It’s almost May, and so far the weather this spring has been the worst than any other year. After a sunny holiday in Gran Canaria it is particularly displeasing and there seems to be no way around it, other than to wrap up in a chunky cardigan or scarf and pour myself a cup of hot tea. Or coffee? No, tea. And sit closer to the window to catch whatever little light that comes from it and a rare glimpse of sunshine, often through the rain. Although, I do have to admit that the last couple of days have been quite lovely, the weather is ever-so-unpredictable and rain may come out any moment.
Ireland is a tea-loving country, and yet it amazes me how a cup of tea almost always rhymes with a black tea with milk. Sometimes, more milk than tea. Like in good old Father Ted:
Father Ted: This is a very milky cup of tea Mrs. Doyle… In fact this is an ALL milk cup of tea… I mean, is there any tea in here at all?
Mrs. Doyle: Well… No.
For me, tea rhymes with many different things. It rhymes with green, it rhymes with healthy, it rhymes with calming chamomile, it rhymes with taking moments and slowing down, it rhymes with joy and comfort. Tea for me almost inevitably rhymes with Wellness.
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Drinking Tea is So Much More Than Just Drinking Tea
Tea has originated in China, probably well before the 2nd Century BC, and was mainly used as a medicinal drink. It conquered the rest of Asia a few centuries later, but reached Great Britain only by the 17th century, then spreading to colonial India where the mass production had begun.
Since then tea has been used for many things – as a medicine, as a form of mindfulness and meditation or as an important attribute to social gatherings, because frankly, any conversation is better over a cup of fragrant tea. No matter the reason, tea had always had a purpose – other than just drinking tea.
And only in our fast-paced, busy-oriented world drinking tea has become just an unnoticed habit. We drink it just because we were taught to. We do it automatically, only in a form that we are used to – which is for many just that milky cup of tea.
One ancient Japanese priest, Eisai, once wrote:
‘Tea is the ultimate mental and medical remedy and it has the ability to make one’s life more full and complete’.
Maybe it is worth learning from the ancient wise men to enjoy tea for what it was meant, for it is indeed a powerful tool to boost your wellness.
Mindful Tea Time
In Zen Buddhism tea has been regarded as cultivating the body and soul, which is the main goal of buddhist practices. Mindfulness is also one of the main concepts in Buddhism. Everyday life requires full attention to each and every moment. To Zen Buddhist monks, tea is no exception. In fact, their Way of Tea, or Chado, means just that – just tea, the experience that you get in the moment of drinking tea. They do it slowly, they enjoy every sip, they acknowledge the taste and the sensation. They don’t ponder in the moment, but just observe.
To a Westerner it may seem boring and a waste of time. But mindfulness is so important to learn to be able to live here and now – because this is where the life is happening. It doesn’t happen in the past, it doesn’t happen in your thoughts and it doesn’t even happen in the future. Only now. And that is what we are wasting, this precious moment – we’re wasting it by thinking instead of just observing.
If you are new to mindfulness and find it hard to sit still in a regular meditation practice, try meditating over a cup of tea. You don’t have to close your eyes and count your breaths. Just sit comfortably and really tune in to your experience of every sip. It is so calming and refreshing!
Jumping from chill and observant Japanese monks to Victorian England, the purpose of Five-o’clock tea was to bring people together, typically women, but sometimes men, too. The hostess would have a round table set with a hot kettle, a teapot under a cosy, little tea cups and saucers. Snacks, like cold meats, vegetables, sandwiches, fruit, scones with preserves and butter as well as tea cakes would have been served. But food was merely a part of such a gathering. The main idea of ‘high tea’ was to socialise.
Now, try to remember when was the last time you had tea with friends, lounging comfortably around the table or even in the sitting room, engaged in a perfectly pleasant friendly conversation, no matter the reason? If you have recently done it, then just skip the rest of the part – you’re ok without me. To those, who can’t remember – if the last time you chatted to your friend was on Facebook or some other kind of messenger (given they do not live long distance from you) I urge you to re-think your actions and invite the friend over for tea. It may be not a studied topic (yet!) but in my experience a cosy environment and pleasantly hot tea help people relax, open up and really deepen that social engagement.
Another tip: If you’re stuck in work and need a break, invite a colleague to have tea together, away from your desk. There may be nothing wrong with enjoying your tea alone at your desk if you want to have a mindful time, but in other cases a 5 or 10 minute tea break with a colleague will do you lots of good.
Tea as a Medicine
Ever since tea had become known in ancient China and later spread throughout the East, it has been used as a medicine in many cultures and is still used as such to this day. Tea, even the regular black tea, can have numerous health benefits. Some studies, for example, show that black tea can help reduce stress and bring the stress hormones back to normal levels. Whether it’s the effect of the chemical compounds or just the fact that you are slowing down to drink your cup, the effect is there and it is valuable.
I was going to compose an extensive list of different teas and their actions, but then decided that it’s a topic for another post. But since we are talking about tea for wellness, I think I’ll just group together different teas by their actions to give you an idea.
Tea for Your Wellness
General Health Benefits
(include cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes prevention as well as prevention of other diseases):
Energy boost, improved Memory and Cognition
Immune Boost + Cold & Flu Care
- Ginger**, Echinacea*** (not suitable for long-term use), Rose Hip tea**, Red Raspberry Leaf tea, Verbena
Glucose Control & Improved Insulin Sensitivity
- Black tea, Oolong tea
- Rose Hip tea**, Rooibos, Tulsi
- Pu-erh, Green tea, Black tea, Darjeeling
- Rose Hip tea**, Rooibos
Calming and Soothing
- Chamomile***, Lavender, Lemon Balm (Melissa), Peppermint, Verbena, Tulsi** (not suitable for long term use)
Weight Loss Aid and Metabolism Boost*
- White tea, Green tea
- Chamomile***, Ginger**, Rose hip tea**
Good for Digestion
- Chamomile***, Peppermint (anti-nausea), Ginger** (anti-nausea, but can cause upset stomach)
Good before Bed
- Chamomile***, Peppermint, Fennel tea**, Rooibos, Verbena, Tulsi** (not to be used long-term)
And that is about it. The linked teas are one of my favourite brands that use organic sustainable teas and biodegradable tea bags, because to be honest you don’t even want to know what kinds of bleaches and plastics can be found in conventional tea bags as sold in stores.
Keep Calm and Drink Tea.