Drinking the Yellow Medicine

Yellow has symbolic power in Traditional Chinese Medicine as well as Taoist ritual. The Yellow Emperor (Huangdi 黃帝) is bestowed with cult like status of being cosmic ruler and originator of the unified state of Chin. Important texts and learning were attributed to him such as the Huangdi Neijing or “The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine”.

Consequentially the colour yellow became associated with auspiciousness and  potency. Yellow colour indicates the earth element in five element theory and similarly in Tibetan Buddhist ritual it is associated with the Buddha Ratnasambhava, one of the five Dhyani Buddhas , who also represents the earth element and the direction South. It is considered the most beautiful and prestigious colour with the view it generates yin and yang and central to harmony. Often we see banners of  red calligraphy upon yellow paper either as Taoist talismans or ritual scripts or as auspicious blessings.

The “Yellow Court Classic”  Huang Ting Jing Chinese Taoist meditation text, like with many Taoist manuals,  is heavily annotated with symbolic and cryptic layers of terminology, however it suggests the “yellow court”  to be the space between kidneys and the spleen where the yang is preserved.

The “yellow woman” in Taoist alchemical meditation texts symbolises an earth mother who is able to hold yin and yang together in equanimity, and some interpretations suggest that such references within the internal alchemy traditions are synonymous to external alchemical traditions where yellow substances such as sulphur or shiliuhuang (石硫黄)were exalted for its reactive properties with other elements.

With all this said, I am surprised that Huang Pian (黄片) or literally “yellow pieces” Puerh tea is not more well-known or exalted. Whilst yellow tea, Huang Cha(黄茶), like Hong Cha (red tea, 红茶) is its own category of tea which is processed similarly to green tea with some light oxidation , Huang Pian (黄片)  is very specific to Puerh production.

Nowadays Huang Pian is viewed as by-product of mao cha and puerh production. During the plucking of Puerh tea using traditional methods there tends to be a ratio of 1/4 bud to leaf material. The older and maturer leaves further down the stem don’t go through the production process in the same way as buds and tips, leaving them yellower in colour and dryer and hence prone to over roasting. With much of the market of Puerh now concerned with appearances and standardisation these leaves are sorted out and often kept by farmers as their own tea and rarely taken to market. With tea markets paying higher prices for tippy and more attractive looking tea this tends to mean that these leaves are somewhat undervalued.

What is often missed is the fact that as these leaves, mainly comprising of the 3rd and 4th leaf on the stem, have been on the tree longer and therefore contain richer complex materials and more of the essential nature of that tea that leads to a balanced Cha Qi and more hence more flavour.

With tea markets paying higher prices for tippy and more attractive looking tea often then leaf grades in pressed tea float between the gong ting and grade 4-5 (e.g. Menghai 7752), Huang Pian tea material can be therefore become hard to come by. Many of the big producers will favour the small grades due to their visual attraction, often dressing a cake with gongting material on the outside of the pressing. You can someway appreciate this if we compare the two productions below:

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Gong Ting dressed Brick pressed Shu Puerh

huan

Hong Pian Brick pressed Sheng Puerh

Immediately you can appreciate that the Hong Pian aesthetic appears rougher, less uniform and, perhaps for many, less attractive. However these values on attractiveness are perhaps fairly recent phenomena, particularly in the Puerh market. Undoubtedly we judge tea material by our senses, including its appearances however I feel as Puerh market has developed over the years with more branding and fancier and more colourful and creative wrappings, so has the focus on product. The current market, akin to book covers, appears to focus on the elaboration of the external wrapper with dynamic designs and graphics such that it is to be expected that consumers will have been influenced to equally be concerned with the appearance of the tea.

With our own wisdom and experience we should already realise that what is inside might not reflect what’s on the outside in experience and the old adage that appearances can be deceiving rings true.

 

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Revisiting, Rethinking Tian Jian Hei Cha

Tian Jian is perhaps still a very undiscovered and unappreciated tea. When I peruse all the tea catalogues and online tea blogs it is almost invisible outside China. Typically the catergory of Hei Cha is dominated by Liu Bao and Fu Brick Tea.

As stated in my earlier post upon Tian Jian tea;

https://teamedicineblog.wordpress.com/2018/01/25/tea-focus-tian-jian-hei-cha, 

Tian Jian or 天尖 is composed of the characters for “Heaven” (天) and “tip” (尖) and commonly translated as “Heavenly tips” suggesting something special and unique and reverently prized. Certainly its possibly remains a secret treasure in the category of Chinese teas.

