Thursday, November 4, 2010

Tea Bags - Spiritually Disconnecting You From Your Tea

I was inspired to write this post by reading a thread on LeafBox Tea, started by Peter, titled The 1 Big Reason Why I Think Tea Bags Are Stupid (now available only on archive.org). Something about this discussion sparked me to recall my first semester of college, in which I read some early works by Karl Marx (pre-Communist Manifesto). One thing that jumped out to me as particularly sane and insightful about Marx's philosophical ramblings was the concept that a modern industrial society alienates people from the product of their labor, and that this alienation is on a spiritual level.

Sounds a bit metaphysical and new-agey, right? The concept of "spiritual" is hard to pin down, but I find that it's a useful concept to encompass that deep sort of connected feeling that drives us to feel an experience is filled with meaning and purpose. It's a sort of fulfillment that transcends the sensory world, and it has immense power in terms of motivating people, helping them endure hardship, and helping them to experience potentially difficult personal growth. And I've found, from my personal experience, that when things are spiritually alienating, there's often something wrong on a more concrete level as well. In the spiritual sterile desert of modern life, driven by money and formal structures rather than purpose, we humans succumb to depression, becoming less creative, and becoming less able to cope with the challenges that life inevitably presents us with.

How does this relate to tea? Tea and spirituality have been linked by so many different cultures. The Japanese Tea Ceremony is an ancient, traditional example of this. And Jason Witt, author of Spirituality of Tea also argues, in a more contemporary context, that there is something innately spiritual about tea. I recently read a review of the book "Tea Time with God" on Angela McRae's blog Tea With Friends; that book seems to emphasize the concept of a break or pause, as having spiritual significance. But the modern concept of a tea bag approaches tea differently: as a product, marketed to "consumers": the convenience takes away from the spiritual element.

Tea Bags: Disconnecting You From Your Tea

Pictured below is a tea bag of Floral Jasmine Green from T (www.tealeaves.com). I picked this one to photograph and mention here because it was exceptionally good for a tea bag, but if you read my review you'll find my final question asking whether or not it's really worthwhile to buy good tea in a tea bag.



In the forum thread referenced at the start of this post, Peter remarked that:

...there is something awesome about digging your fingers deep down into a tin of loose, dry tea. The rough texture on your hand really is cool. When you do that, you are feeling the texture of a product that was unchanged from the day it left the farm. How cool is that? You want natural? You want to feel close to the source? Dump your loose tea into a big bowl and dig your dirty fingers down into the bottom of it. Let the tea run out of your hand, watch how it falls. Someone, on a rural farm, may very well have handled your tea in a very similar manner as he or she dumped into a container or packaging. Talk about experiencing your food.


When I read this, it struck me that perhaps the problem with our industrialized food supply is also a spiritual problem. Just as the industrialization of work results in a spiritual alienation of people from the product of their labor, the industralization of our food supply results in a spiritual alienation between the people consuming the food and the food itself, not to mention those who produced it.

There are a lot of tangible problems with the food culture in America--health problems associated with poor nutrition, environmental problems associated with production that is unsustainable ecologically, and a barren culture in which people have forgotten how to taste, how to smell, and have lost the rich food traditions of earlier generations. But are these root problems, or are they symptoms? The concept of spirituality is inherently unifying and is thus empowering and liberating. When we think on a spiritual level, we see that these problems are not isolated, but rather, are all symptoms of one deep problem: we have become disconnected from our food.

Using loose tea rather than tea bags is one way to become reconnected again.

5 comments:

  1. Most of the time I use a Finum Basket Infuser, which I bought from Upton Tea Imports; I also sometimes brew tea loose in a mug with no filter, and also often use a ceramic teapot with a built-in ceramic strainer (both of these work better for whole-leaf teas). Rarely I use a tea ball.

    I have compiled a lot of information on RateTea.net's page on brewing tea--you might find that useful!

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  2. I really enjoyed reading your post for it got me thinking about my own spiritual connection with food, or lack thereof. I've just begun to explore the tea and spirituality connection, and your post has encouraged me to look at everything I consume from a different perspective. Next time I sit down for a meal, I'll be thinking about this post!

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  3. Thanks; I'm glad I am sparking some reflection here! And I just discovered your tea blog, by the way, so thank you for posting!

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  4. I'm with you on this. I was lucky enough to grow up on a farm and most of our food and drink came from it. So many times I miss that connection, but I think I will go and play with some tea and remind myself of it. I think I have mentioned, at least in my blog, how some teas just beg you to run them through your fingers. I especially like to do that with a dragonwell, it feels like silk.
    When I am in the garden, I hate to wear gloves, unless there's something nasty I need protection for. I like the feeling of dirt and plants. I like to pet my critters and feel their muscles and soft spots, to see how each is put together differently.
    I personally don't feel much spirituality in tea, but I understand it. i do, however, appreciate the time to sit and enjoy and learn that comes with many of them.

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