Long before the widespread adoption of the solar Gregorian Calendar by Spain, Portugal, and Italy in 1582, many cultures observed a lunar calendar. This older calendar began in ancient times for practical agricultural purposes.The traditional Chinese Lunar Calendar originated roughly 4,000 years ago during the Shang Dynasty. The celebration of the Chinese Spring Festival falls at a time when farming activities such as plowing and planting crops start to take place, signaling the coming of spring. This makes many of the agrarian traditions associated with the Spring Festival (such as prayers and offerings) more relevant and appropriate with relation to timing. More specifically, farmers would take a week-long rest from their hard work during the festival to be with family and participate in religious practices for good fortune. Well-rested, they would return to labor, beginning a new cycle of agricultural activities. The first solar term (known as Lìchūn: 立春 'Start of Spring') sees the sun enter its position in the celestial longitude that initiates the gradual warming of the year, mid-way between the winter solstice and spring equinox. The Chinese New Year for the year 2022 is celebrated and observed on February 1st and thus your Seasonal Tea Club will be arriving right on time.
Earth-based traditions observe the shifting seasons as opportunities to align with the natural flow of life on earth, and more specifically, with the elements. For Taoist practitioners, the significant shifts in the natural world inspire shifts in cultivation practices like movement (Tai Chi and Qi Gong), meditation, visualization, gardening, seasonal cooking, writing, self-acupressure, and changing sleep patterns. By aligning with natural changes, practitioners can effectively manage their energy throughout the year, and the seasons of one’s life. These alignments help optimize health, expand awareness, and extend lifespan. Focusing on seasonal, elemental living deepens our understanding of the basic levels or expressions of human life. The first level is the physical body - its structures, organs, tissues and systems. The second level is the psycho-emotional body - thoughts, beliefs, self-images, emotions, and reactions. The third level is that of the spirit, which is neither body, persona, nor history - eternal and non-dual.
At Living Tea, we 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. For example, the winter water season is a time for meditation and introspection, nourishing our kidneys, observing our fears, and storing our energy. With stored energy at its peak, we move into the spring wood season, following the rising yang energy into the world as nature comes to life. Spring is an ideal time to focus on one’s vitality, increased movement, stretching the limbs, and liver health in general.
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 Spring Tea Club focuses on the wood element and Vitality in general, which we’ll be exploring in great depth during the May retreat in Telluride, Colorado. We’ll be exploring psychosomatic aspects of the wood element. We’ll also be discussing ideal Spring teas, and why we’ve chosen this special batch for you.
The Wood Element and Spring Vitality
The Chinese character for wood is comprised of a central vertical line representing a strong trunk with a horizontal line representing the branches. Two diagonal down-ward slanting lines sprout as roots from the horizontal line, reminding us that much of the tree lives below ground. A healthy wood element must be deeply rooted and nourished by the water element. The movement of wood is upwards, also symbolized by the Chinese character, which we see clearly in the springtime when the entire plant kingdom erupts in a display of renewed life- branches, stems, greenery and flowers splaying towards the light. The weeds that proliferate in our gardens remind us of the unstoppable, vigorous and rapid growth of wood. Small plants push through cracks in the sidewalk demonstrating the wood element’s ability to find a way through obstacles, breaking them apart when necessary. Also, old-trees can become unhealthy- stiff, brittle and breaking in the wind. In the spring, warmer and longer days lead to thawing ice as the quietude, darkness and dormancy of winter transform into new life. Water flows ceaselessly, nourishing new life, as birds begin to court and nest, sap rises in the trees and our eyes come to life with all the new, emerging sights.