Tian Jian tea is created through a special fermentation and is unique to Hunan province. This does not mean there isn’t choice or variety within this group of teas and as consider to be a sub-category of Hei Cha, differences between processing, fermentation and tea material leads to delivering wonderful nuances in flavour and experience.

Much of what makes Tian Jian unique is its material, when we think about tea leaves we sometimes forget that the raw plucked leaves are the end of a process that is entirely the product of soil, environment, tree and the microflora/fauna that surround it, albeit with some occasional impact from macrofauna. If I just think of one of the tea gardens in Hunan that produce the leaves, for example Yun Tai Mountain, I am transported to a high altitude untamed forested area bathed in morning mists and midday sun. The tea trees there inhabit steep slopes and almost cling to the landscape and are gnarly and twisted, naturally pruned and shaped by Nature’s hand.

I possibly over-portray a romantic image here, but the truth of it is that these trees are hard and deep rooted, perhaps with wider and deeper root stock than branches. It is reasonable to suggest therefore that they have the capacity to really connect in many ways with the earth and soil, and the minerals taken up and utilised by each tree which uniquely contributes to the final product of Tian Jian.

Additionally, whilst we clamber over each other to get authentic wild arbor Puerh tea, undoubtedly the mass majority of Tian Jian is from wild origin, which again is understated. I have yet to come across a production that isn’t but arguable is perhaps because I have been both fortunate and discerning with my tea choice and experience. Equally, unlike many Puerh teas that have reached heights of popularity I have never felt that I have had a bad deal or experienced any kind of underhand or faking culture around this tea catergory that often leaves both a bad taste literally and allegorically in the mouth.

The scent of the dry stored leaves is subtle, gentle and also unique suggestive of its name, having a heavenly character like the top notes of the scent of fresh mountain mist rolling over ancient woodland. It’s difficult to capture the scent at first as its so subtle and is more a feeling than an odor. There is a certain “greenness” about the perfume definitely not floral and a feeling of something aged. Interestingly it seems to have a subtle “Hunan-ness” to it that is present in other more popular teas from the province such as Fu brick tea. I definitely feel that with a blind fold and eyes closed I could pick out that this tea is Hunan origin.

It was a pleasure to share some of my Tian Jian collection with fellow tea bloggers James and Denny at https://teadb.org/ who have perfectly described the experience and textures of this tea and great to share their opinion. You can catch up with their evaluation at,

https://teadb.org/2014-hunan-heicha-tianjian-basket-tea/

 

Shu or Shou Puerh

It can sometimes be difficult to transliterate Chinese into romanised English and accurately achieve both the sound,tone and purpose of the original Chinese. For years I have pondered over whether it should be “Taoist” or “Daoist” equally I still ponder over whether ripe Puerh should be “Shu” or “Shou” and even whether Puerh should be actually written as Pu’erh.

This is small point as in most single usage of “Shu” or “Shou” it means the same i.e. “cooked”, however when a tea is described as “Shou” rather than “Shu”, it sounds as if it is a tea that has gone stale as tonal emphasis of “Shou” may suggest “is it cooked?” as opposed to “it is cooked”. Subtle and not something to stay awake worrying about at night!

However, ironically one can see how the tone and usage of “Shou” Puerh can develop to “Shu” Puerh as a result of its processing, and I wonder whether this is where the different emphasis and errors originate.

During the process of fermenting tea material into “Shu” Puerh we can quite correctly use the term “Shou” as the tea material is still “cooking” and has yet to reach its final product state, such that when we talk about it as any actual tangible thing it is in regard to it being “Shou”. When it has finished fermenting and pressed into cake or bricks we can talk about it as “Shu” because “it is cooked”.

Confused yet? if not, consider this; ripe Puerh continues to develop post-production as a result of natural changes in both microbial content, humidity and ageing. Can we therefore not say it is “Shou” as it has yet to reach the irreversible state that is defined in the expression “Shu” ?

This is an interesting one as technically then it is arguable that “Shu” should be reserved for 50+ years ripened cakes that have reached a state where very little change due to the internal environments of a cake are likely to occur. However, if anyone has experimented with long term storage , this is equally debatable as unless your conditions are as tightly hermetically controlled as David Lee Hoffman’s tea cave you are undoubtedly going to get some changes with small fluctuations in humidity, temperature and exposure to external agents.

