If you had asked me if I were a fan of tea a week ago, I would have laughed at you. For one, it’s a time investment. I’m used to the Starbucks drive-thru that churns out caffeine-packed drip coffee within a moment’s notice. It’s become a necessary fuel to keep up with the full throttle pace of life back home. Not to mention, those 16 oz. big gulps kept me wired almost all day.
Then I came to China. There’s a rich history of tea here in the Yunnan Province, so much so that it’s impossible to leave out when diving into Tibetan culture. Visit any local home here, and you’re bound to find at least one or two areas exclusively dedicated for tea time—a pot, cups, benches for company, and of course plenty of those magical little leaves.
The history is quite fascinating, too. According to our wonderful and extraordinarily open local expert, Tsering Drolma, the tea trade started centuries ago. It was transported from areas in the south, and ultimately made its way to Zhongdian (better known as Shangri-La today). In return, consumers traded horses, a valuable transportation commodity at the time. The leaves would be fermented and packed into dense cakes to last the long trip, the fermentation giving it a distinct taste, different from any tea I’ve been exposed to back home.
Contrasted with American coffee culture, tea takes on a different pace. It forces me to slow down, to take a breath, to soak up everything and everyone around me.
So when I arrived at the CERS site coping with some mild jet-lag and craving something to drink, you might have guessed I went for the tea. Contrasted with American coffee culture, tea takes on a different pace. It forces me to slow down, to take a breath, to soak up everything and everyone around me. After a few minutes of steeping in hot water, those tiny green pearls expand into fully stretched leaves, filling the hot water with tasty tannins and an earthy aroma.
While your tea cools enough for drinking, it’s likely you’ll start engaging in conversation. Tea is communal here. If I had one Yuan for every time I’ve seen someone smiling behind a steaming mug of goodness, I’d probably have enough to buy more tea. On the other hand, you might find yourself pausing for a moment in your day to smile at passersby, smell the incredibly fresh (albeit thin) air, or soak up an incredible view of those mystical Shanri-La mountains. Tea connects here. Tea brings us back to the present moment.
I think it’s safe to say I’m a convert.