Man follows the earth. Earth follows heaven. Heaven follows the Tao. Tao follows what is natural.
Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu Chapter 25
How you wish to relate to tea is entirely up to you. For some, it’s a nice warm beverage with many healthy benefits, including heart disease prevention, cancer prevention, protection of bone health, healthy gut flora, lowering bad cholesterol, regulating bio-synthesis of fat, stress reduction, immunity boosting, and increased focus. We find the linear study of tea intellectually interesting: growing regions, processing methods, plant biology, terroir, history, and even the global tea market. However, all this information is only a small part of what’s available through a life of tea. Westerners are often hypersensitive to claims that a tea company has provenance in the misty mountains of Asia where shrouded monks taught them the ancient secrets of tea’s alchemical preparation. Many folks are turned off by tea companies that “stink of Zen,” or make false claims about the origins of their tea story. At Living Tea, we simply do our best to present our perspective in an honest, simple way.
The fact of the matter is that tea has changed our lives in innumerable ways. We did learn about tea from Zen monks, but they’re cheeky, dismissive rascals who eschew hyperbole and egotism. No silly stories or marketing gimmicks. We also believe, as did the first stewards of this plant, that tea is medicine and that it can connect us deeply with the natural world. As a practice, tea ceremony invites us into a space of presence and focus, which for most people offers a unique state of being when compared to our fast-paced, technology-laden modern life. Finally, we believe that the exploration of the Elements opens a vast landscape of study, which you can find in the previous Seasonal Tea Club texts on our blog. Whether you’re interested in earth’s hydrological systems, the best water for tea, or the psychospiritual relationship between Winter, Water, fear, and wisdom, we invite you to explore the Elements and their relationship to tea with us. Welcome to the Spring Seasonal Tea Club.
According to Taoist philosophy, the springtime is associated with Wood energy, which includes all forms in the plant kingdom. Trees sprout from seed, pressing upwards with persistent tenacity, growing in search of light. Healthy wood is flexible like bamboo, bending easily in the wind. Old trees become brittle, dry, and stiff, eventually serving the Fire Element in the form of kindling. After the stillness, solitude, and deep potentiality stored in the earth throughout Winter, nature wakes up and stretches its tendons. The Spring is about growth, movement, vitality, fecundity, budding, new beginnings, and renewal. The blossoming of the natural world awakens our eyes from the inward turning of Winter to the outward envisioning of new possibilities. Wood energy is a dynamic, unyielding force for action that can manifest as anger when desires or goals are thwarted. Working with our vision, plans, decisions, creativity, movement, and flexibility are essential aspects of cultivating healthy Wood energy in Spring.
From a Taoist perspective, we must learn to live in harmony with nature because we ARE nature. The greater our illusory separation from nature, the greater our disharmony as a species. Oftentimes, we fail to see the forest for the trees, and thus fail to understand our intrinsic embeddedness in the macrocosm of nature. A striking study from Japan show how important the trees’ legacy is for the oceans, and thus one of innumerable examples of the way that the Elements work together. Katsuhiko Matsunage, a marine chemist at Hokkaido University, discovered that fallen leaves leach acids into streams and rivers that are then swept down to the ocean. There, the acids fuel the growth of plankton, which are the first and most important link in the food chain. More fish because of the forest? The researcher recommended that local fishing companies plant trees along the coastline and riverbanks. More trees dropped more leaves into the water, and in time, increased tree cover led to increased numbers of fish and oysters for the local fishing companies to harvest. (The Secret Wisdom of Nature, Wohlleben 25)
In his monumental 2021 book Regeneration: Ending the Climate Crisis in One Generation, Paul Hawkens discusses the social nature of forests, the lessons we can learn from the trees, and the crucial importance of protecting them. He explains, “forests are crucial to our well-being. They are watersheds, habitat, and refuge. They cleanse the air, cool the air, and create the air. Forests are critical to freshwater supplies, as they help regulate and maintain the aquatic environmental conditions and related habitat resources their ecological communities require.... Our old image of trees competing for water, sun, and nutrients has been replaced by research showing how primary or intact native forests are social creatures, interacting, sharing knowledge, and taking care of their community. Trees learn - they visually sense animals near them (including us) - retain memory, and accurately anticipate future weather. Trees in a forest behave like a living organism rather than a collection of parts. The forest community includes bacteria, viruses, algae, archaea, protozoa, springtails, mites, earthworms, and nematodes, collectively numbering in the trillions in a single handful of soil.” (35)
Hidden beneath the soil of the forest understory is a labyrinth of fungal connections between tree roots that scientists call the mycorrhizal networks. The fungus infiltrates the plants’ roots, but it does not attack. The plant makes and delivers food to the fungus, which in turn dramatically increases the plant’s water and mineral absorptive powers via its vast network of filaments. They provide far more surface area for absorption than the meager supply of short root hairs the tree could grow alone. Trees of different species can communicate with and support one another via the mycorrhizae. A study by ecologist Suzanne Simard found that up to 40% of the carbon stored in a dying tree will transfer over to the living trees that surround it by way of mycorrhizal networks, which are symbiotic fungi that live within trees’ roots. The remaining carbon is released during the decomposing process. Trees are truly social creatures that help each other even until their final days. Their orientation is to support and nourish each other because they “understand” their interdependence.