Perhaps then “Shu” is more appropriate at the point of consumption when we sit down and drink it because at this stage the ripe tea is at a point of being “cooked” before it is “brewed” or “steeped”. As consumer habits tends to suggest that more ripe Puerh is consumed within China proper then this would necessarily dictate that “Shu” is more common and correct than “Shou”.

Of course all this is somantics, or is it? It makes us reflect on both the process of ripe Puerh and respect its indigenous origin. Its important that tea like other natural resources that have been subject to a history of colonialism does not become an object of new-wave neo-colonial attitudes or cultural appropriation and sensitivity to its origins, culture and the people who produce it ensures appropriate respect.

Tea cannot help being political, but we want tea to remain positively political in bringing people together rather than pushing people apart, for this reason it is arguable that semantics does play an important role.

This issue maybe a little heavy for your casual afternoon tea session sat with like minded friends drinking a nice 2017 production “Shu” and equally we have not yet reached a global linguistic diplomatic crisis on the level of JFK and “Ich bin ein Berliner“, yet politics of identity, self and “other” is situated in language as well as ownership over resources and their origins.

One way of mediating the problem is perhaps to stick to terms we know like “ripe” or “cooked” which I know many even bilingual speakers are more comfortable with.

This is something to continue to ponder as the tea world widens to different cultures and traditions as well as helping to develop new cultures and traditions. We should remain both sensitive to its origins as well as to the new culture and developments that embrace it. Misappropriation of language as well as imagery is only likely to lead to faux pas at the least and offence at its worst. Personally I’d rather see #JustMyCupofTea or #OurCupofTea in social media posts than #NotMyCupofTea in the future.

Taoist Tea

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I often get into discussions about whether Tea medicine is Taoist. You would imagine that this might appear as a simple question to answer, but Tea culture is arguably a development over many hundreds if not thousands of years with multiple contributions.

Take for example the question whether Buddhism is an Indian Philosophy. Its arguable that its origins historically go back to India but you can’t ignore the contribution of Greek, Chinese and many other cultures on its development as well as formative philosophy. I often wonder if the historic Buddha was alive today what Sakyamuni (AKA Gautama) would make of the various threads and philosophical developments that has occurred over time.  This is somewhat true of Tea in the use of terms like “original” or “traditional” which we tend to use freely to denote some authentic practice or process.

The truth is that even if we add an additional layer of description such as “Traditional Chinese” Tea we have various cultures, philosophies and influences that differ and equally contribute to this idea or notion of the “traditional”. One could argue, as others have (Yu-Ying 2011), that Tea has been a vehicle of creating positive dialogue between different philosophies and religions.

Hence, if we look at Taoist tea there are various understandings and developments of what Taoism is before we consider it within the context of Tea.

In answering the question is Tea Medicine Taoist I have to defer to a description of what Taoism is and what Taoism perhaps isn’t. Taoism in its simplest sense is a practical philosophy of life,  where enlightenment is not so much an end unto itself but, rather, a naturally occurring state of profound harmony with all things that manifests as the purest form of participation in life. In this sense Taoist tea is any tea practice that embeds this philosophy, whereby participation of all phenomena in the moment is achieved in absolute harmony.

Perhaps for this reason texts and treatise on Tea have become so revered and culturally important to Taoist tea practice as prescriptions on water quality , water temperature, Tea quality and teaware provide opportunity to achieve such harmony. Not also ignoring prescriptions upon both manner and behavior of Tea’s human agents.

Careful attention to such formal features of Tea practice has the potential to enable changes in the participant thoughts and feelings through its structured symbolic process (Kondo 1985). Thus operationally Taoist Tea might be described as a ritualistic, prescriptive and a structured symbolic ceremony. But it is also arguable that this is only a means to an end and as such makes it difficult for scholars to identify the precise nature of Taoist Tea and its associated cultural inheritance e.g. wabi-cha (Ludwig 1981).

If we use the analogy of a manual or textbook for any newly bought technology, for example a DVD player, at first we need to read the manual and follow the instructions to be able to play a movie, but overtime we cast aside the manual and embed the process of practice and the practical into our bodily memory and process of interaction with the device. This seamlessness between user and device perhaps is the harmony that is aimed for in Taoist Tea, where the participant, tea, water, teaware  and environment merge and become one harmonious unified phenomena.

Phenomenologists such as Heidegger have called this effect “being-in-the-world” where the dualism of object and subject are rejected (Dreyfus 1991). Whilst Merleau-Ponty (2013) expounds the idea that the body is central to this process. We can therefore understand that the actualisation of harmony via the bodily actions of Tea practice that bring it into being,  embraces the fundamental philosophy of the Tao. This being emptying the mind of bodily awareness and thought and acting with natural harmony, known in Taoism as Zi Ran (自然).

