Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Keeping the multitasking out of the moment

It's not easy to do nothing, but I'm trying.

The tea is on the tray, hot and steaming, and I'm finally stealing a half hour — OK, maybe an hour — to enjoy it. My life is increasingly harried of late, and I could use this time to read, to catch up on my journal, to do personal tasks that I enjoy but are still tasks. The pile of magazines. The poor, ignored novel.

But, no. This isn't a moment for multitasking. Just sit and drink the tea. That's all that's required now, in this moment. Sit, think, maybe chat with company. All the work being done, the tasks executed — they will be better for this tea time, this downshift, this empty space. I read an article a while back about how the mind requires empty time like this to process the thoughts from the busy time. It cited President Obama, saying he and his advisers are aware of this kind of thing and that he makes an effort for empty mind time during the day. (Go ahead, riff on a joke there.) Balance and moderation in all things. It's how the world works.

I do allow myself a notepad. The thought bubbles that arise sometimes need jotting down; if I pin them to paper then I won't worry about remembering them, and my mind can stay loose and free.

One of my favorite stories is about the poet Allen Ginsberg at a meditation retreat. He kept a notebook and pen by his side, scribbling thoughts that occurred and felt like keepers. Later, sitting around a fire with other meditation students, the leader asked Ginsberg what he'd been writing. "Little thought bubbles," he said. The leader asked to see his notebook — and promptly threw it in the fire. He was missing the point.

But this is tea time, not strict meditation. It's mulling. It's mindful. It's a rare moment — to breathe and relax and reboot. We'll return to the world and the work soon enough.

Nothing on my knee but my tea cup.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Tuesday tea tunes: 'The Old Beatnik'

I officially progress further into my 40s this week. Today's tea tune, "The Old Beatnik" by the Steaming Heads, thus cuts across many lines for me — it's a punkish and British folk tune (love all that), it's about growing old without regrets ("I didn't wait till I was dead to have a good time"), and the band wraps it up with a fiddle breakdown of a traditional tune called "Cups of Tea." Live long and prosper ...


Saturday, August 27, 2011

Blemishless virgins! Teenage boys! Drunk architects!

My news feeds have been peppered with strange tea-related stories recently. Here's a round-up:

— Women in China usually do the bulk of the tea picking, but at least one garden is looking for a few blemishless virgins to pick tea with their teeth. Stay classy, China!

— A British architect claimed in court to have no memory of grabbing a waitress and holding a knife to her throat after she asked him to pay for his cup of tea. His lawyer told the court he had enjoyed a successful career as an architect "before alcohol sadly took a hold."

Teenage boys love afternoon tea. Really.

— They'll probably also really dig this hemp iced tea.

— I'm never clear on the ultimate legitimacy of overseas news outlets, and I run into links to newspapers like The Hindustan Times quite often. And I must say, this is one of the strangest columns I've ever read.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

A hurricane of protest in North Carolina

This week, as Hurricane Irene turns north and heads toward North Carolina and the rest of the East Coast, I read an interesting piece by Bruce Richardson about a revolutionary tea protest that occurred in 1774 — not in Boston but in North Carolina.

I'd heard this mentioned before, but Richardson's piece in Tea Time magazine neatly sums up the Edenton Tea Party, an organized political action by several women in this Carolina seaside town. As angered in the South as they were in the North by the Tea Act of 1773, residents of Edenton sent shipments of food to Boston to show solidarity after their harbor-brewing experiment in December of that year.

Those protesters, however, wore costumes to disguise their identities. In Edenton, 51 wives and mothers signed their names on a letter sent to King George announcing a boycott of British tea and cloth. "This brazen act of civil disobedience," Richardson notes, "was one of the earliest organized women's political actions in United States history."

The document of Oct. 25, 1774, was published in a London newspaper by January, stating that the women had "resolved not to drink any more tea, nor wear any more British cloth, many ladies of this province have determined to give memorable proof of their patriotism, and have accordingly entered into the following honourable and spirited association. I send it to you to shew your fair countrywomen, how zealously and faithfully, American ladies follow the laudable example of their husbands, and what opposition your matchless Ministers may expect to receive from a people thus firmly united against them." The London papers also mocked the event with caricatures (like the one shown).

