Tea is a way of connecting. Drinking tea is one of my favorite rituals.
You might call me a “tea snob” because I have come to love tea and am pretty picky about it too. It wasn’t always this way. Years ago I attended a tea event at my friend’s chic tea import store on La Brea in Los Angeles. Owner Gail Baral was my guide to all-things tea. How to make it, what to eat with it, and which countries did it come from. I got hooked. Drinking tea all day works for me because the buzz from tea is a smooth uplifting constant as opposed to coffee which can be a roller coaster of ups and downs. At least, that was how Gail explained it to me many years ago.
I learned to brew loose leaf tea. I studied different tea regions like Darjeeling in India and Ceylon in Sri Lanka. I enjoy a strong black Aasam tea during the day and calming Chinese green tea in the evening. More importantly I experienced tea rituals through global travels.
In Europe, it is common to add milk. This came about because in the early days of tea arriving from the East India Trading Company it was low quality so milk made it taste better. The highest quality was super expensive and saved only for the rich. Today in India adding milk is the norm. Usually it is a hot steamed milk or even ground spices are added calling it masala tea. BTW did you know that the word chai means tea, so when you ask for a chai tea, you are asking for tea tea?
What really took me over the edge understanding tea was when my friend in London, Pete Hendricks, suggested I read one of his favorite books, “For All the Tea in China: How England Stole the World’s Favorite Drink and Changed History” by Sarah Rose. Based on journal notes and historic events of Scottish botanist Robert Fortune who was sent to steal the crop from deep within China and bring it back to British plantations in India, it reads like adventure fiction. The odyssey of this tall Scottish man who went undercover in 1848 pretending to be from Northern China (because Northern Chinese are taller) is a fascinating read. One of my favorite books.
The art of negotiating always takes on a tea component throughout Asia, especially in Bali. Traveling to the small craft town Tenganan in East Bali with my friend Robert in 2000 I witnessed a master class. Tenganan is famous for beautiful baskets handmade according to ancient techniques with a smokey scent. They are said to be so sturdy they last a hundred years. Robert was there to purchase baskets for a client in Sweden. When we reached the village I stood back to watch him work his magic. Like the ancient art of tea, the ancient art of shopping has important lessons too. Don’t talk business before making friends and sharing a cup of tea. Bicker about the price then have another cup of tea. Finally, meet in the middle so everybody walks away happy. And then of course there’s a final cup of tea to seal the deal.
If you are already a tea drinker, enjoy. If not, maybe you will give it a try. I have found tea to be so much more than a hot drink and it’s always “tea time!” My favorite new find is Steven Smith Tea from Portland. Their flavor combinations is superb whether loose leaf or sachets. Try Mao Feng Shui or Portland Breakfast! Cheers!
Spirit begins with prayer and what better way to speed up that communication then lighting incense. Smoke is the vehicle that dispatches your wishes and dreams to the universe,
Incense is a powerful tool dating back 6000 to 8500 years to ancient Hindu texts or Vedas. The trend took off spreading to Greece and Rome when Babylonians wafted incense sticks during prayers. Did you know that peddlers along the Silk Route turned incense sales into big business when various techniques, multiple flavors, and a variety of styles became accessible?
The famous trade route changed its name to the Incense Route.
What I have learned from trips to China, Southeast Asia and India is that they have an innate understanding that everything is connected. Life is full of spirit. Sacred objects, ritual and meditation are their daily routine. Everyone has at least one shrine or altar and possibly more. Buddha and Quan Yin greet their guests in China. Lakshmi and Ganesh remove obstacles in India. Incense is wafted everywhere. Dragons are power symbols and Lucky Cats bring good fortune to businesses. To me, it’s about living every day in a spiritual way.
Here I am above at the famous Jain Temple in India. I had been sporting a bindi dot on my forehead since I arrived and it was not easy keeping it on. I tended to forget I had it and smeared it across my face hourly as sweat dripped down my face from the extreme heat of the desert. One of my favorite rituals throughout India was getting a red string tied around my wrist that came along with a priest blessing and a red dot on my forehead that I got from anyone willing to give me one. I also bought a packet of decorative bindi dots. And a lady at lunch one day gave me her packet of glittery bindi dots, seeing as I was so into them. Some folks can pull them off. I am not sure I am one of those. But I loved them anyway.
