Sunday, June 27, 2010


"In meditation, go deep in the heart.
In dealing with others, be gentle and kind."
-Tao Te Ching #8

It's often easy to forget that at the times, I've been the lesser grounded individual. It's often easy to leave it behind me that there were others along the way who cleared the brush until I knew my bearing without the aid of a gentle road at my feet. I feel it in my toes now wherever I walk. I can see the shift of the wind and the groans of a tired man, so wrapped up in his work that thirty years later, in his time for repose, the memories of pulling bodies from blazes has worn on his tolerance. Even on his best days, screaming children, in all their innocence, can become a nuisance to him. I can see how men get wrapped up in dreams and forget to turn off the lights when they leave the room. All these things I understand fully well, but I often have to remind myself to have the consistent patience to approach them with kindness.

My recent return to written word came about with a post on Unknown Soldiers; tea without a name. The many unidentified samples that sit in my cupboard, waiting for their turn to dance with the kettle, gleaning enough information for me to get an idea of where they came from. Sometimes, it's just not enough to know for sure. The agony of the leaves unfurling piques my interest, as they eventually, with enough force push the lid of the teapot upward. During each pour, I carefully balance the pot atop the chahai so every last drop finds it's way to me. This process, one of the few I follow as carefully as I used to count down the seconds, is a reminder of patience. By not rushing, my next cup won't brew prematurely; there won't be unnecessary bitterness waiting for me at the bottom of the cup. The empty pot can now rest and the steam reminds the leaves during early infusions that it's time to wake up.

This Unknown Soldier, a gift from Brett @ Teacup in Seattle, came to me in a small brown bag, with a kindly written postcard. An oolong of sorts, but that's as much as I care to read into it tonight. I'm on my third straight session with it, which means I must be enjoying myself. The postcard, which, at the time, knew the history of this tea, disappeared somewhere during the move last September. So, I've got another mystery at my hands, but I'm beginning to enjoy this, in the way we often find ourselves spilling, to strangers, the stories we dare not share with our loved ones. Some years ago, on a trip to Paris, I met a girl at the airport. She and I spent the entire afternoon at a park near the hotel, watching children play and gutting ourselves out. Perfect strangers, but perfect for each other in that moment.

So, on meditation and kindness, where does that leave us? I tend to think about a lot of things as they relate to my life as a father. Tonight, Grace had another bout with not wanting to sleep. I had to fix a scheduling mistake today created by someone else. After reminding them to take a look at it, instead of acting, they forgot about the conversation, and failed to take care of the issue. After an hour of my time spent making the necessary arrangements, my child had gotten bored and fallen asleep. I was hoping to keep her awake until bedtime, but by now, she was beyond waking, even with my best attempts. Three cheers for late naps. She woke up in a great mood, but I knew bedtime would be rough. After several failed attempts at putting her down, she began to cry, saying she didn't want to go to bed. All I could do was hold her and remind her that it's okay to cry; that it's okay to be frustrated and upset, and in the brutal honesty of a child's emotions, the only thing to do is deal with it in the here and the now. At her age, she isn't concerned with yesterdays or tomorrows; she's seeking comfort for what she feels right now. The act of laying next to her until she is carried off to sleep; the gentle words reminding her that it's going to be okay. Simple problems merit simple solutions and this doesn't just apply to dealing with children. From the day we're born, we learn that crying elicits a response from those who look after us. As we get older, we're all still crying, just in a more complex string of notes.

Brett, whatever this tea is, thank you. It just may keep me company until morning.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Ten Toes

Right now, ten small toes attached to two little legs are draped across my lap. My child, nearing three years of age, sleeps on the couch instead of her own bed. She sleeps soundly, regardless of the events of the day. The ups and downs that brought her to this point no longer matter and fatigue took hold hours ago. She cried from her own bed tonight, saying simply "Daddy, I want to sleep near you tonight." My tongue is tingling from the Lao Mansa I've been drinking for the past hour. I picked it up from Norbu earlier this year and am finally getting around to drinking it. It's young, but smooth. It reminds me a lot of the Six Famous Tea Mountains YiWu Millenial Tea Tree from 2006 when that was maybe a year old.

There is a slow kid across the hall from me, and like clockwork, I hear him going out for his midnight jog. He's picked up a couple of my habits and the woman who looks after him (presumably his grandmother) has thanked me a couple of times, saying she's happy to see him running instead of sitting inside all day. At first, he would run to the end of the complex and come back home. On movie nights, I started timing him with my phone, but decided it's more fun to time him by the number of cigarettes any one of my friends smokes between the time he leaves and the time he returns. A sort of silent tally I keep to myself. First it was one, then two, and now three, and who knows where it will stop, so long as we can keep the air filled with enough conversation to keep us on the porch.

Much of my life has been in reverse: Decent paying job before finishing college, child before marriage, tea in the evening and water in the morning. It makes me curious as to the way many of my friends sleep well into the afternoon and go to bed as the sun is coming up. Time is relative, and the sequence of events might not be the more important piece when compared to having had the experiences themselves. One thing I am well certain of; these late nights are my time, and without them, I begin to lose something vital.

'Consistency' is the word that comes to mind. Just the way I can be sure the kid across the hall will go for his run, headphones blaring as he runs past my picture window; just the way I can be sure someone will open my fridge looking for a beer; just the way I can be sure my child will fight sleep unless I've done my best to wear her out; just the way I need these nights to stabilize after the day. Every scenario comes with people looking to find something, whether it be a healthier lifestyle, an altered state of mind, not wanting to miss a moment of discovery, or the capacity to balance a sloped lifestyle.

