rooted in ancient Greek philosophy, and in particular the ideas of Aristotle. He taught that virtue consists in acting in accordance with reason by always choosing the mean between the extremes of excess and deficiency, which finds correlation in Eastern thought under the terms yin and yang. The moral virtues that Aristotle identified in this fashion included justice, fortitude, courage, temperance, and prudence. Virtue ethics does not provide a rulebook for action in the same way as some other moral frameworks, but it is far from empty in terms of what it tells us about how we should behave. People should act in a way that is most likely to contribute to the cultivation of virtuous character. 

The primary differentiation between morality and virtue is that morality is rooted in what we “should” do according to a dogmatic consequentialist theology or philosophy, whereas virtue ethics emphasize developing character such that we wish to behave virtuously. In other words, virtue emphasizes the cultivation of values that are both the means and the ends within themselves. After Aristotle, other western thinkers developed varied ethical systems. Jeremy Bentham was one highly influential 18th century English philosopher who believed that it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number of people that is the measure of right and wrong. In determining how we should act, we must “Sum up all the values of all the pleasures on the one side, and those of all the pains on the other. The balance, if it be on the side of pleasure, will give the good tendency of the act upon the whole.” 

This focus on the effects of an action means that utilitarianism is a consequentialist theory: the worth of an action is determined by its outcomes. The focus of this ethical system is maximizing human happiness overall by achieving as great a balance of pleasure over pain as possible for the greatest number of people. While consequentialism is highly influential in the world of ethical philosophy, it is certainly not the only way to approach ethical issues. Another prominent approach is found in the writings of Immanuel Kant, who was influenced by Rene Descartes and David Hume. Kant espoused a deontological moral philosophy wherein actions are not justified by their effects, but by whether or not they are in accordance with a moral norm. In other words, deontology holds that actions are intrinsically good or bad, regardless of their consequences: a moral agent is duty bound to obey what is right, even if it is at the cost of some terrible outcome. For example, one should never lie, regardless of what might happen as a result. 

In my opinion, most of the modern Western world operates under some version of an ethical philosophy that has emerged from western rationalism combined in most cases with a morality derived from one of the Abrahamic religions. However, when we look to modern western culture for models of virtue, we see a desolate landscape. Perhaps the ethical systems that we’ve developed are not working. Perhaps our culture finds itself devoid of true, lasting values, virtues, ethics and the means of achieving those in ordinary life. Aldous Huxley pointed out in his book, The Perennial Philosophy, that a different mode of life and achievable ethic has existed since the beginning of human civilization. He begins the book by saying: “the ethic that places man's final end in the knowledge of the immanent and transcendent Ground of all being — the thing is immemorial and universal. Rudiments of the Perennial Philosophy may be found among the traditionary lore of primitive peoples in every region of the world, and in its fully developed forms it has a place in every one of the higher religions. A version of this Highest Common Factor in all preceding and subsequent theologies was first committed to writing more than twenty-five centuries ago, and since that time the inexhaustible theme has been treated again and again, from the standpoint of every religious tradition and in all the principal languages of Asia and Europe.”

From ancient Hindu texts, to the Greek philosophers like Parmenides and Empedecles, to Carl Jung and his surreptitious practice of Gnostic mysticism, we find a transrational means of connecting with a deeper reality.  From the Christian teachings of Meister Eckhardt , St. John of the Cross, Thomas Aquinas to the teachings of Buddha and Chinese Taoist philosophers like Chuang Tzu and Lao Tzu, we find examples of ethical systems that developed out of three fundamental insights: One, All Life is One- utterly, inextricably, fundamentally intertwined and interdependent. Consequently, what we do to another, we are also doing to ourselves, and vice versa. Some traditions would say that the Self is in fact an illusion, as it ceases to exist when considered independent of the whole. Two, we cannot change our behavior based on rational ideas because our actions follow our beliefs and many of our beliefs are unconscious and culturally conditioned. Three, in order to transform and ultimately transcend the need for beliefs, we must unlearn reason as the only mode of navigating reality and experience the unity of Life beyond the mind.  Beyond the mind and our beliefs about what is right and wrong, virtuous and sinful, good and bad, there is simply Life. Beyond our ideas about how things should be, there exist things as they are. There aren’t rules about how to behave. Either we have gone deep within ourselves to find the center, and live from there, thus aligning with life as it is. Or, we are pulled in a million directions, unaware of the beliefs that are guiding our actions, our actions creating our character and our character narrating our destiny. In the words of Tzu-ssu, Confucius’ grandson,

Before sorrow, anger, longing, or fear have arisen, 

You are in the center. 

When these emotions appear and you know how to see through them,

You are in harmony. 

That center is the root of the universe; that harmony is the Tao,

Which reaches out to all things. 

Once you find the center and achieve harmony, 

Heaven and earth take their proper places

And all things are fully nourished. 

