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tea dream

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A good decision should lead you closer to your goals and further away from conflict with yourself and others.
No one seems to know the parameters of the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster in Japan that continues to play out in northern Honshu, about 150 miles north of Tokyo.  Recently given the  the highest rating for a nuclear crisis--a Level 7-- experts suggest that it will take decades to understand what has taken place and how it will effect the health of the planet--including human health--in Japan and elsewhere.
For those of us who are avid tea imbibers, there is an obvious question lurking: Should we buy or drink Japanese  teas in the coming months and years?  How about teas from neighboring parts of Asia like China and Taiwan? I don't think anyone yet has an answer, but what are the issues we can consider in order to make sense of it?

To offer some confidence, food safety monitoring agencies around the world are on high alert for possible radiation contaminants in Japanese exports. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is responsible for testing food products entering the United States from abroad.  They report the following reassuring news: "As part of our investigation, FDA is collecting information on all FDA regulated food products exported to the U.S. from Japan, including where they are grown, harvested, or manufactured, so the Agency can further evaluate whether, in the future, they may pose a risk to consumers in the U.S.." 

If we were to rely only on one agency, like the FDA, we might be concerned about the veracity of information supplied.  But because there are so many food regulatory agencies around the world, and news is so quickly and easily available regardless of borders, it is most likely that we will be able to carefully monitor whether new tea harvests pose any risk in regards to radiation levels. The challenge we face is in distinguishing the accurate from the inaccurate.

Water and food supplies from around Japan will be carefully monitored by domestic and international food safety agencies. Since tea is just one of many food crops grown in Japan, listening for news of other crops and the water supply will help us to understand whether or not teas are safe to drink, as they seem to be right now. 

One thing to keep in mind is that tea growing regions in Japan are several hundred miles south of the disaster, and at present, only neighboring prefectures (counties) to the disaster seem to be effected by levels of radiation that exceed normal standards.   

Taking a look at the above map, kindly provided by tea purveyor Ito En, we see that many tea farms in Japan are at least several hundred miles south of the disaster, and as luck would have it for the tea fields, the winds are blowing east, not south.

According to the Wall Street Journal "Immediate contamination could occur from particles from the air settling on plants or feed, or in the longer run radioactive elements could get washed to the soil where plants grow. The radioactive material, once incorporated, can continue to emit powerful radiation for some amount of time--the exact duration depends on how much and what type of the radioactive material was ingested--and can be passed on if a human then eats the plant or animal."  

Because the cocktail of radioactive materials released has never before been emitted simultaneously nor tested, even nuclear experts are uncertain as to the possible outcomes of such occurrences. We can only wait, hope, and keep our eyes and ears open for qualified, careful and honest reporting from sources we trust. 

Large, reputable tea purveyors like Ito En will also be testing their teas as they are harvested, according to Rona Tison of Ito En. Because their reputations are on the line, and testing will be done by many agencies who will be cross-checking each other's results, it behooves these large companies to carefully monitor the teas that go into their products.  If these teas are safe, it gives us a signal that small batch connoisseur teas grown organically or in the same areas are more than likely safe also.

Tea farmers who grow their teas organically will also be very interested to test their teas and to share the results, as they base their reputations on the integrity of their products.  Bon Teavant will be interviewing several tea purveyors and farmers over time on exactly this issue, so stay tuned here for more news as it arrives. 

In the meantime, relax and enjoy your tea. If you are very worried about Japanese tea, Bon Teavant sells some very nice green teas from China and India, including a Chinese-grown Genmaicha.
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tuo cha

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Tuo cha are small pressed, nuggets of puerh tea, which are grown, harvested, and processed in the southern Chinese province of Yunnan. "Tuo cha" translates as "bowl-shaped tea", and these little bowls are the size of bon bons. They often come individually wrapped in white or decorative paper, making them fun gifts or stocking stuffers for the holidays.

What's great about these little tea nuggets? First, they are naturally single-serving and easy to take with you on the go, whether to work for the day or on a long trip.  In fact, they are made for travel. 