Another way to look at Taoist Tea is to explore Taoist Tea poems. In one such poem by Lu Dongbin (呂洞賓) ,  a Tang dynasty poet revered historically by Taoists to the point he is elevated to the status of one of the immortals and recognised as master of Nei Dan (內丹術, internal alchemy,) he compares Tea to the essence of immortality.

However, this may not be a literal rendering as previously discussed in my post on Tea and Longevity (https://teamedicineblog.wordpress.com/2018/02/21/thoughts-upon-longevity-and-tea) but instead to excel the virtue of Tea achieving the aims of Taoism resulting in absolute harmony in the moment.

To this affect any Tea practice can be deemed Taoist, whether I am drinking sugared black Iranian tea in a souk or drinking Puerh gongfu-style among mountain pines. The point it is that following a manual on Tea practice is useful, albeit essential, until we gain an experiential and totally immersive understanding of what developing harmony through Tea is. Once we have this and know this intimately it doesn’t matter what teaware we use or situation we are in when we practice our Tea Medicine, this is what real Taoist Tea is.

Dreyfus HL. Being-in-the-world: A commentary on Heidegger’s Being and Time, Division I. Mit Press; 1991
Kondo D. The way of tea: a symbolic analysis. Man. 1985 Jun 1:287-306.
Ludwig TM. Before Rikyū. Religious and Aesthetic Influences in the Early History of the Tea Ceremony. Monumenta Nipponica. 1981 Dec 1:367-90.
Merleau-Ponty M. Phenomenology of perception. Routledge; 2013 Apr 15.
Yu-ying LA. Halo elephant Wuyishan Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism Tea Etiquette Culture [J]. Journal of Yichun College. 2011;1:036.

Cold Brewed & Sun Brewed Medicine

Although both Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic medicine inform us that cold food and beverages have a negative effect on digestion due to them cooling the stomach I have used both cold extraction and solar infusion of various herbs in the preparation of both tinctures and hydrosols.

In solar infusion the plant material is placed in a solvent (water or oil) in direct sunlight for several hours with the warmth of the sun helping to speed up the process of extraction. There is some evidence that the energy from the sun also helps extract beneficial parts of the plant that are not obtained by heat alone. This is especially useful for pharma that are sensitive or easily destroyed by heat. I have done this with Borage flowers and seen the water turn an electric blue shade that would otherwise turn brackish at higher temperatures.

I confess I have never tried this with tea medicine, upto now. I thought it would be a good experiment to try this and report my experience using the same tea and water quantities for three separate infusions 1) Cold brew 2)Solar Brew 3) Traditional hot water brew. No initial washing of leaves took place in any of the methods to maintain consistency, even though typically I would perform a wash of the leaves before brewing using traditional methods.

The tea selected for this experiment was 2017 Premium Tie Guan Yin Oolong of Anxi, Fujian. It is a tea classed as “AA” grade with very light roasting and balled.

The ratio of tea to water  for cold brewing is typically 40% tea to 60% water depending on the desired strength and typically I might use about 8 gram to 100mls of water for traditional brewing . In order to find quantities that worked for all methods, again, to maintain consistency for comparison purposes ratios were reduced for cold and sun brew (10 grams Tea to 200 mls of water). As my biggest gaiwain is 160mls I used my 100ml travel gaiwain with 5 grams of tea to keep the ratios the same.

 

cold brew

The overall experience of cold brew and sun brew was unpleasant and I can understand why this way of brewing is not popular. I expected it to be less astringent, however the length of brewing of the cold brew may have led to leaching of Caffeine and Epigallocatechin gallate that would have been less with a shorter brew. However to get any sense of the Tea a shorter brew would have required more quantities of tea, therefore I suspect that cold brew is an inefficient way to gain the benefits and enjoyment of the tea.

The sun brew is open to a number of variables in the process that may lead to issues in controlling the quality of the final outcome. The amount of sunlight is difficult to control and hence the temperature of the water over the brewing process can be varied leading to different chemicals being extracted in the final liquor. I personally think that, unlike its use for other more delicate herbal extractions, sun brewing doesn’t sufficiently achieve a level of extraction that is effective without increasing significantly the amount of leaf material. Hence this may explain the more vegetable notes and watery taste on the final experience.