THE SPRING COLLECTION
There is more for us to learn from trees about how to live as humans than we could possibly cover in this booklet. A good place to start, however, is with the limiting understanding that cuts us off from our participation in our intrinsic symbiosis. You might consider the following questions over tea throughout the Spring. Perhaps while exploring these questions, you might observe in nature the ways that these questions evoke qualities of thought or perspectives echoed by the natural world. By developing a deeper relationship with the self, we develop a deeper relationship with the earth, and vice versa.
As mentioned earlier, the Spring is about vitality, vision, purpose, imagination, creativity, growth, clarity, and decision-making. Brew up some old-growth tea and explore:
- How is your vision for your own future?
- How clearly do you see the path before you in your own life?
- How do you feel about the direction your life is taking?
- What are your plans for the next year, five years, ten years?
- How flexible are you in adapting plans when circumstances change?
- How bold are you at taking the first step?
- What stops you from making decisions? What is it that inspires you to make decisions?
- How does judging people or situations help you (or not) with your overall understanding of relationships?
- How clearly do you see the circumstances around you? Do you notice small details? Think of examples.
- What’s your relationship with anger? Think of a time in your life when you could transform anger into constructive action (or not). Think of a time when anger helped you (or not) in or out of a particular situation.
- What’s your relationship with kindness? Think of a time when kindness made a difference in your life’s quality.
- Is your vision wide or narrow? How so? Think of examples when narrow or wide vision helped (or not) with your planning.
- How vivid is your imagination? Do you set time aside for active imagination around situations or problems that you experience in life, or obstacles in your plans? Do you tend to imagine optimistically, pessimistically, or...? How does your imagination flow into creative activity?
- In what ways do you feel you are growing in your life? What are you actively doing to support that growth?
- Which areas in your life are asking for you to take a pause or to retreat from altogether?
- What is your definition of vitality? How do you know when you feel vital? Make a list of the activities that enhance vitality vs the ones that deplete you.
- What is your definition of Health? How do you know when you are falling into or out of health?
THE SPRING COLLECTION
Living Tea seeks out farms or wild tea gardens that have a healthy, reverent relationship to all aspects of tea production. The qualities of a Living Tea include: seed propagation instead of trees from grafted clippings with shallow roots, plenty of room for the trees to grow instead of tight plantation rows, 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.
For a tea person, this time of the year marks a shift in lifestyle, activity, and orientation. We gradually transition from dark, earthy, grounding brews into lighter, floral, uplifting teas. Dark red teas, and young to mid-aged Puerhs are ideal for early- to mid-Spring, while Qimen red teas, Baozhong, Dan Cong, Yencha Rock oolongs, green, and white teas come out later in Spring. 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 growth, expansion, and creativity. Having conserved and cultivated our inner reserves during the Winter, we welcome the lush growth of Spring through sweet, opening, ethereal teas.
We recommend using 5-7 g. of tea per session, or simply, use enough leaves to lightly cover the bottom of the pot.
Meng Song Shou Puerh
Menghai, Yunnan 2019
Water temperature: 200-210°F
We particularly love this tea for its strong, brisk, and enlivening energy. Teas from the old-growth trees in this area sustain a dark, ample brew with a nice balance of bittersweetness for many steepings. The tea has great patience for longer tea sessions as Winter comes to a close. The wet-piling yields an earthiness that’s balanced by the mild anise aftertaste and pleasant hui gan. Menghai county teas are known for being bold and full-bodied with a nice mildly sweet aftertaste. Brew the first five to six steepings for very short periods (2-4 seconds). We especially like Shou puerh as a sidehandle bowl tea for sessions during the end of Winter before Spring arrives.
Honey Sweet Assamica Red Tea
Simao, Yunnan 2022
Water temperature: 195-205°F
Glade of Bees is a spindly 2 leaf, 1 bud red tea, harvested and traditionally hand-processed during Spring 2022. This wild-arbor Assamica tea is a balance of richness, gently spice, floral notes, and honey sweetness. It provides ostensibly endless steepings and we appreciate the uplifting but not overly stimulating qualities that you sometimes find in other red teas. A beautiful tea for the rising yang energies of spring.
Dehong Sheng Puerh
Yunnan, China 2005
Water temperature: 195-205°F
Grassy with citrus notes and a buzzy, bright energy, Levity is a perfect tea to match the efflorescence of spring. The bitterness found in younger sheng puerh has mellowed and transformed into a clean, smooth, and gentle brew. This tea comes from wild trees grown in the remote mountains of Western Yunnan. The bricks are tightly compressed, and required special tools to break up for the Tea Club. This is a good tea to explore the strong energy of old-growth trees, which is a characteristic that people love in Sheng puerh. Great for an afternoon pick-me-up.
Phoenix Mountain Dan Cong Oolong
Guangdong Province, Southern China Winter 2022
Water temperature: 185-190°F
There are many different version of the origin story of the “Duck Shit” moniker, but most mention the yellow-brown color of the soil around Phoenix Mountain. Soil, processing method, season of harvest, and generations of hybridization/mutation from original cultivars all give birth to a wide variety of Dan Cong oolongs. Tea leaves plucked from different trees will produce different flavors, even if the processing methods or techniques were the same. The name of various Phoenix Dan Cong oolongs was given based on the flavour of tea leaves produced from its original tree. With this Dan Cong, we love the fruity flavors,and sparkling mouthfeel: Spring tea at its best. We suggest experimenting with fewer leaves in a gongfu pot, because it’s a full-bodied yet delicate tea that you don’t want to overbrew.