Those same ten toes, now wiggling as my child dreams, will be the toes that will help her keep her balance. The smallest of essential things. Just as these nights are my tipping point, to remember that being flexible with others is okay, so long as it is reciprocal. Are those I'm making myself available for making themselves as easily available when I am in need of council? Are those I'm sacrificing my time for making an equal sacrifice of time? All of these things, just so I can sleep, express, and make decisions as easily as a child, without bias or ego.

Thank you Greg for the tea. The leaves are entirely spent, and now produce nothing more than sweet aroma and golden water. Dust off a bing, I feel an order coming on.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Paying Respect at a Funeral

In the pursuit of learning, every day something is acquired.
In the pursuit of Tao, every day something is dropped.
-Tao Te Ching #48

I start this post before I empty the gaiwan from last night, before I rinse the dried leaves from the strainer, and long before I've put the kettle on to boil. I started this post because I wanted to make sure I have mentally committed myself to the tea I will be drinking this evening; that I will choose to put myself into a position where, for the next hour, I will be uninterrupted to enjoy the product of another's hands. Too often, I find myself starting a brew, only to get a phone call or to be pulled away for an errand. After two infusions, the gaiwan gets tucked away and forgotten about. I even forgot about one of them for several days and came back to find mold. I often try to think about pu-erh as a living, breathing entity, because, for what it's worth, it really is.

My mindset on the handling of tea changed recently when I decided to see to a different means of disposing of spent leaf. Since then, not a leaf (aside from fannings lost rinsing a strainer) has found it's way to a plastic bag in my dumpster. I've been careful to lay out the spent leaf to dry it, and then, to give it back to the Earth. It makes me wonder how it is that I can be so careful with this, almost ceremonial task of ensuring these leaves end up under the open skies, yet I allow myself to be so easily distracted at a time when the tea still has something to say. How many times have you heard someone explain the way we learn to drink tea? How many times have you heard something about having a conversation with the tea? Even while listening, it often takes multiple sessions before you really understand how to get a particular tea to work for you. Sure, we all have our methodologies; favourite brewing vessels, water preferences, steaping times, and the like, but I've found that I enjoy tea more when I don't count out the infusions.


It takes away some of the magic, constantly being worried about timing this and grams that. To just know when to pour, to know when to pinch out a little leaf, or exactly what colour the soup should be to yield perfection to your tastebuds. I'd opt for the latter. The day my electronic scale started acting up, I can assure you I was more frustrated than when I found out someone had stolen my credit card number. At least with the credit card, I could call the bank, close the card, get a temp issued, and file an investigation. With the scale, I stood there, repeatedly pushing the one menacing, silver button. This multi-faceted button controls the power, the units of measurement, and even zeroes the tare weight! Yet, here I am, helpless to weigh my leaf, helpless to convert ounces to grams because the damned thing is trying to do too much. I believe the definition of insanity is something to the tune of repeating a process in hopes of a different result, and most of the time, it pegged me insane. Oh, but every once in a while, the button worked, and gave me hope that my tea would be perfectly measured every time.

That was a long time ago. I have since given up on such madness, and if anyone can come up with a creative way to destroy the confounded device, I'll happily record a video and post it here.

Regardless, the point is to do what works for you; to do what allows you to enjoy it the most. For me, I'd much rather take the cake, pry off the amount that feels like what I want to drink, and start there.

You can say you know a person two different ways. Anyone who has read the Little Prince will immediately know what I mean, but if you haven't, let me give you an example. You can say your friend makes $71,000 a year, lives in a three-story house with beautiful red bricks, and weighs 165lbs. You can even say they have studied at Harvard.

On the flip side, you can know the way your friend laughs and thinks, you can know know the colour of their hair and be reminded of them every time you see it in nature. You can share things that cannot be measured with charts, science, and reason (or madness...they're pretty much the same thing anyhow).

I this point, maybe six, eight...ten (???) infusions into this tea, but as I get back up to refill the kettle, I always think. Tonight, this is what hits me:

When you spend your life in the company of an individual and the time comes that they should pass on, you can be honoured enough to speak on their life, or their character. I ask you now, how would you rather know them then?

The thing I have learned is the thing I will let go of.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Yunnan Sourcing Copycat

Around the community of tea enthusiasts, many, if not all of you have had the pleasure of doing business and getting to know Scott Wilson from Yunnan Sourcing. Just in case you haven't heard, I wanted to put this out for everyone to see. There is a company who has made almost a perfect clone of his shop with similar layout and products. They have even stolen images and verbatim descriptions of the teas and wares Scott has for sale. Having gotten to know a decent number of sellers over the past few years, I am well aware that there is a lot of hard work put in to keep it together. This is the kind of hard work that allows us to enjoy teas that, in many cases, aren't available to the Western World. I'm happy to say that I have reputable sources to purchase the teas I drink every day and share with my loved ones.

The site that is copycatting his is called can be found here.

Many of us rely on people with reputable track records to ensure that the products we purchase are of quality, are well stored, and legit. It makes me question the foundation of a company who can't be bothered to take their own pictures and write up their own descriptions. If it's their product, why wouldn't they want to? The tea community deserves better than this. Thoughts?