There is some evidence that both Epigallocatechin gallate and Caffeine are reduced in cold brewed tea and higher quantities of Theanine and Epigallocatechin are present (Monobe 2018). Epigallocatechin gallate is a polyphenolic bioflavonoid and a principle phenolic antioxidant that inhibits cellular oxidation of low density lipoproteins in the body.  It increases the strength of the walls of the blood capillaries and regulates their permeability. It may have an contribution to the total antioxidant activity and detoxifiers in enhancing the action of Vitamin C. It is considered that it lowers down cholesterol levels if it taken with Vitamin C. It is also know to have pharmacological action as an anti-inflammatory ,antihistaminic and antiviral agent. Caffeine as we know is a psychoactive stimulant and has both performance (ergogenic) and mood enhancing properties raising blood pressure and increasing heart rates, it is well documented in enhancing motor coordination and reaction times. Both substances are bitter in taste.

Theanine is an amino acid analogue of L-glutamic acid and well known for its relaxing effects when taken by an oral route as well as reducing symptoms of psycho-social stress.

Epigallocatechin has similar properties to Epigallocatechin gallate but is particulary important to both anti-inflammatory and immune pathways in the body. Epigallocatechin unlike Epigallocatechin gallate activates macrophage phagocytosis without inhibiting other antigen pathways. Phagocytosis of pathogens by macrophages initiates the innate immune response, which in turn orchestrates the adaptive response to disease. By activating such pathways without negatively effecting other antigen responses Epigallocatechin acts more efficiently as a immuno-modulator than Epigallocatechin gallate.

There is also the removal of ritual and context of tea culture from both cold brew and sun brew which I feel also distracts from its enjoyment and benefit. There is something clinical and cold, not just physically in drinking cold brew as it struggles to lend itself to any established social circumstance.

There is always the possibility that the choice of tea was not the best for exploring cold brew tea and experiments with other teas might prove more successful, however I am inclined to think there is a strong reason why traditional methods of brewing tea have remained consistently popular. Personally I would not recommend cold brewing, whilst sun brew is worth further investigation but may prove costly in the amount of material needed to obtain positive results. For the time being I’m keeping it gaiwan!

 

Monobe M. Health Functions of Compounds Extracted in Cold-water Brewed Green Tea from Camellia Sinensis L. Japan Agricultural Research Quarterly: JARQ. 2018 Jan 1;52(1):1-6.

Paleo-tea

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The terms Paleolithic diet, paleo diet, caveman diet, and stone-age diet has become synonymous with a fashionable lifestyle and culture trend requiring the sole or predominant consumption of foods presumed to have been the only foods available to or consumed by humans during the Paleolithic era. The truth is that as our cultures and genetics have developed over time and anatomically our digestive abilities are much different than those of paleolithic humans, such approaches to diet and nutrition are therefore both modern and potentially ahistoric.

In regard to Tea I have heard some quite fantastical views upon whether it is suitable for such diets. There is great contradiction in different experts and promoters of the Paleo diet. Some suggest that all oxidised tea is not “Paleo” as it has a high caffeine content, some suggest that as green tea is more closer to natural tea it is more “Paleo”. The truth is that green tea is also processed and many black or red teas actually have less caffeine content. The point seems to be missed that Tea is culturally entwined with human development and over this time it has been both beverage, food and medicine. Often, as still practiced in Traditional Chinese Medicine today, the eating of medicine as food demonstrates that  these categories are merged and less distinct in practice. Some early evidence of this is documented in the Vedic texts which state;

 “From earth sprang herbs, from herbs food, from food seed, from seed man.”

which led to Ayurvedic principles of “you are what you eat“.The incorporation of a mixture of various plants into early diets for both nutrition and medicine is highly likely. Whether Tea was part of this selection is yet to be confirmed by any archaeological evidence.

The Paleolithic period is considered to extend from as early as 2.6 million years ago to 10,000 years ago. In regard to  what we know about tea culture, processing techniques such as grinding and milling, that are expressed in Song and Tang Dynasty tea culture and still exemplified in Japanese tea culture, are present in archaeology dating to the period of 19,500 years ago. Liu et al (2013) have identified three distinct grinding stones to process various plant material from the Shizitan Locality, China that date to the paleolithic period. When resources were generally scarce processed plant foods may have become increasingly important in the human diet to sustain health and life. Tea may have be just one of such species.

