I am real, and the tea is real. I am in the present. I don’t think of the past. I don’t think of the future. There is a real encounter between me and the tea, and peace, happiness, and joy are possible during the time I drink.
—Thich Nhat Hanh
It could be a poem or a novel or lyrics to a blues ballad, I’m not sure, but I’ve been keeping a list of all the terrible, no good, very bad cups of tea I make. There are just so many ways it can go wrong.
Like the time I was trying to be considerate by preheating a special guest’s tea cup with hot water and then forgot and poured the tea into the full cup (the light was dim). Like all the times I’ve tried to be thrifty and reuse old leaves or old bags well past their point of releasing any worthy flavor.
Then there was the time the lama casually mentioned that when he was growing up in Sikkim they used to toast the Darjeeling tea leaves before brewing. How many times I burned the leaves that summer. Such bitter cups I served, with shaking hands and rattling spoons.
And the oolong, oh, the oolong with its testy time limits and tiny cups. The bitter chai with ginger stewed too long or overly biting cloves. The tasteless maté in that complicated calabash gourd with the metal straw. Lady Grey served in a chipped cup. Curdled black currant, coffee poured in tea, tea poured in coffee. Tea made in anger, tea made in haste, tea made with tears. Tea on the counter. Tea on the floor. Tea on my knees. Tea on the doorstep as I try to turn the knob while holding a carafe in one hand and the saucer set in the other.
Burning the milk is one of the gravest tea misdeeds in the eyes of some Tibetans. But it’s so hard to keep an eye on hot milk. So innocent as it trembles in the saucepan, but blink and it’s racing to the lip of the pot. The foam mushrooms out and over the edge onto the stovetop, where it blackens the burner. Once, after I produced such a mess in the presence of a lama, the monks were quickly summoned to do protector pujas. It turns out there are a few female deities who are offended by the smell of burned milk, and they are not to be messed with.
All these terrible cups of tea were the result of mindlessness, not paying attention, losing track, multitasking. But there have been other times when it’s gone all pear-shaped even when I’m really, really trying. There’s that one pretty pot I love to use but whose spout is angled in such a way that the tea insists on alternately shooting out over the cup and dribbling down the side. No one can predict the sweet spot, and there’s always a spill.
In a way, a perfect cup of tea is a miracle of causes and conditions, and when one meets our lips, we should give praise.
When you hold your cup, you may like to breathe in, to bring your mind back to your body, and you become fully present. And when you are truly there, something else is also there—life, represented by the cup of tea. In that moment you are real, and the cup of tea is real. You are not lost in the past, in the future, in your projects, in your worries. You are free from all of these afflictions. And in that state of being free, you enjoy your tea. That is the moment of happiness, and of peace.
—Thich Nhat Hanh
Good Old-Fashioned Sun Tea
My friend Wyatt lives in a house with solar-heated water and swears that he can feel the sunshine on his skin when he bathes. If you believe that, you might also taste the sun in sun tea, and you’ll definitely save a few shekels on fuel costs. Find a big empty jar like the kind restaurants buy for industrial-sized quantities of maraschino cherries or pickles. Make sure it doesn’t smell like pickles or maraschino cherries (apple vinegar cleans well). Fill it with water, praise Mamaki the water dakini. Put some tea into the jar, about 3 bags or a sachet of loose tea (strawberry, peach, rose hip, spearmint, lemon, or black tea all work well, but not together, obviously) and stick it in a sunny spot. Revisit after about six hours and you will meet your tea. You can add honey or juice to sweeten (a cup of cherry, apple, or grape will work well). Then you can get creative with garnishes and flavors. Fresh mint and strawberry go well together. Boil up some ginger and add to the lemon tea. Women might try 4 bags of Yogi Woman’s Moon Cycle Tea, then adding half a cup of unsweetened cranberry juice and a bit of chasteberry tincture for a soothing tonic. Don’t brew the black tea too long, or the tannins will become bitter. Serve in jars on a checkered tablecloth.
Perfect Cold Brew Coffee
This is the best way to make iced coffee. Place one cup of ground coffee in the jug (my favorite brand right now is Boxcar Coffee from Boulder) with 4 cups of cold water. Let it soak overnight. Sleep well. Strain out the coffee grains using a drip coffee filter, then pour the thick black liquid back into your jug. This part can be messy unless you find proper implements. It will last for weeks if you keep it refrigerated. This jug of condensed coffee is your base for either cold or hot drinks. It’s less acidic, smooth, and strong. For hot coffee, pour an ounce of the jug coffee in an un-cracked mug and dilute with hot water to taste. For iced coffee, find a tall glass and fill it with ice cubes, pour the jug coffee over it, and imagine the cracking sound is the ice laughing. Dedicate the merit. If you take sweetener, simple syrup (a mixture of 1 part water to 1 part sugar, boiled together) dissolves better. Wish sweetness in a sour person’s life. Add a shot of cream, condensed milk, or full-fat milk on top and watch the paisley patterns curl into the blackness. Remember to enjoy it.
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