In mindfulness practice, one of the keys to expanding the ability of mind is to pay attention to the thoughts, feelings and sensations experienced by the mind and body in the present moment. One way to do this is by being present during simple tasks and activities. As both a tea enthusiast and a mindfulness practitioner, I often use tea as a meditative practice. I find Gongfu cha style brewing to be the best for this as it slows the experience and allows the mind and body to be still with the tea. I prefer to use a nice green, white, or lightly oxidized oolong for my practice as these are relatively close to the original state of the tea plant and therefore closer to the natural world (although any tea will work).
In mindfulness meditation, when a thought or feeling arises, it is important that the mind does not judge it, but rather observes it without aversion or attachment. Similarly, when practicing while drinking tea, it is important not to judge aromas, tastes or textures but observe them without aversion or attachment. In traditional Buddhist teachings, aversion and attachment are two of the three poisons that keep sentient beings trapped in samsara (the cycle of death and rebirth).
Through mindfulness in my tea drinking, I’ve noticed my mind often wanders to the anticipation of the next cup or the next sip even though I’ve not yet finished the current one. This takes away from my experience and brings me out of the present moment and out of the true enjoyment of the tea. This habit can also be noticed in the experience of eating. When you take a bite, are you really focusing on the tastes and textures of what is in your mouth or are you anticipating what the next bite will taste like? By focusing the mind and body on the current sip of tea, it is much more possible for subtle nuances to be noticed and enjoyed.
Mindfulness of tea should go beyond the tea table; pay attention to how the tea affects your body after you finish the session. What are the qualities of the cha qi? Does it make you jittery? Calm? Anxious? How does it affect your productivity and focus? Noting these things brings you closer to your body and helps you determine when and if you should consume the tea again and how you should consume it.
It is beneficial to note and remember what kind of environment the tea came from, how it was produced and who produced it. The energy that goes into the tea could help determine its effect on the body and mind. An organic tea grown in a mineral rich environment under the care of skilled farmers and processors is going to have a more positive affect on the body and mind than one grown in an unsustainable way by underpaid and unhappy workers.
Both tea and mindfulness have been proven to relieve stress and improve health. Even if you aren’t a mindfulness practitioner, drinking tea while being present to the experience in the present moment can be very interesting and allows you to notice subtle flavors, aromas, and textures in the tea at all stages of brewing. It can even allow you to notice subtle feelings and emotions that the tea induces.
Mindful tea drinking allows for the mind to enjoy the tea in its true form and opens the mind to relax, being with the tea in the present moment. Regardless of your purpose for drinking tea, remember to slow down and truly enjoy your cup every once in awhile.