In Italy, archaeological remains from 32,000 years ago demonstrate that pre-treatment of various plant grains before grinding to make the product easier to grind and more palatable was part of paleolithic technology (Lippi et al 2015). Eevidence of similiar techniques used with millet grain in China has been documented as early as 13,800 years ago (Bestel et al 2014). We know therefore that Paleolithic humans  used fire as part of their food processing technology and it is therefore possible they also experimented with roasting not just grains but also material  from various thick leaved plants. Could this have been the beginning of a process that was later applied to Tea as we see exmplified in tea production today?

Certainly, Paleolithic cultures would have recognised the variety of techniques that the technology of fire brought to support food processing to aid survival and human life. The technique of smoking to preserve foods is an old and ancient process, something that is still within Tea culture today, where various teas are smoke dried over pine wood such as the famous Fujian  “Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong”teas. It has been suggested that the withering of plant material in lofts or high up in single room dwellings or caves led to smoke from cooking fires accidentally processing them with smoke. This would have also occurred with other gathered and hunted food substances that were often stored safely out of the way, becoming preserved and dried by cooking fires initially by accident but later purposefully.

Pottery older than about 10,000 years has been recovered from a number of areas in East Asia, notably southern China and currently the earliest dates for pottery come from
cave sites in southern China (Gibbs & Jordan 2016), The combination of pottery and fire technology undoubtedly leads to diversification and development in food culture introducing new processing techniques such as the ability to boil and stew. Such advances has lead to re-categorise the period when such technologies boomed and led to significant changes in culture as the Neolithic period (10,200 years ago to 2000 years BCE), however it is not unlikely that such advances in technology pre-existed earlier in pockets of human culture as exemplified in the Xianrendong Cave pottery, Jiangxi province.

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Much of what we think we know about paleolithic culture is based on drawing ethnographic comparisons to modern hunter-gatherer cultures. There is a distinct problem with this, not only is it ahistoric but it also assumes that lifestyle dictates culture dictates technology and vice versa. Nobody suggests that the famous Tea hermits who went to live in the mountains to adopt a simple life with Tea were primitive yet many cultures equally living simple un-technological lives in the modern eras are somehow seen as “primitive” or representative of paleo-culture. This is the assumption that follows through with paleo-diets, that by eating food that is symbolic of a past culture we somehow reproduce that diet. This assumption is equally flawed.

If paleolithic societies were sophisticated and organised enough to develop river transport such as rafts and ceramic art, as exemplified by  the Venus of Dolní Věstonice (c. 29,000 – c. 25,000 BCE) along with a range of techniques of food processing  there is no reason why the more nomadic and hunter gathering culture didn’t recognise and understand different ways to process plant material to bring about powerful and positive effects in the form of life supporting food or medicine. Evidence suggests that the paleolithic period marks the beginning of  human consumption of entheogens (Ruck 2014, Saperstein 2014), i.e. plants that are given cultural importance and spiritual power through their ability to alter the current state of consciousness. Tea perhaps being one of many of these. Some have even suggested that use and introduction of entheogens into culture brought about rapid developments in technology and cultural sophistication.

There is botanical evidence (Meegahakumbura et al 2018) to suggest that the hybridisation of tea species first occurred around 22,000 years ago. Whether humans had a hand in this is something of debate, however early recognition of the value of the Tea plant during the paleolithic period could have easily lent itself to some human intervention that promoted hybridisation of the species.

It is a false assumption that paleo diets from history did not contain processed plant material. It is also a false assumption that technology wasn’t present to allow a level of sophistication that resulted in a variety of techniques, cultures and products being developed in creating life supporting diets. It is reasonable to suggest that Tea, where the tea tree was prolific, may have been incorporated into early diets, such that when early processing techniques were applied in its consumption marked the beginning of the first Tea culture. Something that would be acceptable to be called “Paleo-tea”.

Until further evidence exists we have way to confirm the format of this early tea culture, however given the history and existing diversity of Tea culture it maybe likely that it was eaten rather than drank. The trouble with plant material such as Tea in archaelogical records is , unlike grains and starch granules, it the ease of it decomposing through time and hence unless we uncover a find where the leaves have been preserved we have no way of confirming its paleolithic use, even if the likelihood is high. Earliest records of Tea use are in tombs as offerings that have been preserved by natural mummification due to the dry conditions. The fact that these tombs are not located in the natural locations of tea forests suggests that even before the dates of these tombs, Tea had an established value and use in society and had become part of long distance trade routes. We can only speculate what occured before this time of archaeological evidence but it wouldn’t be unreasonable that local tribal use of Tea as a valued medicine and food plant in the paleolithic was dominant where it naturally grew.

