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.
I have opened the portal to a more spiritual way of being in the world and there’s no going back only forward.
This past year I chased meridian spots all over Taiwan. A meridian spot is a Feng Shui portal of energy that directly links to the universe. They are quite difficult to find. Only a Feng Shui master can locate such powerful energy. So, my Feng Shui teacher and mentor Joey Yap led a spiritual excursion to Taiwan so we could all experience this powerful energy and shift our Qi. It truly changed me and I had no clue it would happen.
The idea of finding your own quiet space in time in the midst of city noise and people chatter is so important. You can find it in a remote mountain village outside Taipei or you can even create it within your own home. I suggest a focal point of energy in your home with a shrine or altar. It doesn’t have to have religious or cultural, it just has to be your personal space of meaning and empowerment. Start a morning ritual of prayer and focus. I like to light incense, sit with my back to the Qi Men Dun Jia direction of the day (you can get this information from my Google Calendar I created) and do a brief meditation to set your intentions of the day. For an added boost I surround myself with highly charged sentient quartz crystals for protection. Then I seal this energy in with a finger snap and go on with my day.
After my week in Taiwan I continued temple hopping in Laos which was on my bucket list. I had gotten the hang of lighting incense (my hair smelled like sandalwood for months) and saying prayers and Laos offered some of the most magical spots although not meridian spots. One of my favorite temples was actually a large cave along the Mekong River. The sacred Pak Ou Cave (above) is home to a thousand Buddha statues and it is here where fishermen have placed all sizes of statues made from wood, metal, plaster and even plastic over many decades for good fortune. The shrine pictured above is only the small altar, the cave is amazing and a must-see if you are in Laos.
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.
A ritual of initiating every grand trans-global adventure with a purchase is my secret to shopping for nirvana. You have to make an investment otherwise you’ve got nothing at stake. At the famous Gem Palace in Jaipur, 7th generation jeweler to Moghul Emperors Sanjay Kasliwal held up a pair of sparkling diamond earrings and said to me, “If these don’t bring you nirvana I have bigger ones!”
I did not purchase the diamonds, but I did come away with gorgeous citrine drop earrings that I treasure to this day. Later that evening Sanjay took me to a Durga Festival and invited me to dine at his ‘private’ table in the uber chic Rambagh Palace. After a yummy Indian meal, bottles of champagne where shared on the veranda with a young couple from London who flew over to have Sanjay design their engagement and weddings rings. You must stop in at the famous Gem Palace when in Jaipur, because it’s a museum of history. See the sign-in book from Jackie Kennedy Onassis’ visit. Ogle at the priceless gem stones. Watch the jewelers cutting semi-precious stones. It is a very special experience in the pink city.
There’s always time for chai. The word chai means tea so if you are ordering what we call chai in the West – it is called masala in India. In India, chai was the only street food I dared try (I figured it is made from boiling water.) There was no set price, just pay whatever you desire. There is a tea component to everything you do from shopping to dining. Between 1660-1857 tea was the main export by the East India Company. Today, India is the second-largest producer of tea. Once I tasted fresh Indian tea, I was hooked.
Know your Indian tea:
Assam – largest tea producing region Darjeeling – champagne of black teas Masala – black tea spiced with cardamon and ginger
All the Tea in China
Tea is a Chinese tradition enjoyed throughout the day, but when the Brits arrived in Hong Kong they introduced “afternoon tea” where black tea is served with milk and sugar. One of the most fascinating books that brings clarity to the entire Chinese tea tradition is “For All the Tea in China.” It tells the tale of British horticulturist Robert Fortune and how he was sent undercover in 1848 to China to steal their tea growing secrets and bring cuttings to India for the East India Company.
According to Thai tradition, Buddhas or phra phim are never bought or sold, only rented. These little charms encased inside clear boxes or frames caught my attention while getting lost on the back streets of Bangkok. The over stimulation of too many people living life out on the streets, mixed with the yummy smell of sizzling pan fried noodles, almost distracted me from noticing the wizened Thai man and his makeshift card table. Setting up shop on the street, he proudly displayed his spiritual wares. His prized possessions seemed to be phra phim, which I had never seen before. In chopped English he explained that they were passionately traded or “rented” – if the price was right. A person was only the temporary custodian of the each pieces’s magic and I found that detail very interesting. The charms were so intricate and beautiful and when I turned one over, I saw a tiny tolled up scroll set inside. It seemed that each piece contained a sacred script and magical drawing. Apparently, only charms blessed by monks are said to be powerful protection. Sometimes they are used for love – he winked at me. But mostly soldiers, taxi drivers and other high-risk professions are the true believers.