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The Book of Tea

| 16.6.06
The Book of Tea, by Kakuzo Okakura

Reading and drinking tea have been connected in my mind for a few years now. My introduction to teas began quite accidentally. I was looking for a nice quiet neighborhood coffee shop with comfortable chairs as a place to escape family life for the occasional evening, and catch up on my reading. This search brought me to a tea shop, where I immediately fell in love with the different blends of green tea. I've been hooked ever since!

The Book of Tea is a short work that traces the history and development of tea drinking and the tea ceremony as it came from China to Japan in the 9th century, became tied to Zen Buddhism, and survives to this day. In one interesting quote that reminded me of my own favorite tea shop, "The tea room or tea house avoids any note of ostentation. It is made of common materials. The tools, the table, the teapot, and the ornament --all must be humble and harmonious." (p. xiii) Okakura goes on to tie tea drinking to a balanced, non-elitist sensibility. "It has not the arrogance of wine, the self-consciousness of coffee, nor the simpering innocence of cocao." (p. 12).

Yet he can't just leave it at that. Okakura reminds me of more modern marketing for green tea (what hasn't green tea been claimed to cure?) when he ties tea drinking to philosophy, aesthetics, religion --even hygiene. "The philosophy of tea is not mere aetheticism in the ordinary acceptance of the term, for it expresses conjointly with ethics and religion our whole point of view about man and nature. It is hygiene, for it enforces cleanliness; it is economics, for it shows comfort in simplicity rather than in the complex and costly; it is moral geometry; inasmuch as it defines our sense of proportion to the universe. It represents the true spirit of eastern democracy by making all its votaries aristocrats in taste." (p. 4)

"Lao-tzu himself, with his quaint humor, says, 'If people of inferior intelligence hear of the Tao, they laugh immensely. It would not be the Tao unless they laughed at it.'" (p. 29)

Maybe tea really is "all that." Maybe it isn't. Either way, I enjoy a good bracing mug of gunpowder green tea in the morning, a lighter green tea with mango for the afternoon, and a low caffeine China white in the evening.

PUBLISHER: Shambhala. Boston and London. 2001. (originally written around 1904) ISBN: 0-87773-918-8

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