This post – my first for T Ching – is being written in our tea shop early in the evening of May 21, a day that a Doomsday group has predicted the world will end. If I’m going to my rapture, it will be with a great cup of tea in my hand; there are worse ways to go. Personally, I’m betting on things continuing more or less as they were yesterday, and the day before that, and the day before that – navigating a seemingly random current of life’s ups and downs that sometimes has a sense of urgency, but rarely enters the realm of the catastrophic – punctuated by frequent tea breaks.
There have been times in the past when tea commanded this type of attention and frequently changed the world. Entire countries were altered to accommodate better the growing of tea. Empires rose and fell on the fates of their tea production and trade, fortunes were made and lost, cultures advanced or stagnated, and the power of tea held its own with many of the world’s religions and political dynasties. Ironically, today the historic symbolism of the importance of tea (absent the actual product) has been adopted by a political group in the United States that traces its inspiration back to historical events surrounding tea taxation and a harbor in Boston in 1773. In other countries, tea (the product) seems to be alternately coddled or kicked around, depending on shifting national growth projections and the importance of other emerging industries. Maybe tea needs to plan a comeback?
As Jin Xuan oolong tea leaves float gently in my cup, the clock ticks past 6:00 PM and the world isn’t wobbling, creaking, or splitting open and swallowing the shop. A family sitting at a table up front is trying to work out the logistics of their summer vacation, while a couple at the next table shares a pot of tea as they read from his and hers digital tablets. Tea may not have saved the world, but for many people, communing with tea has made the day a little better and will continue to do so the next day, and the day after. It’s a lot to ask for from a drink of leaves soaked in hot water, yet it has carried on as a daily ritual in some parts of the world for almost 5,000 years. A deceptively simple gift in a cup.
So at least until 2012, when the Mayans take their turn at world-ending calamity, enjoy your tea moments.