As a new year approaches, it's time to renew and recommit to the healthy joys of Gongfu Cha over the ills of alcohol. One former drinker takes a moment to share how she got sober without A.A. and into the far more pleasurable world of tea.
Right before discovering Gongfu Cha, Chinese and Taiwanese tea and the whole ritual of tea I was once again on the verge of heading to the local tavern, bored into drinking. Japanese teas which had held my interest for almost three years were losing their powers of novelty and I did not yet know about the world of Gongfu into which I now know I needed to discover so badly. Here is what happened just this past summer.
I sit at my 'bar' in my sunny, Los Angeles bungalow kitchenette. I have my Takaname kyusu. I have my Takaname yazamashi. I hold one, then the other, I caress them. I love the feel of the clay, I love the people who made them, the company they came from, I am awash with love, in fact, for everything, except for the tea I will soon bless them with. Senchas, Gaimachas, Hojichas, Banchas, Fukamidori, Fukamushicha, even Gyokuro is losing its appeal.
I start to think about chocolate martinis, muddling my own gardens organic mint for something with gin perhaps, I start to think about how I am going to drink my tea and not think about the far lustier and sensational vibes I might be getting from imbibing something you have to be twenty one to get your hands on.
This goes on for about five years. Sometimes I wake up from my nap in time to get dinner on the table and sometimes the tea keeps me on track, but nonetheless my love for Japanese teas is losing its hold on me. The one option that still 'does it for me' are my own Matcha 'lattes'. The ritual I create of sifting the powder into an even more fine powder, the tools I use, all so lovingly handled and cared for by me. The finest Matchas I can find, nothing store bought, always the matcha snob, but it is the ritual that keeps me meditative, calm, focused and gives me the sense of wholeness the other teas lack.
The poet always love a ritual, how the sliver of sunlight shines on the Raku bowl, the whisking motion in my wrist, the way the froth reminds one of the oceans churning. And so on and so forth.
But I am out of matcha.
I throw the I-Ching coins to distract myself from thinking about heading to the local sushi bar for some of that good and rare sake the owner likes to share with me, I try to think about deep green teas and I feel nothing. The I-Ching does not help in any way I can make sense of today.
Let us fast-forward to hours later, where I am enraptured watching my first Gungfu ceremony on youtube, so ACCESSIBLE to me, a westerner, so unlike the overly intense discipline of the Japanese ceremony which I would never in a million years attempt.
I fall in love with the tea trays, the words I am hearing from Denny and James on TeaDB; words like liquor, mouth-feel,Tieguanyin, Yunnan....
Fast forward again, if you will, one quick week later and my first sip of tea not Japanese nor Earl Grey in nature. It has come as a gift from Shiuwen of Floating Leaves Tea along with the starter set for Gungfu I have ordered. It is in a small package and hand written upon it are only the words, 'Oriental Beauty'.
I am delighted she has sent it as I had forgotten to buy any tea! Other than that small neglect,for a newbie I am well prepared after watching a lot of videos from various sources. I have warmed the gaiwan, ( another word I fall instantly in love with!), I have measured out, with my new digital scale, 5 ounces of tea, I have sniffed the lid, and I have rinsed the tea. I realize my mouth is watering as I bring the cup to my lips for the first time. In fact, my mouth began watering in this wholly new and unusual way before I even poured the tea from the gaiwan into the fairness pitcher and into my tiny, gorgeous new celadon cup. It began, I realize, when I smelled the still dry leaves 'cooking' in the warmed gaiwan. Something stirred in me not unlike my intense desires for chocolate and sake!
And then that first sip. A moan. Was that me? Holy crap, I don't moan. And then again, and then a sigh and a sense of awakening to a new potential for pleasure in my life. My life as a fifty year old woman who doesn't get bored from the lack of variety in either her tea or her daily existence, who has just found a hint of a path; a verdant, sometimes roasted, lightly oxidized, shining and fabulous path that offers to lead me into this second half of my life with a new 'beginners mind', an open mind, a mind not clouded by booze consumed in hopes of feelings it can never produce. Yet this tea, this simple leaf has given me that feeling so often sought for and I start a new adventure, 'sober', (if tea-drunk and peeing every thirty minutes eight hours a day is indeed sobriety,) and grinning my foolish face off, sip by sip, as I learn a new language of life, of tea, and of unending potential for adventure.