Mindful Tea Drinking promotes mind and body health
Jia Li views the American lifestyle as fast-paced, a “grab-and-go mentality” that revolves around drinking coffee for the caffeine fix and temporary stamina it provides. Jia, who hails from the Yunnan province of China, has one tip for her busy American friends: “Take a moment to slow down a little bit.”
Tea is not only the beverage of choice for Jia, but it is also a lifestyle. Her sense of calm and focus stems from her daily mindfulness practice found through tea. “It harmonizes the body’s natural rhythms and promotes the body’s healing capabilities,” explains Jia. As her father did, she ends each day with a cup of ripe Pu’ erh tea, which calms the mind. It is through a portfolio of nutrients—namely antioxidants and polyphenols—that one can achieve a slew of health benefits “that accelerate prime well-being,” Jia explains. Pu’ erh tea, in particular, has been lauded for its ability to improve heart health and lower cholesterol in addition to aiding in digestion and promoting circulation.
Many locations in the Berkshires—including Fuel, Botanica, Rubi’s, Bizalion’s, Patisserie Lenox, Extra Special Teas, Dottie’s Coffee Lounge, and No. Six Depot—offer loose-leaf teas, as does almost any coffeehouse these days. Green tea is gaining steam as one of the world’s healthiest drinks. In particular the catechins in green tea, antioxidants said to prevent cell damage, are also credited with increasing the body’s ability to burn fat as fuel.
Through her Westborough-based business, Tea Tell Truth, Jia is not only teaching about the ancient origins of tea, but also spreading awareness about the importance of slowing down and resting which might just boost energy and productivity even better than a cup of Joe on the run. Attend one of her tea mindfulness classes at No. Six Depot in West Stockbridge (the next is March 16) or stumble upon one of her tea picnics on the lawn at Tanglewood (this year at Yo-Yo Ma’s performance on August 11), and one thing becomes abundantly clear: Tea culture is a way of life.
“In China, tea is both culture and daily nourishment,” explains Jia, whose love affair with tea began when she was a child living in the mountainous region of southwestern China where tea and tea-drinking traditions were born. Jia grew up in a home where tradition involved welcoming guests with one cup of tea upon their arrival to the family home. She was quite literally steeped in the fact that tea is a great gift from nature—one that acts as a bridge between humanity and the natural world.
Not surprisingly, Jia is passionate about sharing her knowledge of the history, culture and health benefits of tea, in particular, Pu’erh tea, a microbial fermented tea that is rendered naturally caffeine-free through its years of fermentation. Pu’erh tea dates back thousands of years and is named for Pu-er city, the locale from which it was originally sold en route to other countries, namely Tibet. (In the Berkshires, Pu’erh tea is sold at No. Six Depot.)
My daughters and I met Jia at the Berkshire Fermentation Festival last fall. In the midst of vendors selling traditionally fermented foods from kraut and kimchi to kefir and kombucha, we were pleasantly surprised to learn about the proven health benefits of fermented tea including its ability to mitigate obesity, protect the central nervous system, reduce blood sugar, control blood pressure, and regulate cholesterol. Which means taking a moment to imbibe tea is an investment for the body and mind; or, as Jia says, “tea is a powerful remedy for promoting physical and mental health.”
In December, I attended a Tea Mindfulness class at No. Six Depot with my eldest daughter, who is 14. We were invited to focus on brewing tea, smelling the aromas, tasting the natural flavors, and exploring each infusion’s evolution. We were fascinated to learn that the Pu’erh tea’s mineral content is so concentrated that is continues to exude its natural, earthy, wholesome flavor—even after 16 infusions.
As Jia, her mother, and my own daughter took turns preparing the tea ceremony, participants were invited to appreciate sensations ranging from the temperature of the water to the steeping time and varied tea ware—all of which can bring tremendous enjoyment to the process if one takes time to enjoy both the flavors and calming effects of the tea.
In this fast-paced world, sometimes we forget to savor the moment. This is precisely the reason tea mindfulness is so appealing. It is also the moment Jia looks to harness for those who will listen. “Mindfulness has been shown to improve general health, reduce work-related stress, and lead to boosted focus and productivity,” she says. She notes that tea mindfulness is a method that can lead not only to opening new sensations, but also to finding inner peace. The next time you start to slump in the late afternoon, skip the coffee and make time for tea. Close your eyes and feel the cup in your clasped hands. Allow the steam to warm your chin. Breathe. And take Jia’s advice: “Downshifting our lifestyle will help achieve more happiness.” One cup of tea at a time.