It’s incredible to think that the humble tea plant has become so popular that some experts now think it’s second only to water as the world’s most popular drink. But with over 3,000 varieties it’s hard to know where to start if you’re looking for an epicurean tea experience. This workshop for two offers you an introduction to ‘the way of tea’ – the ancient spiritual path that offers unique insights into tea and life itself.
- · 90-minute workshop for two with an expert tea master to guide you on your journey
- · Sharpen your senses and discover subtle new aromas and tastes
- · Explore a plethora of different varieties and combinations of tea
- · Discover the incredible benefits of teas for body, mind and spirit
- · Discover the fascinating history and lore of tea: its cultivation, harvesting and preparation
- · Take home a beautiful glass jar of your favourite tea
Step into the magical world of tea and discover the profound beauty of this very special drink with this private workshop for two. Your expert guide will open the doors to a whole new world of flavour, leaving you with a taste for tea that will last a lifetime.
How it Works:
Pay for the experience you wish to purchase, and we will send a voucher and booking information to you or directly to the recipient. Make sure you check the details before you book your experience.
The Sacred History of Tea
Tea has always been a central pillar of Chinese society. Drunk at weddings and meetings, in temples and board rooms, in the hands of the Chinese, tea has become elevated far above a mere drink to become a ritual of harmony and good relations. Of course, tea has spread all over the world now, and is humanity’s most popular beverage, with over 3 billion cups consumed around the world daily. But the ancient practice of offering tea to guests finds its purest expression in the Chinese tea ceremony, which preserves a unique and fascinating piece of living history that dates back thousands of years.
Origins of tea
Tea comes from the leaves of the camellia plant, which has been growing across China for millennia. There are more than 250 species, but one species, Camellia sinensis var. sinensis, is particularly special, as it is the main species we now grow and process to make white, yellow, green, oolong, red, black and pu-erh teas. This plant originated in Yunnan Province, putting it firmly on the map as the birthplace of tea.
The etymology of the word ‘tea’ also offers insights into its profound importance for Chinese culture. The Chinese word for tea is ‘cha’. Looking at this character in Simplified Chinese offers an insight into the profound spiritual importance of tea. The character, 茶, combines three other characters: the symbol for a plant at the top, the symbol for a person in the middle, and the symbol for a tree at the bottom. This shows that tea connects people and plants in a sacred way, bringing the two together in a relationship of harmony, with the symbol for a tree implying a sense of rootedness and balance.
The origins of the tea ceremony itself go far back in the mists of time to the Chinese Tang dynasty (618-907), when it was considered a refined and elegant drink, consumed only by the wealthiest and most privileged members of society. Throughout the Song dynasty and Yuan era its popularity only grew, until the beginning of the 1500s, by which time tea was being enjoyed by people from all strata of society, whatever their wealth and status. In fact, it was at this time that China developed its reputation as the tea centre of the world , with rare and precious varieties from particular tea-growing regions becoming increasingly sought after as fashion dictated. In fact, many of the teas we love today originated in this period. Tea fever had truly begun.
The Sweetest Dew of Heaven
Tea culture has always been deeply connected with spirituality in China. The first written report of the tea ceremony, from the Tang dynasty around 1200 years ago, highlights the spiritual and religious benefits of this powerful and mysterious plant. Written by ‘the Sage of Tea’ Lu Yu, born in 733 CE, “The Classic of Tea” (“Cha Jing”) was the first known monograph on tea. In it, Lu Yu writes, “tea tempers the spirits and harmonises the mind, dispels lassitude and relieves fatigue, awakens thought and prevents drowsiness, lightens or refreshes the body, and clears the perceptive faculties”, calling tea “the sweetest dew of heaven”.
It’s clear that by Lu Yu’s time, tea was already well established as a medicinal plant. In fact, it had been used for centuries by monks in the temples, who prized its precious phytonutrients to heal body, mind and spirit. The first tea ceremonies embodied the monks’ respect for this incredible plant in particular, and for the wider wonders of nature. This love of and respect for the natural world is woven through the practices of Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism, just as the tea ceremony has also been practised by all these philosophies.
Secrets of the tea ceremony
Luckily for us, the mountain monks did not keep their tea plant secrets to themselves, and over time the tea ceremony spread into wider society until it became not only a religious rite, but a social occasion. Used for celebrations and just as a way of spending time with loved ones, the tea ceremony took on a variety of different forms. Already by the 18th century the Gongfu and Wu-Wo tea ceremonies had become popular, with tea varieties including our modern favourite, Oolong, being skilfully prepared and used to welcome, entertain and show love and respect for guests. These ceremonies are the true antecedents of the modern tea ceremony, which draws tourists from all over the world to China, hoping to discover some of the ancient mental and physical benefits of tea for themselves.