Spring is the time when nature wakes up after a long rest, stretching her tendons, ligaments and muscles, preparing for movement. Humans are microcosms of nature and thus, we find all the same corollaries in the human body. Without consulting a calendar, we might notice a rise in our energy, a desire to move, stretch, make plans and take action. While winter is a time of receptivity, of listening and moving inwards, spring is a time of proactivity, of visioning and moving upwards. Pay attention to this movement in your daily rhythms and the subtle attunements of your senses will know when yin has shifted to yang. The liver and gall bladder are the organs related to the wood element. Healthy liver blood nourishes the eyes and our ability to see clearly. One way to cultivate deeper, more penetrating vision, aside from cleansing and nourishing the liver through movement and healthy, detoxifying foods, is to take time each day to see the world with fresh eyes. When we’ve looked at something many times before, we label the thing in our minds and begin to see a memory of it. We see the memory of our teapot, despite the fact that we use it every day; we see a memory of the people we work with because familiarity has conditioned our seeing; we see a memory of our partner, often failing to notice the changes in them or the small efforts they are making. Try to see with fresh eyes during your next tea session. Perhaps you’ll notice aspects of your tea practice that you didn’t before. By developing fresh vision, we also hone our ability to envision, to make plans, to see where our lives are going and the path to getting there. This envisioning is a creative process that can be inspired by the creative, vitalizing energy of nature in the spring.
The sound associated with the wood element is shouting, which corresponds to the emotion of anger. For people with strong wood element in their constitutional makeup, finding balance around anger can be challenging. In excess, wood types can respond with frustration, irascibility and aggression at the slightest provocation. On the other end, a person with deficient wood remains unable to get angry even when it’s an appropriate response, like when they are being treated unjustly. Nourishing deep roots, incorporating daily meditation and movement, and taking “liver herbs” can be of great benefit to wood types, especially in the springtime. In previous tea clubs, we’ve extensively explored diet, herbs, lifestyle and wellness practices related to healthy wood energy. Thus, for this tea club we focus more on the Wood personality type, along with the gifts of Wood- planning, envisioning, execution, delegation, decision-making, clear thinking and imagination.
In the words of former president Harry Truman, “I never gave anybody hell. I just told the truth and they thought it was hell.” This is the statement of a wood type. People with strong wood energy can be discourteous, ill-mannered, brusque, impatient and insensitive. They must feel that they’re always making progress, moving forward, pushing onward, mimicking the ceaseless upward movement of spring season. They are fearless, audacious, bold, honest, direct and logical, often finding it difficult to relax. They are the visionaries, pioneers, entrepreneurs and army generals. They fight injustice with passion and attempt to organize the world. “No-nonsense” and disinterested in abstraction, philosophy or contemplation; they’d rather be getting something accomplished, focusing on practical issues and the plan to get to the solution as fast as possible. Wood types can work obsessively, failing to move their bodies enough, get adequate sleep and time away from work, and relaxing with friends. Their stress response is to blame and accuse others, often criticizing everybody around them for situations that don’t fit their envisioned ideal. This perfectionism can push people away, and further edifies their belief that they must “do it themselves” and that control is the correct means of managing situations. Woods work well under pressure and enjoy competition. In short, wood types are intense people who pride themselves on getting things done, on setting goals and achieving them. While all of these character traits may portray a person that you’d avoid at all cost, a healthy wood type can be an incredible friend or partner.
When Woods are in balance, they are extraordinary communicators- clear, concise, rational, fair, honest and direct. They are amazing coaches and advocates, supporting those around them, and picking them up when they’re flailing. When wood types learn to slow down, to let go of control, to stretch and mellow out, to gain compassion and patience for others, they become healthy and vibrant. The path of growth for a Wood is to learn to show leadership without being authoritarian and to be competent without being arrogant. They’re able to lift up the people around them, helping them when under pressure, and often sustain successful long careers. Respect, honesty and loyalty are incredibly important to wood types, and when someone violates these sacred traits, a wood type may dismiss or write them off easily.
