My wife and I have found great delight in introducing our grandson to the ritual of tea. Green, strawberry, or black with lots of milk, Davis is enthralled with all the tea families and takes great pleasure in pouring the tea from his tiny teapot into his porcelain cup with the giraffe handle. He gives the monkey-handled cup to Pop-Pop (that’s me).
Never mind that much of the tea flows down the giraffe’s neck and into the saucer before he can halt the pour; these are skills that will come as his small hands coordinate with his eyes and brain. For now, we are thrilled that Davis is in love with his budding tea ritual.
The ritual of tea, in its myriad forms, has been re-enacted for over a thousand years. In 8th century China, Lu Yu wrote a ten-chapter book, Cha-Ching, with the fifth chapter devoted entirely to instructions on making tea.
The formalized tea ceremony was instituted in Japan by the 15th century; England was enamored with its own unique tea ceremony – before cakes and scones – in the 17th century; and, by the 1770s, Bostonians were steeping a rebellion over their passion for tea.
Even with this long history of tea devotion, I am frequently asked what’s driving America’s current love affair with tea. I often suggest that our modern lives are too cluttered and the art of making tea has an innate ability to remove us from the mundane and lead us to the profound.
Throughout the steps of tea-making, tea becomes our teacher. In the act of heating water, the kettle makes us wait.
In the act of steeping tea, the teapot teaches us patience.
In the act of waiting for the tea to cool in the cup, our minds are stilled and we become aware of those around us.
In the ritual of making tea, we re-discover our humanity which has become obscured in the midst of a life that is often moving too fast and filled with too much.
As important as reading and math, the skill of making tea is one of the disciplines I want to teach my grandson. I hope that Davis will carry his tea ritual into his college dorm. I trust that, like his Pop-Pop, he will someday sit at a London tea table sharing stories with new friends from around the world or pass a bowl of matcha in a centuries-old tea hut in Kyoto, or hand his teacup to a garden manager in the shade of eucalyptus tree on a mountain in Darjeeling. I find assurance in knowing that he will find fellow tea ritualists all along life’s incredible journey.
This is my advice for Davis—and all students of tea: Keep practicing your pouring and nurturing your tea ritual because oh, the places you will go, the teas you will drink, the people you will meet and the memories you will keep!
This article first appeared in TeaTime magazine, May 2017.
Bruce Richardson is the editor of Children’s Tea & Etiquette and many other books available from Benjamin Press.