Paleo-tea may have been very similar to traditional tea still experienced today. Its value in human culture has led to developments and sophistication around its production and consumption however there may have been equally a diverse way of consumption or processing of Tea in paleolithic times that is somewhat reflected in the traditions of today.

We cannot be sure of how Paleo-tea existed in human cultures of the paleolithic period however we can still appreciate the power and significance of its medicine. If we choose to eat Tea as an ingredient of a broth we might well be experiencing Tea in someway like our ancestors. However, simply drank as leaves in a bowl with water, whether green or oxidised leaves might be something equally indicative of a beverage consumed in the late paleolithic period.

Bestel S, Crawford GW, Liu L, Shi J, Song Y, Chen X. The evolution of millet domestication, Middle Yellow River region, North China: evidence from charred seeds at the late Upper Paleolithic Shizitan Locality 9 site. The Holocene. 2014 Mar;24(3):261-5.
Gibbs K, Jordan P. A comparative perspective on the ‘western’and ‘eastern’Neolithics of Eurasia: Ceramics; agriculture and sedentism. Quaternary International. 2016 Oct 17;419:27-35.
Lippi MM, Foggi B, Aranguren B, Ronchitelli A, Revedin A. Multistep food plant processing at Grotta Paglicci (Southern Italy) around 32,600 cal BP. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 2015 Sep 29;112(39):12075-80.
Liu L, Bestel S, Shi J, Song Y, Chen X. Paleolithic human exploitation of plant foods during the last glacial maximum in North China. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 2013 Apr 2;110(14):5380-5.
Meegahakumbura MK, MC Wambulwa, M Li, et al. 2018. Domestication origin and breeding history of the tea plant (Camellia sinensis) in China and India based on nuclear microsatellites and cpDNA sequence data. Frontiers in Plant Science, 25
Ruck CA. Entheogens in Ancient Times. History of Toxicology and Environmental Health: Toxicology in Antiquity II. 2014 Sep 18:116.
Saperstein B. Entheogens: An Overlooked Path to the Divine. 2014

Rethinking Tea

Can we rethink Tea? Some may suggest this has already been done with Tea Lattes on offer at many coffee shops (with or without latte art that adds that special touch) or even such products as Kombucha and other similar tea orientated health beverages.

I started thinking about this when I read an old post on MarshallN’s blog http://www.marshaln.com/2015/05/k-cups/ about single-use pod tea. Personally it made me feel quite sad in much the same way as it did when these machines came out initially to issue standardised convenience beverages, not just because the environmental concerns of throw-away culture but that the selling point of these innovations, like with most of the similar coffee machines, is the technology not the product. Somewhere both tea and coffee culture has been lost in the process.

Without appearing critical it made me think about whether we can “rethink” Tea. Our lifestyles have changed rapidly with technology such that we no longer have the time to sit and drink tea over many hours or host sessions in the middle of the day, therefore should our tea culture change or is there something we need to change to our current mode of culture to address this?

Without a doubt Tea has adapted to many cultures, but standard to all cultures is its ability to bring both the feeling of calm, refreshment and in many cases social cohesion in delivering it’s medicine. In the 80’s a well known brand of tea had the slogan “You Only Get an OO with Typhoo!” which I feel was an attempt to capture the power of that particular brand in delivering such experiences , something that some of us might also interpret as Cha Qi. The Theanine content of tea has notably been stated as improving relaxation and relieving stress (Kimura et al 2007,Yoto et al 2012) but as stated by Einother et al (2015) studies neglect the consumption experience and the context in which it is consumed.

I wonder therefore how we can still capture the experience of Tea when we loose the experience of consumption?

Browsing through “rethink: the way you live” by Amanda Talbot(2012) I happened to focus on certain statements. One particular, more than others stands out;

“the more we are away from nature the more we feel the need to connect with it”

Tea allows us to connect with nature like similar natural products that have been consumed and nurtured over thousands of years. Labels such as “green”, “organic”, “fresh” and many others are signifiers and cultural symbols that communicate this deep urge and connection to the wider more wilder world. I feel that such labels, although exploited somewhat in marketing, allows someone in an office in an urban environment to satisfy such urges. In this way I feel, whilst not necessarily agreeing with it, when someone brews themself a single-use pod tea using an appropriate machine they are making an attempt to satisfy on one level a need to connect through Tea to something old and deeply natural.

We are therefore somewhat faced with a problem in rethinking Tea whereby marketing labels perhaps take over from the product and experience to satisfy our desires to connect with the natural world. This disharmony leaves many modern and technologically supported lifestyles out of “sync” with the Tea experience hence the question around “Rethinking Tea”.