Wherever I travel throughout the world Fat Happy Buddha is an iconic image. I always thought he was just another version of Buddha, but I was wrong. He is also called Laughing Buddha and is technically a Budai or Chinese deity. Budhai means “cloth sack” and that’s because he carries his worldly possessions in a sack tossed over his shoulder. He also carries good luck beads and a money gourd aka hulu or wu lou – that brings wealth and prosperity. No wonder he is honored and adored all over Asia. But really, who is he?
Laughing Buddha aka Po-tai Ho-shang was an eccentric monk who lived between the 6th and 10th century. Neighbors knew him from his fat belly, bald head, robe and prayer beads. He was considered a good man of loving character, poor yet content, discovering the Buddha within himself. He did so many good deeds during his lifetime that when he died he rose to bodhisattva status (deity who attains enlightenment but remains in human form to help others) and was renamed Budai.
How to recognize him?
As opposed to Buddha statues which tend to be thin figured, Laughing Buddha has a fat tummy, bald head and happy grin. Sometimes he carries a bag of wealth. Sometimes he carries your bag of troubles, which he has collected for you. When he was a monk traveling from village to village handing out candy to poor children, he asked only for a penny in return. That is why when you find a Buddha with children climbing all over him, this is very auspicious and means abundance of good fortune coming from heaven. Happy Laughing Buddha is a lovely statue to display when wanting to attract abundance in life. Go ahead and rub the Buddha belly!
Laughing Buddha reminds us of our capacity to achieve happiness and enjoy the good life.
Sometimes you need a little protection and that’s where Foo Dogs come in handy. Scaring off evil spirits and negativity aimed at thresholds and entrances, they are protectors of truth and defenders against evil. The name comes from the Chinese word “Fu” meaning luck or prosperity.
Foo Dogs gather near temples, palaces, tombs, government buildings, banks, offices and estates. Are they lions or dogs? They have manes, large paws and sharp teeth. At the time they first appeared in China (208 BC to about 221 AD) by way of the Silk Trade Route, Buddhist artisans had never seen a lion. They had only heard of their reputation so they stylized their faces more friendly than fierce.
What you need to know about Foo Dogs is that they hate to be alone. To be effective they work in pairs. One is male, the other female. The “boy” has a ball under one paw. The “girl” has a pup under hers.
If their mouths are closed, they will keep good spirits in the house. Open mouths scare off demons. They are displayed looking away from each other so they don’t get distracted. As you face the doorway, the male sits on the left while the female sits on the right.
Do you know the Chinese god of great luck & large wealth?
In China, they love to gamble (I can tell you this because I have been to Happy Valley Race Track in Hong Kong and the Portuguese gambling island of Macau.) The fu manchu-wearing God of Wealth is who they pray to for all their financial needs. How do we recognize him? First of all, he has that distinctive facial hair. He always wears a crown and usually holds a pot (ingot) of gold. Don’t be fooled. There are so many styles it can make your head spin.
Did you know that incense sends your prayers to heaven?
SPIRIT begins with prayer and what better way to speed up that communication than by lighting incense. SMOKE is the vehicle that dispatches your wishes and dreams to the universe. Incense is a powerful tool dating back 6000 to 8500 years. The trend took off spreading to Greece and Rome when Babylonians wafted incense sticks during prayer. What you need to know is that true pratitioners of magic use only powdered incense for magic – other types just smell good.
Here’s my guide:
Sandalwood – Real Indian sandalwood is pure magic. It vibrates with Ganesh to remove obstacles, bless new beginnings, and attract prosperity.
Dragon’s Blood – Dragon’s aren’t real, silly. This plant resin is a powerful remover of negative energy.
Francinsense – Another plant resin used in churches to create a sacred space.
Sage – American Indian tool to protect against evil. Use with caution because it clears the energetic slate but then you have to add positive energy back with other incense.
Nag Champa – A masala incense that makes your home smell hippie dippie.
Vanilla – The sex bean of a plant that stimulates sensual energy