Saturday, 2 July 2011

Tea In The Out Of Doors

With a roofed, screened in, and carpeted back porch I've been making tea "outside" on a fairly regular basis recently, since the weather is more or less always permitting there.What I've been doing less often is making tea properly outside, unsheltered from the elements in the wilds of my back yard. Sometime soon I aspire to make tea in a more natural environment, far from the conveniences of electricity and running water (a trip to the Gatineau Hills may be in order), but for now my back yard provides a perfectly sufficient break in the routine.

When making tea outside, a whole host of practical considerations seemingly spring into existence such as: How will I heat the water? Where do I put my wares and how can I arrange them so as to be comfortable? Where will all the excess water go? Finally, where do I sit? None of these concerns are really new, they simply require unfamiliar solutions when adjusting to any new environment.

Today was warm and sunny outside with a little bit of a breeze, so I chose a fresh and slightly cooling tea to go with it: this April's Semi-Wild Baozhong from Teamasters. Because my new ceramic kettle retains heat quite well, and this particular tea has shown itself to be amenable to a gradual lowering of temperature in the later infusions, the problem of heating the water and keeping it warm was relegated to heating it up on my kitchen stove as I usually do and mostly letting it cool on its own by my side.

I opted to arrange my main tools of the trade in a line in front of me, with the kettle off to one side near my right (dominant) hand and the cups offset to the left. I chose this arrangement because of practical considerations, but upon examination it also seems a logical choice based on the principles of yinyang and the flow of qi. 

The kettle sits in a yang position on the right with the spout directing its energy towards the gaiwan where the tea is brewed. The faircup, which sits between the gaiwan (yang) and the teacups (yin), provides a place for the tea to rest in balance before being drunk. In this way the energy flows right to left and yang to yin in a graceful spiral towards the drinker where it is consumed. The positioning and orientation of the wooden tea scoop reflects the direction of the flow of energy and imbues it with the vivacity of the shrub from which it was made. The excess water and tea flow into the lawn where they return their energy to the surrounding environment.

Stepping from one set of esoteric considerations to another, making tea outside is, for me, an exercise in maintaining focus. As much as it feels great to be outside and immersed in life as I brew and make an attempt at entering into some level of harmony with my surroundings greater than quieting the mind in the quiet of my own home, there are a plethora of distractions between me and my journey of tea. From where I sit I notice how well the potted oxalis across from me has bloomed this year; an ant begins crawling up my leg and I stop to brush it off; I listen to hits from the seventies blaring from a radio a few houses away. A wide variety of factors come together to set the stage for what seems to be the perfect place to focus on anything and everything, which is hardly what I'm trying for.

This place could be regarded as a barrier, but I prefer to see it as an opportunity for growth. The real world is rife with disharmony, and the only way to find a niche of peace within it is to create one for yourself. Making tea on a flat rock in my back yard is a microcosm for any real-world situation. The goal is always to strive for the best; in this case the most peaceful and harmonious cup of tea. However, to actually experience pure peace and harmony in the real world is an impossibility, which is why the goal is simply to strive for it. Life is a journey, and a messy one at that, so all we can do is grow and learn as much as we can from our experiences, peaceful and harmonious or uncomfortable and scattered while always discovering how much more there is to learn. Sound familiar?

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