During the spring, there are many way to balance your own wood energy, which is particularly important for people with this predominant personality. It’s very important for Woods to stretch and move because they can easily become stiff in their joints, tissues and muscles, as well as their ways of reacting to the world. When out of balance, they can develop hypertension, headaches, numbness, vision problems, arthritis and autoimmune diseases. Woods must learn to channel their anger into creativity or movement, allowing the anger to serve as gentle determination instead of tyrannical impatience. When a wood is close to flying off the handle, it’s important for them to step away from situations and go for a walk until they are calm. Once a wood is engaged in an argument, it’s very difficult for them to calm down and listen. Eating a whole, healthy diet and avoiding alcohol are incredibly important for woods, as maintaining a healthy liver and gall bladder are part of healthy wood physiology. Regularly incorporating lemons, dark leafy greens, salmon, almonds, dandelion root, milk thistle, peppermint and Oregon grape into the diet will help balance wood energy, especially in spring. Acknowledgement goes a long way with Woods, and supports them in feeling that they can take time away from work to enjoy life. Whether you are a wood type, have some Wood qualities, or know somebody that is a strong wood personality, balancing the wood energy in the spring is incredibly important as wood strengths or weaknesses will become pronounced during this time of the year. With that in mind, we’ve selected teas that we believe can support balancing this strong energy.
SPRING TEA 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.
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 6-7 g. of tea per session, or simply, use enough leaves to lightly cover the bottom of the pot. For Rivulet, we recommend brewing between 200 and 210 D. Brew the first five to six steepings for very short periods (2-4 seconds). For Sapling and Oracle, we recommend brewing with water between 195 and 205 D Fahrenheit, pouring off the first flash steeping to “awaken the leaves.” The practice of short steepings is different than European tea whereby you steep the tea for a long time. Full Bloom is best with water between 185 and 190 D Fahrenheit all with short initial steepings, allowing the aromatic leaves to unfurl slowly. We suggest starting with less leaves of Full Bloom as it’s a full-bodied yet delicate tea that you don’t want to overbrew.
Creamy, milky and smooth, Rivulet is a beautiful loose-leaf shou puerh from Ba Da Mountain in Yunnan. We love the way that this tea transforms from one steeping to the next. There’s a mild tangerine peel quality in the back of the mouth, a gentle astringency, in the earlier steepings. This flavor gives structure and liveliness to the tea that later transforms into sweet, mineral-rich spring water qualities. The sweet milk flavor reminds us of true Indian chai without the stronger herbs that you find in chai. We appreciate the uniqueness of Rivulet, different from anything we’ve experienced in the world of shou puerh. For many people, February is still a cold month associated with winter tea. For this reason, we included this beautiful tea for those chilly morning before spring really begins. We like brewing it in a smaller side handle pot with large bowls of soothing, warming tea. Finally, we find this tea calming and nice in the afternoon or evening. On strong “wood” days, this tea can help calm the nervous system.
With the classic maltiness of good Dian Hong teas from Yunnan, Sapling transforms from earthy to stewed fruit with full body throughout the mouth. We also find a nice balance of black pepper and caramel as the leaves open, after a couple steepings. We included Yunnan Gold for those days when Spring feels like it has arrived and we want a burst of energy to meet the day. Sapling speaks to the energy of spring, to the rush of verdant greenery and rising yang energy of the season. We find this tea strongly invigorating, and recommend enjoying it in the morning after breakfast.
Oracle is a unique creation that combines heavy roast red tea processing with leaves from a traditional Taiwanese Oolong varietal called Golden Daylily. The heavy roast and oxidation brings out rich, nutty, complex depth out of which floral fruity notes come through in the aftertaste. This full-bodied, robust red tea is tightly rolled, unfurling slowly, and yielding a unique experience for red tea lovers. The energy is gently uplifting and especially ideal for morning or early afternoon. While invigorating, Oracle is milder than Sapling and ideal for a sweeter, gentler Red Tea. Named after the Book of Changes or I-Ching, we invite you to explore this ancient Oracle through brightened eyes over a fine cup of tea.
Fruity, aromatic, perfumy and engaging the entire sensorium, Full Bloom welcomes the emergence of life in the spring. With citrus, pomelo, and coconut flavors, this tea fills the whole mouth and lingers between steepings. While we typically don’t prefer such full-bodied, aromatic oolongs, we found this tea to have a significant wow factor. It transforms beautifully through many steepings, and feels more engaging than other similarly aromatic teas that seem to lose their appeal after a couple steepings. We found ourselves coming back to it multiple days in a row because we enjoyed it so much. This represents one of the finest Dan Cong Oolongs we’ve come across. We suggest starting with less leaves because this is a big tea that demands some finesse in brewing to its optimum.