Taking Time for Tea - A Mindful Ritual
I love tea. Tea has become a morning ritual for me and is something that can bring me back to the present moment multiple times throughout the day. While I don’t practice the full ritual I suggest below every time I take joy in a cup of tea, I’ve noticed that small segments of this practice have become a habit - a ritual of sorts, with almost every cup I brew. In this post, I’ll talk about a few of the benefits of different types of tea, when to drink each type and why, how to practice the art of mindfully drinking tea and suggest a few of my favorite teas that may be new to you. I hope you’ll join me on this little diversion into the joy and mindful practice of drinking tea.
Which, When & Why at Tea Time
There are an incredible number of varieties and choices when it comes to tea. If you watch the short slideshow of the pics below, you’ll see that I’m a little obsessed with teas and like to have many choices on hand in my home. I’ll often start the day with an ayurvedic blend, move to green tea after breakfast, it’s a wild card after that and then I typically close the day with a cup of rooibos.
You’ve likely heard about the healthy aspects of green tea - that it contains vitamins, minerals and is loaded with antioxidants. And perhaps you’ve read that is is rich in polyphenols which can help to reduce inflammation and perhaps fight cancer. You may have heard that it can increase fat burning, boost your metabolic rate and improve brain function. However, perhaps like me, you hadn’t heard that it also contains catechins, which are natural antioxidants that help prevent cell damage by reducing the number of free radicals wrecking havoc on the body. And more specifically that the presence of these catechins also impacts the time of day you should drink green tea.
I used to start every morning with a cup of green tea until I learned a little more about these compounds called catechins. While they are quite healthy to consume, if you drink them on an empty stomach they can cause damage to your liver. An occasional cup of green tea first thing in the morning is probably not a big deal, but since I was drinking a few cups every morning before breakfast on a daily basis, I decided it would be wise to change up my habit and wait until after I’ve had a meal for my green tea fix. Green tea also contains varying amounts of caffeine depending on which type you choose. So it’s also wise not to drink it before bedtime, as that can interfere with a good night’s sleep.
Now I begin my day with some type of herbal tea or ayurvedic blend. There are far too many choices to go into depth on the multitude of different herbal tea benefits in this post, but let’s just say that if you are looking for a natural herbal remedy you can probably find a tea for it. Lately I’ve been alternating between one ayurdevic blend that includes Tulsi Holy Basil and echinacea and another that has turmeric, ginger, cardamom, nutmeg and cloves. Occasionally I’ll start the day with a detox blend that has dandelion root for joint issues, burdock root for liver cleansing, uva ursi to support the urinary system and a whole host of other detox herbs. I’ll be honest that I can’t say I really enjoy the flavor of any of these, but I do like starting my day with a cup of tea and figure I may as well choose one that has strong health benefits. If I drink a cup of black tea, its usually going to be mid-day for me - after I’ve enjoyed my green tea and before it is too late in the day to consume more caffeine. In general, black teas have about twice the level of caffeine of what you will find in a green or white tea. Oolong teas will be somewhere in the middle.
Let’s talk a little about rooibos before we move on to how to create a mindful ritual with a cup of tea. Rooibos has a very distinctive flavor that may be an acquired taste for some. I really didn’t care for it much when I first tried it, but recently I’ve found a blend (that I’ll mention later) that I’m crazy about and drink almost every night. Rooibos is a red tea that comes from fermented leaves of a shrub native to South Africa, so technically it isn’t actually a tea (which is also true of the herbal varieties). It generally is a little on the sweet side, yet also earthy tasting. One of its main benefits is the fact that it is caffeine-free. It too contains antioxidants, has an enzyme that can help reduce blood pressure and contains polyphenols that can help increase levels of healthy HDL cholesterol while decreasing levels of LDL cholesterol.
How to Create a Mindful Tea Ritual
Choose a loose leaf tea and preferably a tea strainer that is open so you can watch the changes in the leaves as the tea brews. You will want one level teaspoon for teas with a fine grind or a slightly heaping teaspoon for a larger leaf tea. Take your time in choosing your tea. Ask yourself the question of what tea you would most enjoy and what would most benefit your body at this time.