(Stephen Mitchell, The Second Book of the Tao)

In his commentary on this passage, Mitchell notes “Living in harmony with the way things are, the mind finds its center everywhere, its circumference nowhere. The part becomes the whole; what is becomes what should be. Heaven takes it proper place, its only place: on earth.” Tea ceremony is a transformative practice in that it allows us to return to our center while deeply connecting with nature. Tea is an endless invitation into the open landscape of reality, the reality beyond the mind.  Winter is the season of exploring the deep unseen aspects of ourselves, questioning our deepest fears, recognizing that mortality gives rise to new life in spring and all things move in grand cycles without beginning and end. 


Typically, we send out 4-5 teas with each season, although this season we are only including three teas. The reason for this is that the two Puerh teas are very special teas, each over 20 years old. We hope you love these rare treasures and we welcome feedback for the Spring tea club, wherein we will likely send 4-5 teas again. 

During the winter we tend to drink aged shou and sheng puerh, dark red teas, strong yencha rock oolong, heavily oxidized and dark, aged oolong. These teas are rich, full-bodied, flavorful, grounding, earthy, vegetal and deep. Aged teas are warming in the body, which is helpful during the colder months. Aged shou and sheng puerh support digestion, which is helpful as we eat heartier meals during the winter. Further, we often drink tea later in the day during the colder months because we spend more time indoors. Shou Puerh and aged sheng facilitate quietude, reflection, and relaxation, which are ideal states as we wind down and for meditation. Red teas tend to be more moving and enlivening, so we drink them on cold mornings when we feel sluggish or have a lot to accomplish in the day. 

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. 

WINTER TEA SERVINGS: We recommend using 3-6 grams 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 in this collection. Ultimately, one must drink a lot of tea to develop discernment in terms of how much leaf to use for different teas. 

BREWING WINTER TEAS: We do not recommend using any type of metal vessel such as tea balls or cast-iron tea pots for brewing fine, looseleaf tea. These instruments were developed for European plantation tea and the rough edges in the brew was covered over with milk and sugar. For all the teas in this collection, we recommend brewing in small “gong fu” teapots, which is made from a special purple clay called Zisha. This clay softens the water and improves the quality of the tea. Samadhi is a larger leaf tea and if you wish to brew it in larger bowls, instead of small cups, we recommend using a sidehandle teapot and tea bowls. We will post videos in the next couple weeks on these three brewing methods so as to make it simpler for you. 

Make certain to use fresh spring water for your fine teas. Tea is 99% water after all, and the easiest way to improve the quality of your tea is to use fresh, oxygenated, pure, somewhat sweet water. We like to harvest our own water. The website is a great resource for finding a spring near you. 

We recommend brewing all of these teas with water between 200 and 212 D Fahrenheit, which is just shy of a rolling, “turbulent” boil. We suggest 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. 

Winter Plum – High Mountain Wild Red Tea – Li Shan, Taiwan 2016

Winter Plum is Taiwanese red tea at its finest. We especially appreciate the pronounced roast, flavors of rosebud and fruity melon, and beautiful bittersweet balance. The Cha Qi is gently illuminating, but not overstimulating, which makes this a nice red tea for any time of the day.  On a cold winter day, this is the kind of red tea that seems to match the climate. The slight age has lent body and depth to the tea, and perhaps made the energy less stimulating than other red teas. The small delicate leaves are best brewed in a small gongfu pot with small cups, but you can enjoy this tea in whatever way you have available.

Shadow Mountain - Gong Ting Shou Puerh Late 1998

Velvety, rich, creamy and thick, Shadow Mountain is the best gong ting or imperial-grade Shou Puerh we've ever found. From the golden tips of Yunnan trees and aged in good, mellow Taiwanese conditions for over twenty years, this looseleaf blend maintains flavors of raw chocolate, minerals, damp wood, and deep forest after the rain. When tea consists of more full-grown and matured leaves, it gives more body and aftertaste with bolder creaminess, while tea with plenty of buds is softer and more tender. We find that Shadow Mountain maintains a perfect balance between the two. The Qi is calming, grounding and warming, all marks of an ideal winter tea.

Gong Ting or imperial tribute teas are comprised of delicate smaller leaves and bud tips. Because the leaves are so delicate, the tea does not undergo the Wo Dui (piling, dampening, and turning the tea leaves in a manner much akin to composting) for the full two months or longer, which we see with other shou puerh. Instead, the time is halved. The result is a delicate Puerh with thin long needles and a particular flavor. The flavor notes can be of cedar, elmwood, barley. The sweeter notes of jujube date come out more with age. This Puerh is an easier way for Westerners to come to enjoy Puerh tea because it is more accessible and familiar. Due to the age of the tea, it takes a couple steepings for it to really open up and find its stride.

Samadhi – Loose-leaf Shou Puerh Blend Late 90’s 

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, calming and centering. This beautiful shou is made with a blend of old-growth and younger leaves. The old-growth leaves are bigger “huang pian” leaves, which bring a sweetness and balanced flavor to the fermentation.

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