As I become ever more engrossed in the gong fu cha ceremony, I sometimes forget about the importance of the tea itself. Whether it is a freshly picked and packaged oolong from one of the revered mountains in Taiwan, or a well-aged loose leaf sheng pu erh from Yunnan in China, good teas can, in and of themselves, bring about a state of meditation, inner warmth, calm and peace. There is just something about this age old beverage that comforts the soul, and the Chinese have been coming up with methods ever since tea's discovery several thousand years ago to enhance this overall feeling. Gong fu cha is one of those methods, but it means nothing if one does not honour the tea for what it is: a means by which to communicate with the divine, a path to enlightenment, a taste of nirvana. As my good friend Erick recently reminded me however, tea is merely a means by which to reach the door to enlightenment; it is up to us to open the door and move 'beyond.' Do you have the strength?
It pays to remember that each tea has this inner quality inherent within it, but that we ourselves cannot be lazy, that we must work with the tea if we wish to achieve ultimate nirvana. All tea is not created equal however (as many of us are well aware). I'm not talking about the pre-packaged teabag (though even those have a limited comfort factor when steeped in hot water); i'm talking about fine loose leaf and cake teas. If you are fortunate enough to come across a particularly powerful tea, respect it, work with it, and then release it. I am of the firm belief that good tea was made to be appreciated and consumed, not stared at in a museum or collection (I like that: the consummation of the tea. It has a nice ring to it). Perhaps my personal bias comes from Master He Zai Bing, whom first introduced me to tea and would happily pour a vintage, endangered pu erh as he would a more recent variety. For him, the greatest honour is found in drinking the teas and not only in possessing them. Perhaps this is one of the greatest tests for all of us: to best honour the greatest of teas is to drink them and appreciate them until they are no more, and we must in the end, let them go. But the memory, ah the memory of that moment shared with the tea, is oh-so-sweet.