As you fill the kettle with water, begin to become very aware of your motions and what is happening in each moment. Watch the stream of water flowing into the kettle. See if you can observe changes as the water goes from cold to steaming hot or even boiling. If you are making black, herbal or a rooibos tea, you will want the water to be boiling hot. If your choice is green or white tea, the ideal temperature is about 170°. A fancy kettle with a thermometer isn’t necessary to get your water to the appropriate temperature. Simply allow the water to come to a full boil and then let it cool about two minutes before making your tea. If you chose an oolong tea, the ideal temperature is 190°, which requires about one minute of cooling time after the boiling point is reached instead.
Take your time when slowly pouring the water over the tea leaves, allowing yourself to become fascinated with the stream of hot water coming from the kettle, the dance of the steam in the air above the tea and the slow changes to the tea leaves as they swell and expand while absorbing the hot water. Green, white and oolong teas should be steeped for 1-3 minutes, black tea 3-5 minutes and herbal or rooibos 5-7 minutes. While waiting for your tea to steep, you could choose to count the seconds while continuing to observe the changes in the tea leaves or you could set a timer and sit quietly, watching your breath flow in and out of your body.
Pay attention to the nuances of the aroma and if you are using a mug notice the warmth on your hand and fingers, again taking your time before you take that very first sip. Then shift your perception to focus on the taste, the feel of the hot water on your palate and the feel of the heat traveling downward in your body toward your tummy. As you continue to drink your tea, slowly savor the experience and continue to perceive the subtle changes in what you notice as you focus all your senses on this moment and then the next. If thoughts creep into your mind, let them gently be washed away with each sip of tea. When you finish, allow yourself to softly close your eyes and spend a few moments appreciating the time you have allowed for yourself to relax and recharge. Celebrate these precious moments of mindful action and the benefits that this time and these intentional actions bring to your body by calming your nervous system and allowing your body to relax.
A Few of my Fav’s for my Tea Ritual Time
My favorite green tea is Gyokuro, which unfortunately is rather expensive, being that it is a Japanese tea that comes from the first spring harvest each year. I find it to be mild, rich, slightly sweet and with creamy undertones. Because of its price, I tend to drink it less frequently and savor the experience when I do.
My everyday green tea choice is a Chinese tea called Young Dragon Hyson. It is a robust variety with hints of lemon. Note that one Hyson tea is not necessarily the same as another. Where the tea is grown, when and how it is harvested as well as the processes used after harvest can make dramatic differences in the flavor of the tea. The picture below is of me picking tea leaves at Gorreana Tea Plantation in Sao Miguel, one of the islands of the Azores. This was such an incredible experience. The owner of the plantation took us out into her tea fields, walked us through the production process in the factory and then invited us to take tea in her home. I have to say it was one of the highlights of last year’s Travel to Transform International Retreat.
I am fortunate to have found a wonderful little tea shop - Churchill’s Fine Teas located in Findlay Market in downtown Cincinnati. This is where I buy almost all of my tea. Now that I am no longer working the corporate job in Cincinnati and rather work from my home in Louisville, I am thankful that they do have an online store and have had orders shipped several times already. If you don’t have a wonderful local tea shop in your area, I highly recommend them.
Back to favorite teas. Another unique favorite of mine is Milk Silk Oolong. This tea comes from the Wu Yi mountain region of China. It is harvested at a specific time of year and after the leaves begin to wither they are heated in milk steam. It gives this tea a luscious sweet, creamy flavor that I find delightful. These leaves are manually rolled and dried, which also makes the process of brewing a bit captivating to watch, as you can slowly see the tea leaves begin to unfurl. As a result of the nature of its production process, it too is a little pricey, but oh so worth it for an occasional cup.
The last favorite I’ll share with you is the rooibos blend I spoke of earlier. I tend not to be drawn to teas with a strong fruity flavor, but the rooibos blend that I can’t live without is called Berry Muffin. It contains dried super berries, blueberries, cranberries and blackberries and is naturally slightly sweet and creamy. As an extra plus, the aroma is so amazing - the smell of fresh baked berry muffins!
I hope you have enjoyed our tea time here together. Don’t hesitate to reach out to me with any questions, suggestions or to just chat about tea. I’d love to hear your favorites and am sure the rest of the Kula would love any suggestions as well. Please take a moment to share yours in the comments section below. And now, I think I’ll go make another cup of tea…