global tea culture

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TasteAmericanTeaCulture¬©2010BonTeavant.jpg In San Francisco, we are fortunate to enjoy the most diverse and exciting tea culture in the history of human kind.  Why?  If you go to China, you will enjoy only Chinese tea culture, but not that of Japan, India, Britain or elsewhere.  Likewise, if you go to Japan, you will enjoy only Japanese tea culture.  But in the United States, and particularly on the West Coast, and even more particularly in San Francisco, we have an "alchemical" tea culture which is informed by traditions around the world, from Asia, Latin America, Europe, South America and Africa.

You can go to a Japanese tea ceremony on a mountain top in Marin in the morning, a British afternoon tea later in the day, and in the evening, enjoy a Chinese gong-fu cha with tea masters who have recently visited the farms where their tea was grown, harvested and processed.

This, I believe, is tea culture in a high form, not because of its adherence to discipline, but because of its nascent, creative spirit.  We are participants and witnesses to the mutation of a tea culture in the making. Here in the Bay Area, we have enjoyed a Renaissance of tea in the past ten or twenty years that has brought both tea and people to us from all parts of the world.

Americans snubbed Britain and her duty-laden tea more than two hundred years ago, and waited to be infused by a tea culture that is inclusive of later migrating Asian-, African- and Latin Americans whose influence, as well as that of early Europeans, would inspire us. That you can get a chai, sencha, dong ding, ti guan yin or yerba mate within the viscinity of a few blocks--and often in one tea shop or tea house--is nothing short of fabulous and surreal.
In absorbing the tea cultures of Asia, Africa, Europe and Latin America, we also invite the philosophies, arts, and merits of these cultures and their offerings, whether in the form of teaware. rituals, literature and music, or the art of tea as a practice and meditation.

We might also be fortunate to pick up concepts embedded in other tea cultures, like the virtues of humility and kindness, the value of serving others, the importance of harmony, or the notion that plants can and do act as vehicles to awareness, healing, and community.  All of these sources of information and illumination are found in your teas.

The stories and inspiration of Shen Nung, Lu Yu, Bodhidharma, Eisai, and Robert Fortune all await you in your tea cup, as do the stories and lore of the teas themselves.  Drink up, with gratitude and a surrender to the creative freedom that awaits you in every sip.

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