Chinese tea producers first began pressing teas into cakes, bricks and tiny bowls with the specific goal of making them easier to transport long distances and through difficult mountain terrain.  It has worked for them for hundreds of years, and if tuo cha could make it into the mountains of Nepal and Tibet by horse and yak from southern China, they are sure to make it from your house to work by bicycle or, better yet, on a fun road trip to, say, The Grand Canyon, including a mule trip to bottom of the Canyon and camping by the Colorado River.  They are that sturdy!

Second, you will get at least half a dozen, if not a dozen, steepings from one good tuo cha button. This means you will be able to enjoy tea all day long from something the size of a small chestnut. Just put one in a teapot with very hot water, steep after a minute (less after the first steeping), and sip. And there is no tea bag to discard--tuo cha are self-contained and naturally biodegradable. Just put the leaves in the compost when you are finished with them.

Third, these little puerh tea buttons have the same health benefits as other puerh teas, including my favorite--the mitigation of fat and cholesterol in the diet. During this holiday season, who can resist this benefit?  As well, some tuo cha are blended with chrysanthemum, which is said  to further assist the body in the digestion of heavy meals while adding a delicate floral fragrance.

Take a handful with you to Aunt Martha's for Christmas.  Use them as stocking stuffers for your favorite tea lovers.....that will work like a charm, and you'll be thanked, profusely, after dinner.

tea spirit medicine

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Plants have been known to heal people of various maladies for millenia, and in fact, form the basis for almost all medicines on earth. For example, aspirin is a synthetic form of willow bark, and digitalis, taken for heart imbalances, comes from foxglove.  The tea plant, Camellia sinensis, has a history of being considered a medicine, and has reached many continents with this reputation. But does tea heal people? And if so, how and of what?

First, I do not make any claims about the tea plant being a medicine capable of healing any ailment, and those who do are not necessarily to be trusted. While tea is loaded with polyphenols, antioxidants, and other agents that suggest excellent health benefits, one would not want to say that tea cures any particular ailment or disease without documented clinical substantiation of such claims, which you will not find offered here.

But I digress. Many herbalists believe that using real plant-based medicine can be more effective than using synthetic pharmaceuticals for a number of reasons, including the avoidance of grave and sometimes even fatal side effects caused by manufactured medicines. But a lesser-known, perhaps even more compelling, reason that traditional herbalists use plants for healing is how the "spirit" of certain plants can assist in healing the patient. This concept is referred to as "plant energetics" or "plant spirit medicine", and has been practiced by traditional healers around the world for thousands of years.

In this philosophy, plants are considered to have spirit, intention, and the capacity for relating to others with consciousness. And while certain herbs physically treat certain maladies, the spirit of the plant medicine can also assist the patient in healing the emotional constructs that are a part of the imbalance. Several compelling books have been written on the subject, including The Secret Life of Plants , The Lost Language of Plants, and Plant Spirit Medicine.  

Does Tea have spirit? Can that spirit heal people? Tea's reputation both as a medicine and as an aid to spiritual practice is what gave it such cache as it traveled from continent to continent, many times in the hands of Buddhist or Christian monks, as it was introduced to new lands like Japan and Portugal. When not spoken of with reverence by priests and monks, it was prized by herbalists and scholars. Some believed it cured plague and other serious maladies.  Of course, it does not, at least not scientifically, but what could tea possibly do as an agent of healing?

What I have learned in my own personal study of Tea (and by Tea, I mean only Camellia sinensis) is that some teas can be transformational and healing in terms of one's understanding of himself and of life. Tea has taught me kindness, deeper compassion, and a peace of mind that I had not experienced before despite years of meditation, yoga, and other relaxation practices.  Tea also brings community and sanctuary, often simultaneously, which in itself is rather a miracle in this age of virtual antipathy for congregation.

I have seen and so believe that people who drink tea are changed by it, in the moment, and if one drinks it regularly, in a very deep and lasting way. I have read numerous accounts of people expressing how their lives have been changed by tea--sometimes emotionally, sometimes spiritually, and sometimes physically.

Tea helped me personally to develop a greater capacity for kindness and compassion, both for myself and for others, and also to enjoy each moment, sometimes profoundly. It has also given me a greater appreciation of nature and of my immediate surroundings, and enhanced my sense of community and interrelatedness with the world. Are these qualities "healing"? For me, they have been, and I am grateful to this plant--just as I would be to a priest or a doctor who bestowed so many blessings on me.
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What do you think about organic teas?