The art of tea


One of my favorite books for picking up and reading random passages is The Book of Tea by Kakuzo Okakura. It’s a wonderful book with titles like “The Cup of Humanity” and “Flowers.” A slim book, it discusses tea thoroughly and intimately. He covers the tao of tea as well as its preparation and serving. He says tea “has not the arrogance of wine, the self-consciousness of coffee, nor the simpering innocence of coca.”

He ties the drinking of tea into the development of civilization. In fact, he maintains the correct appreciation of tea is one of the most civilized things a person can do.

Okakura raises tea to the sublime. He stresses its importance and how slowing down to properly brew and appreciate it can change our consciousness.  He’s an eloquent, if at times a bit over-the-top writer. He writes, “when we consider after all how small the cup of human enjoyment is, how soon overflowed with tears, how easily drained to the dregs in our quenchless thirst for infinity, we shall not blame ourselves for the tea-cup.”

He covers teas beginnings In China, where it was mainly medicinal.  Modern nutritionists are now recognizing  the health benefits of green tea. Studies have shown its powerful antioxidants help lower cholesterol, prevent diabetes and stroke and may help stave off dementia.

Tea rituals in Japan had a practical beginning: to keep the monks awake during meditation. From there it evolved into a beautiful ceremony with meaning imbued into the brewing, pouring and sipping of tea. Okakura stresses the artistic aesthetic of the tea ceremony.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about things I’ve incorporated into my life from other countries and a love of tea definitely came from China. I lived in southern China and so much of daily life took place after dark when a breeze blew off the South China Sea. In the evenings I would sit with friends and drink green tea from different parts of the country. Dragon Well tea that grew near Shanghai. Pu’er cha from Yunnan province in the southwest. Every session became a lesson in geography as well as a time to compare and contrast teas from different regions.

I still love tea. And it’s true, When carefully brewed and enjoyed with all the senses, it does become a kind of meditation.

It looks like this internet site has the entire book: The Book of Tea.



2 thoughts on “The art of tea

  1. Thank you for the review, and the link to the book. It sounds very interesting, though I have read some texts on tea. In my youth, I didn’t appreciate it that much. I was a coffee drinker… and only drank tea when I was ill. But eventually I started appreciating it. And it is my major hot drink these days.

  2. I’ve just learned a little bit about making fresh masala chai, taking lessons in the kitchen from my Bhutanese friend Sangay. My main issue is looking away from the pot, which always seems to boil over at the very second my attention is diverted. Milk, a handful of sugar, a handful of black tea, a teaspoon of ground masala spices…and, maybe, if you are hard core, a handful of instant coffee. Yum. Gretchen.

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