When you’ve lived in the same home for thirty years — one of those homes with a lot of nooks and crannies — you tend to accumulate things. If you’re a tea person and a great percentage of your treasures are tea and teaware, then I would like to offer a suggestion: Pack up all your tea things when you are alone and have time to savor the experience. Mark your boxes so that you can easily sort them out but make it a secret code. Why, you ask?
The first reason is that a non-tea-person will never understand the need for the number of teapots you absolutely need. And if you accept assistance from a tea-person-friend, you’ll be drinking tea and telling stories so much that you’ll never get finished. But the real reason I suggest this as a solo meditation is that there is so much to learn about yourself as you sort through your life history in tea.
For example, I hadn’t really previously put into words why I keep the cup that Catherine made for me. It has a crack and leaks. But I haven’t seen Catherine for about 35 years. That was back when we were ceramic students in art school, studying tea in San Francisco’s Chinatown. The cup reminds me of her almost every day; even when I don’t actually sip tea from it. One day it will break completely. But, as I pack it carefully, double-boxed, I remember the many cups of tea we shared. There are other chipped, cracked, and broken pieces that I keep. And you? Do you toss them or glue broken bits back together?
Catherine’s cup. She loved for her art to tell stories.
Jenna’s teapot. I interited it and love it, crack and all. Her favorites were oolongs and she loved to be able to pull the basket out to touch the wet leaves.
When it comes to all the packages of tea, I have the habit of not being able to use the last few grams – the last infusion. “What are you going to do with these?” my moving helper asked. So, I created a rule for myself; if I opened the packets and there was still aroma, then I infused it. Anything else became mulch around my transplanted roses. The practice proved beyond doubt that the craft of aging teas requires much more care than just hoarding old teas. But don’t expect anyone else to understand. The real reason was that one of my teachers, Roy Fong, challenged me to develop my “taste” sensory memory. I save those last bits with the intention of ordering them again and comparing the differences every year. This actually inspired the suggestion to tea collectors to have a “moving day” every year. It’s a good practice when the saved packets are still fresh enough.
Now I will confess, I actually love the questions from my non-tea friends.
Why don’t you pack white teas and dark teas together?
They were concerned that some of my clear plastic tubs weren’t full.
You can combine them and then have more space for . . .
NO! Don’t do that. Don’t put that Lapsang Souchong in with the Jasmine Pearls. My sense of taste memory kicked in as I imagined the blended flavor of those two dominant teas.
What are these knives and pokey bamboo tools for?
Opening bing cha cakes. Would you like to see?
Why are there no handles on these tiny little teacups?
How many books on tea are there?
Do you really use different teapots for different kinds of tea? WHY?
Why is tea so important to you?
Cleaning out the cupboards and touching every piece of teaware and every collected memory actually challenges and renews tea for me. My first jaw-dropping, ah-ha moment with tea was the realization that someone had plucked each leaf of a whole-leaf tea by hand. Someone worked very hard so that I could have this experience. Another reason I saved so many almost-empty packets of tea was to remember them. As I get older I find myself keeping more physical reminders to jog the memories. Now, moving day is overwhelming.
What is “too much” tea?
It is an overwhelming sense of gratitude for all the people with whom tea has helped me connect in deep and enduring ways. You may regularly and frequently hear me say that “tea is more than a beverage.” I encourage you to schedule a moving day with your tea. Even if your tea collection leans toward teabags and more big-name brands, there is something to learn from the direction your taste buds take you. If you love Constant Comment, do you know the story of Ruth Bigelow and how much she inspired tea in the U.S.? Do you know some of the other tea families, like the Harneys, where several generations continue to write our history? Do you know if some of the small tea sellers have made it through this last challenging year?
I’m grateful for all the wonderful gifts of teaware and tea that I’ve received. On moving day, especially in this time of pandemic isolation and change, I’m mostly grateful for the connections with people around the world who are part of creating this enduring tapestry of tea culture around the world. I hope you are “moved” by your teas.
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