Good tea, like good chocolate, is a meditative experience, a focal point for conscious choices.
A Japanese tea ceremony “is a choreographic ritual of preparing and serving Japanese green tea, called Matcha, together with traditional Japanese sweets to balance with the bitter taste of the tea. Preparing tea in this ceremony means pouring all one’s attention into the predefined movements. The whole process is not about drinking tea, but is about aesthetics, preparing a bowl of tea from one’s heart. The host of the ceremony always considers the guests with every movement and gesture.”
A simple set of ritual movements focused on serving others from the heart, and tea is at the center of that ceremony. What is it about tea that makes it worthy of this premium position?
Tea production begins in faraway fields in China, India, Sri Lanka, Japan, and Indonesia, where 85-90 percent of our tea originates. Generally, the U.S. doesn’t offer the right climate for tea production, but there are tea plantations in two states, South Carolina and Hawaii. The world produces 3 million tons of tea each year in 3000 varieties — yet all tea comes from just one plant: “All true tea comes from the leaves of an evergreen shrub, Camellia sinensis, a relative of the ornamental camellia plant (Camellia japonica) that is grown for its beautiful flowers. There are two main species: One variety, called Thea sinensis, is native to China, while the other, Thea assamica, hails from India.”
Picking the tea leaves is a painstaking process. Many growers believe that machine picking lets too many older and less desirable leaves into the mix, which produce a lesser quality of tea. Instead workers move through the fields picking the top two tiers of young leaves and the unopened buds, passing through the fields every 7-10 days as new leaves continue to grow in at the top of the plant.
Leaves are first “withered”, or wilted, by drying on racks for 10-24 hours so they become soft and pliable. Tea is black, green, oolong or white depending on when the leaves are crushed after withering and how long the crushed leaves are exposed to the air (oxidizing or fermenting). Black tea ferments the longest (3-4 hours), then oolong (1-2 hours), then green tea (oxidation is prevented by heating the leaves immediately after withering). White tea is from the unopened buds of the tea plant.
Teas are graded. “Generally, the smaller the leaf size, the faster the tea brews, giving the final product a darker shade and a more intense flavor. The larger, whole leaves offer a smoother flavor and a lighter-colored brew.”
Finally, manufacturers blend teas to keep the taste consistent and the price stable. They send specialized buyers to hundreds of tea estates to sample the teas and select those tea leaves that will work best with their brand.
Why buy organic tea?
There is one very important reason to buy organic teas: tea leaves are never rinsed after picking! This means if there are chemical fertilizer or pesticide residues on the plant, they end up in your tea. To avoid drinking a toxic brew, and to truly serve others with love, stick to organic teas.
Yes, most tea comes from outside the U.S., but that doesn’t mean it’s not up to the same standard you would expect from an organic label in the U.S.: “USDA certified tea is held to the same standards regardless of where it is grown around the world. In order for a farm to become certified organic (whether in the United States or abroad), the farm must undergo a strict certification process that includes ensuring farming methods meet USDA’s organic standards, documenting soil and water tests, and providing a production plan.”
Why buy Fair Trade tea?
The organic label signifies the purity of the ingredients, the soil in which plants were grown, the water, and an absence of toxic fertilizers and pesticides. The Fair Trade label applies to the workers and their communities. It assures that workers are paid fair wages and treated well and that the communities from which they come receive benefits from the operation.
Products can be both organic and Fair Trade.
One more thing to consider, and that’s the bag. A tea bag may not seem like so much to add to the waste in the world, but consider this: there’s also a label that more often than not has colorful (and toxic) ink applied to it — and while your one little tea bag may not be such a huge contribution to waste, if the 7.2 million other people in the world each added their share of little bags, well, you can see where that would go. So get some loose leaf tea and a re-useable tea ball.
Service with love
Plan your own Japanese-style tea ceremony, serving yourself or someone you love a cup of tea, a cup of pure, organic tea grown with love, picked with love and attention, and sold in a locations like Green Box Boutique, where you can be sure we pay attention to the sources and quality of every product sold.