If we are to rethink Tea we have to retain its power and potency in connecting us with nature. Labels may help to symbolically enable this but if their is a mismatch in the experience then we never receive the whole benefits of the tea medicine.

One way of looking at it is whether drinking single-use pod tea in a natural relaxed setting fulfills this, so we get the symbolic representation of Tea in the beverage and the experience alongside it. I happen to think this is still insufficient as mere symbolic representation of Tea does not replace the total experience of Tea.

Focusing on previous innovations that have in someway “rethought” Tea I can only really bring to mind one success, this being the “tea bag”. The tea bag was possibly first inspired by Chinese packaging of tea that involved sewing tea leaves into cloth bags and first appeared in 1904 commercially with successful marketing by Thomas Sullivan from New York. Various designs have followed since, but the principle remains the same, allowing for retained infusion to aid standardised delivery of product alongside ease of use. The tea bag perhaps also brought a time efficiency saving in the process of brewing and steeping that allowed Tea to dominate as the beverage of choice for post-industrial workers, be them administrative or manual laborers. Some of the marketing around the early promotion of tea bags also drew on the beliefs that for tea to taste it’s best, the leaves should be removed from the hot water at the end of a specific brewing period to avoid over-steeping and inevitable undue bitterness.  The convenience  of the tea bag meant that tea could be easily made in a mug instead of a tea pot, without the need for a tea strainer or supportive equipment, again adding convenience for Tea to be the choice of beverage in the work place.

Something that was retained in the “rethinking” of tea in the form of the tea bag was somewhat the ritual of tea. Still today many will make a pot of tea but put teabags in the pot instead of loose leaf tea, simply for convenience but still enjoying the ritual. Additionally the adoption of the tea bag and its beverage through convenience into the workplace allowed the culture of Tea and its medicine to be incorporated into the culture of the “Tea Break”. The portability of tea in the form of a tea bag along with its convenience also allows for Tea to be taken in Nature, thermos flask and hot water required!

Rethinking tea maybe something that innovation in culture demands but it is perhaps not since 1904 have we seen any rethinking that retains Tea’s true medicine. Whilst this may account for some of the increased interest in going back to traditional methods of Tea preparation and respectful and appropriate practice embedded in gongfu tea sessions, it does not necessarily answer our initial inquiry around whether we can rethink Tea for this time and age.

Whilst I would always advocate time and respect and traditional methods of Tea preparation there is still a mismatch between this practice and our current modern culture that leaves me troubled by such disharmony. Perhaps then in “rethinking” tea we should not look to innovate, such as exemplified by single-use pod delivery systems and their equivalent technology, but we should “rethink” Tea in the way that we appreciate how important Tea is to ensuring harmony in our current modern cultures.

It remains a fear that modern technological culture increases our risk of social isolation and impacts on are ability to relax, sleep and engage in the world on a natural level. Studies have shown the benefits of an increasing technological culture yet such technology continues to challenge our established patterns of social interaction and “connectedness” with the world and each other. Antonucci, Ajrouch and Manalel (2017) suggest new forms of communication, resulting from technological innovation, have created unique challenges for understanding relationships and it is possible that we are losing the ability to successfully achieve appropriate face-to-face contact. Additionally changes in culture and communication is resulting in people being more negative in less personal forms of communication, witnessing the rise in anti-social phenomena such as cyberbullying, because they do not see another’s reactions. Therefore it is arguable that reconnecting socially with each other through the ritual use of Tea, whether its the “Tea Break” or gongfu ceremony is essential to maintaining harmony and social cohesion. This argument is equally valid in ensuring “connectedness” to the natural world and other non-human beings.

In “rethinking” Tea we might conclude it is not whether Tea should adapt to meet changes in culture and society but that the place of Tea in society should be changed so that it becomes a purposeful mediator to any negative risk of social isolation or loss of connections with each other and the world. We have heard much talk about “mindfulness” both socially and clinically in the last 10 years with practical meditative practices supporting mental and social health. Through giving Tea a place in society in its fullest sense we should not require an additional intervention as the “mindfulness” practice as well as the physical and social health benefits are all there in the appropriate time and attention given to Tea.

I hope by promoting the culture, health and benefits of tea medicine, in a small way, Tea can take up this role and continue to be elevated as both social and physical healer but also a teacher about our own culture and social patterns that always need balancing and support with adjusting to change.

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