I recently asked for post suggestions and a reader named Ellie had a bunch of questions about tea that I think bring up interesting points. First, a little bit of background— I’ve been drinking tea for about fifteen years, pretty much every day. I started because I read a book that told me about how healthy it was, and continued because I enjoyed, in equal parts, the atmosphere around drinking tea and the taste of the tea itself. I built a relatively elaborate tea room in my house to host tea with friends and family and I travel with a full tea set and tea wherever I go.
It could be argued that my obsession with tea is a little bit ridiculous, but as I’ll discuss when answering the questions, I think it’s worth it.
I’m curious to learn about how your love and understanding of tea has influenced other areas of your life (obviously, it has influenced your travel). For example, do you think you eat better (higher quality ingredients and/or healthier food? Has it made you more mindful?
It hadn’t really occurred to me that tea influenced my travel until Ellie asked the question, but it’s true that I go way out of my way to find tea experiences, that I tend to prioritize cities that have good tea, and that I travel with tea everywhere I go. Part of this is because tea is important to me, and part of it is that it’s a good excuse to seek out positive experiences.
Compared with anything else you could drink, tea provides a slow and deep experience. You don’t “catch up” over tea, you have long conversations. It’s conducive to calm, reflection, and depth. There may be a chemical element to this (caffeine is a stimulant and L-theanine is calming), or it may just be that it takes a while to drink tea and you enjoy it in small doses over multiple infusions. An hour is barely enough. When I’m traveling with friends, I want to have that sort of experience. Maybe this could be said about anything, but tea is enhanced by beauty. A friend of mine who owns Tap Twice Tea has tea in the mountains and by the rivers, and it’s a perfect fit. So whether I’m going to rural Japan, tea houses in China, or Zhao Zhou in Budapest, I get to be in a beautiful environment.
If you decided that you wanted to make the least possible money with the most effort, you might choose the tea business. Most people won’t pay over $12-15 for a pot of tea, and someone who buys that tea will probably occupy one of your tables for an hour. Quality tea shipped to your house might cost only $2-5 per experience. Restaurants generally can’t brew tea well enough that it makes sense for them to pay for high end tea.
The result of this is that the people who run tea shops tend to be people who have a massive passion for tea and want to share it with other people. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to a tea shop and they’ve refused to charge me for what I drink, even the first time I come there! I love meeting the sorts of people brave enough to start a tea business.
So tea has really affected how I travel, entirely positively.
I don’t think it’s changed what I eat, except that it may have contributed to me not eating breakfast. I gave up breakfast maybe a decade ago, and I think that I get enough satisfaction from tea (and it takes up enough time) that I don’t feel compelled to eat anything else in the morning.
I do think that it has given me a more refined palate, but I’m not sure I can be an accurate judge of that. Both the flavors of tea and the differences between them can be subtle, and they require more concentration than anything else I consume. I find that I’m often able to pick up minute flavors in foods now and I can’t recall ever doing that before. Is it because of tea? Maybe.
It’s hard to say whether tea has made me more mindful. I find that term to be so vague that it’s hard to say definitively either way.
Has it made you more discerning in other areas? Also, how do you deal with people who are less discerning? Or really have no taste at all ( but may think they do)? I sometimes get the impression people think I’m being fussy but I think I’m being discerning.
Calling someone discerning is probably a nice way to call them a snob, or at least it’s easier to say that I’ve become a bit of a snob than to call myself discerning. I’m certainly a snob about tea. In a pinch I’ll drink anything that is really just pure tea leaves, but the lack of quality is pretty obvious. I am very particular about a lot of things, but I’m not sure if it’s because of tea or if it’s just how I’ve always been and tea fits nicely into it.
When it comes to other people drinking tea with me, I’m just happy they indulge me. My wife has a poor sense of taste and her favorite tea is “anything warm”, but I appreciate that she’ll sit with me in the tea room and drink tea with me. Most of my friends have gotten into tea to some degree, but even the ones who aren’t crazy about it will sit with me and have tea, just because it creates a nice space to sit around and chat. I’m grateful for that and for any effort they put into it, and I’m also cognizant of the fact that I wouldn’t be willing to do the same for coffee or alcohol, which makes me even more grateful.
I think all of us oscillate between thinking we’re experts and thinking we’re idiots, so if someone thinks they have taste but I sort of know they don’t, I just remember when I knew much less than them and thought that adagio white tea bags were the pinnacle of tea. Many of my friends, especially those who have tea businesses, know much more than me, so I also know that I probably look like an idiot to them sometimes, especially when I offer any sort of opinion on puerh tea (the type I drink the least frequently).
Photo is from a nice tea I had at Yugen in Kyoto last week. Great tea and very nice people.
I appreciate getting questions that prompt blog posts. If you have anything you’d like me to write about, let me know— I’m going on a cruise tomorrow and will have time.
I have one or two spots left for Superhuman 5. Write soon if you’re interested, as I’ll be locking in the list within a few days.
I’ve been drinking some amazing green tea from Asa Tea. Sign up for their newsletter to get tea once they launch (and support a fellow blog reader!).