The Eternal Restorer
Leaves and Time
Whatever the name, the style, or the space in which it is served, tea has always been a great panacea of sorts. Restorer and eternal fuel, the ‘all-seeing-leaf’ has been a commodity and currency like no other. It is perhaps in its most informal of forms and settings that its soft power has exuded the most influence in my own life. Places where it is grown, understood, served up straight and direct, and treated as a family member, where tea (for me at least) is at its utter apex of divine and simple appeal. An encompassing social lubricant embodying a kind of ideal offering of time and of (even if briefly) a sanctuary; either of one’s own making, or one of others construction. Some of the best cups of tea in my life, haven't necessarily been the best cups of tea.
There as a tonic in my young life in a Hungarian-infused kitchen, and onwards through mentors in Taiwan, China, and Japan, it has relentlessly been there too as a convener and conveyor of transformative moments. Through a decade and a half of living in Asia it was tea's informality rather than anything esoteric elements which developed a deeper impression of tea upon me. Whether served informally in jars, offered up out of sacred clay vessels, poured syrupy sweet into miniscule cups with cardamom, offered up in pungent buttery form in a billowing nomad’s tent, or delicately placed in front of me in a centuries-old fired bowl by a master, it always came back to the offering. Inevitably, the most satisfying tea sessions rarely involved the best teas. It was about the context and the company…or the lack of.
It is one of the most of democratic of ancient currencies, and at its source it is still a thing of simple nourishing stimulant, there for all,at any time, demanding only attention to the time it takes to prepare it.
The tea’s of remarkable simplicity, the fresh raw ‘sheng’ big leaf material of Tea Horse Road fame and of the deepest south of Yunnan Province, Xishuangbanna; these Puerh teas with terroir-driven power inspired me to co-found Jalamteas years ago and it is these teas still, that hold me close.
No better phrase embodies teas’ eternal binding influence and meaning for me, than the Himalayan mantra along portions of the Tea Horse Road, “If a cup of tea isn’t offered, a relationship isn’t offered”.