A closer look at the Wu-Wo ceremony can shed some light into the workings of the Way of Tea. This ceremony, whose popularity has spread far beyond the borders of the country where it originated, Taiwan, is deeply spiritual, as the name suggests. ‘Wu-wo’ is a term that comes down from Sanskrit, used by Chinese Buddhists to refer to the Buddha’s famous concept of ‘non-self’ – the idea that nothing exists independently of conditioned existence. All participants come into the tea ceremony as equals, leaving differences in wealth, wisdom, class and race outside, to experience a sense of interconnectedness with each other, and by extension, the entire universe. In experiencing the oneness of all things, participants can gain wisdom or maybe even become enlightened – the records certainly show some monks reaching the highest nirvana thanks to the insights of the tea ceremony. All this from a simple cup of tea!
With the insights of modern science, we now know that the monks of old were right: tea is highly medicinal. Regular tea drinking can reduce cortisol levels, boost the immune system, improve memory and concentration and slow signs of ageing. Tea is packed with antioxidants in the form of polyphenols (flavonoids and catechins), which lower systemic inflammation, a chief cause of illnesses including diabetes, heart disease and cancer. And the holistic, spiritual and integrative benefits of tea extend far beyond what the scientists have discovered so far, as this most ancient of plant medicines still continues to surprise, delight and amaze.
Creating a tea ceremony practice
Nowadays many people, both Chinese and non-Chinese, religious and atheist, still conduct the tea ceremony as a way to experience greater connectedness and groundedness. It’s a wonderful way to bring peace and tranquillity into your day, to connect with those you love, and to enjoy a moment of simple sensual pleasure amid the hustle and bustle of modern daily life. And you can develop a powerful tea practice at home. So where do you start?
- Firstly, you’ll need the correct utensils. You can’t make tea without a teapot, and you can’t drink it without a teacup! Special Chinese tea sets, known as ‘cha dao’, can be purchased in oriental supermarkets, specialised tea shops and online. These range from the simple and affordable all the way up to precious antique sets made from the finest china, jade or gold, encrusted with gems and with a price tag to match. Yixing teapots are highly prized, but a simple porcelain teapot, or chahai, will also suffice. Along with the pot and teacups, you need a tray with a small tray cloth (it’s not polite to forgo the cloth!), and a teaspoon.
- You’ll need to source the correct tea. It should be the finest you can find, ideally organic, and only in leaf form. Oolong is perhaps most widely used, but other varieties such as Pu-erh are also acceptable.
- The water used should also be the purest and cleanest available, to ensure perfect clarity and the most impeccable flavour. The cleanliness of the water also shows a deep respect for nature, a value that is central to the Way of Tea.
The right attitude
So you’ve assembled the perfect tea set, the finest tea leaves and the purest water. It makes sense that the attitude of the participants and the atmosphere of the ritual should also match these ingredients. A tea ceremony is intentional, relaxed and graceful, with a strong sense of aesthetics and a mindful attitude. In conducting the tea ceremony, participants recognise that each bowl of tea is not just a warm and comforting drink, it is a meditation on the interconnectedness of all things, soothing the frazzled mind and bringing clarity and a sense of wonder at the beauty of the universe.
If you want to experience the Way of Tea at home, committing to a daily routine, and therefore committing to a daily act of self-love and care, is the best way to experience tea medicine. Turn off phones and devices, and prepare your tea in silence, paying full attention to every step, every movement. It is less important that you get everything right in terms of technique and ingredients, and more important that you bring the correct attitude to the ceremony. If you don’t have a fancy teapot that’s ok, all that’s really needed is a bowl, some hot water, some tea and some time. Instead, focus on making space for the tea ceremony, letting its quiet power create a sense of calm and clarity that can radiate throughout your life.
The chi of tea
We often talk about this deeply spiritual approach as ‘the Way of Tea’ – ‘way’ being a translation of the word ‘Dao’ or ‘Tao’ in Chinese. This term is central to the philosophy of Taoism born of Lao Tzu’s seminal work Tao Te Ching, written more than 2500 years ago. It is used to refer to a broad and sophisticated concept: a ‘way’ of balance, grace, peacefulness, simplicity, and mindfulness that operates in perfect harmony with all the laws of the natural world. Following the Tao means recognising the sacred essence of all life, chi, that runs through every living thing.
What does this have to do with tea? Tea ceremony participants must call to mind the flow of all the chi that brings the tea to your lips:
- the soil the tea plant grew in
- the nutrients and insects within the soil, and the animals and birds in the wider environment
- the sun and rain that fed the tea plant
- the clay that made the tea bowl
- the rivers, lakes, streams and oceans that brought the tea water
- the farmer picking the leaves in the field, the workers processing the tea, and the shopkeepers that sell it
All this chi is imbibed whenever you drink a cup of tea. This practice is not easy to master, which is why the tea ceremony is taught with such care, passed from teacher to student through long lineages stretching back into time.
Although tea is perhaps the most everyday, ubiquitous drink we have, the Way of Tea has the power to transform your life. As D T Suzuki famously said: “Who would then deny that, when I am sipping tea in my tearoom, I am swallowing the whole universe with it, and that this very moment of my lifting the bowl to my lips is eternity itself transcending time and space?” So why not turn off your phone, put the kettle on and inhale the scent and flavour of the world’s most spiritually transformative drink?