Signing their names had consequences, at least for one of those laudable husbands. Penelope Barker coordinated the protest, but her husband John was stationed in London as North Carolina's liaison to Parliament. "When word came that his treacherous wife had organized a rebellion at home," Richardson writes, "he was forced to flee to France."

The Barkers' home is now a tourist attraction in Edenton, and we'll be thinking of them this weekend and hope home and teacups survive the storm.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Tuesday tea tunes: Getting schooled

God help me: This week I begin a master's program. I'm excited, but the work load — in addition to my full-time job and, of course, tea blogging — is daunting. I'll be needing more tea than ever, primarily for its stimulant properties.

So here's a song from a Japanese anime band called After-School Tea Time; I love it because of its amazing production and obvious aping of American garage rock, especially in those opening organ strains ...

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Tuesday tea tunes: Moonies

Last night as a full moon, and tonight it'll still be brilliant and bold in the summer sky (weather permitting). As you sip and stare, here's Enya's "Tea-House Moon," which some lovely YouTuber has uploaded with accompanying images of Chinese art and tea scenes:

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Tuesday tea tunes: From China to Carolina

Here's a funny take on tea history and the Southern insistence on "Big Ol' Sweet Iced Tea" by Christian comedy singer Anita Renfroe:

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The first day of autumn, at last!

There is no sign of autumn wind.
Is it really risshu?
— Onitsura

Have faith, tea friends! Autumn begins today!

Old-school autumn, anyway. Aug. 7 or 8 corresponds to risshu, the first day of autumn, on the old Japanese lunar calendar.

It certainly doesn't feel like it, of course. So many of my friends and family live in areas of the country that have positively baked for two solid months now. Even in Chicago, it's been considerably hotter than last summer. Some days I can't conceive of any tea other than iced.

While risshu, this early in the planet's actual revolution, doesn't correspond with any real or noticeable changes toward cooler weather, it's at least a comforting reminder that, yes, the earth is moving and we will be in sweaters before we know it. Summer downpours recently shut down Chicago's Lake Shore Drive, but six months ago a blizzard did the same.

Sasaki Sanmi writes of risshu: "It is still the middle of the lingering summer heat: shining hot, sultry or sweltering. It is not easy to seek out chashu in this month. ... Clear your mind of all mundane thoughts, and you will be able to find coolness. This is true; whether you can beat the hot weather or not depends on your state of mind."

It's all in your mind, yeah, right. But we'll make it. We always do.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Tea cozies (cool ones!) and drip catchers

I only own one tea cosy — just a silk kimono for one of my yixing pots, given as a gift (pictured). I've never fully considered their utilitarian value, until we blasted the A/C recently and I found myself draping the teapot with a cloth napkin to keep the brew warm. When cooler weather rolls around, I think I might be in the market for one.

I am, however, allergic to all things "crafty," so I'm not interested in the plethora of yarny, knitted offerings out there. So I was thrilled to find this: the HOB. It's a line of tea cozies that doesn't go for cute, just slightly stylish and highly functional. (Not sure why they go for all caps, but a "hob" is an old-fashioned term for a spot in the fireplace to keep things warm.) I could do without the backpack-like plastic straps, but these certainly look great — the earth tones, the geometric pattern, the polka dots, all really sharp looking.

In related teaware: I recently read about a marvelous invention, via the English Tea Store blog. I've not encountered a "drip catcher" before, but in lieu of cozies, as mentioned above, this sounds ingenious. Says A.C. Cargill: "A drip catcher — simple, humble, and effective — is designed to prevent your teapot from dribbling after pouring. You slide it over the spout (obviously), and it absorbs the errant drops of tea making a quick getaway down that spout." Check out theirs (pictured); many seem to be similarly styled like citrus slices.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Tuesday tea tunes: I will try to fix you (a cup)

I'll be spending this weekend in the heat and dust of Lollapalooza 2011 in Chicago's lakeside Grant Park. One of the headliners is Coldplay, and here's singer Chris Martin doing Cat Stevens' "Tea for the Tillerman" — over the end credits to an episode of "Extras," which unfortunately ends in a duet with Ricky Gervais ...