Herbs tend to attract a certain kind of people, mainly, women (moms, wives, grandmas etc..) or very “new age” people whose main focus is connecting with the Earth and living in harmony with everything. But there is a group of people who I believe would be fascinated by herbs- tea drinkers. I am not referring to casual tea drinkers, I’m talking about serious “true tea” drinkers. “Gong fu cha” (literally, making tea with skill) geeks who are at such a different level than the conventional tea drinker that they cannot be compared. These people brew their tea much differently than you would expect here in the USA. The gaiwan (cup with a lid that holds only about 3-5oz of liquid) is the brewing vessel of choice, they have a “tea pet”, tea bags are nowhere to be found in their homes and don’t you dare ask if they would like cream or sugar in their cup or you might have to sit through a 5 hour conversation on why they refuse your offer (that or a simple “no” followed by face that is seemingly in excruciating pain). Truly, these tea drinkers are not just tea drinkers, they are tea followers, tea devotees, tea romancers, and massive tea snobs. Their lives have been captivated and consumed by one plant, Camellia sinenses.
I must admit that I do myself have a pretty big crush on Camellia myself but I am not exclusive to her. The way I came to the world of true tea had a few major factors. I have never liked coffee, so at every gathering whenever I was offered something to drink, I opted for tea. Of course what I would get were always tea bags, which was fine because I mainly drank to socialize, not necessarily for pleasure. Gradually I became more interested in the different flavors available and I soon developed some favorites that would ignite a small spark of excitement. My three first favorites were: mint, hibiscus and a blend of chamomile with anise. I was initially attracted to their flavor; mint chocolate combination candies have always been some of my favorites, so mint tea was something I naturally wanted to try. Cold hibiscus tea is a very popular drink in Mexico, so coming from a Mexican family, this was a pretty normal tasty choice for me. Later my grandma from Mexico brought my family a box of chamomile and anise tea bags which I loved and had to fight with my dad for. As you see, my first favorite teas were all herbal, which would technically make them “tisanes” (or herbal infusions) not teas. All true tea comes from the same plant (Camellia sinensis) and are what we know as green, black and white teas (and also the lesser known oolong, yellow and pu er tea types).
I have also always admired nature- leaves in particular. While I love flowers and all their beautiful colors and smells, my eye has always been more drawn to leaves because they too have incredibly intricate designs and shapes which can be easily missed if one is not observant. Every time I travel somewhere I like to take a small leaf unique to the location I visited. This admiration of leaves naturally caused my interest in the leaves I consume in tea to increase. Soon enough I began to gain an interest in the properties and benefits of my favorite tisanes and began to learn more about them and other herbs. I have always liked to make my own things and have always favored more natural products, so natural remedies and recipes for homemade toiletries were always on my search history. My love of herbs, admiration of plants and interest in natural homemade remedies for common ailments drove me to seek out more formal education on the subject. Thus, I am currently enrolled in a certificate program for herbalism and aromatherapy.
So first my love of tea is informed by my love of herbs and second, my love of tea was deepened by my fascination with tea cultures; which was heightened during a short trip my husband and I took to Japan in the spring. In Japan I did not have one cup of bitter tea. It was all delicious, perfectly made, thick, grassy, and with very assertive character. I had never had tea like that before and I loved it! Japan was actually the first place I had matcha, for the past few years I had actually kind of been avoiding matcha just because it seemed to be a trend amongst the “cool kids” and I have always been one to rebel against the “cool kids”. I am SO glad I waited! Having matcha in Japan piqued my interest in finding out about its history which lead me to learn about the Japanese tea ceremony which then opened a window to tea’s birth place (China) and all the different tea cultures and tea traditions all over the world! One plant has gained the infatuation of the world and it’s an absolutely gorgeous love story! But the plant kingdom has much more to offer!
I love tea because I love herbs and I love tea because I love the unity it can bring between so many nations. Tea in itself is pretty fascinating but it is what tea points to and what tea represents that is so absolutely mind blowing and enriching! What I’m saying is that while I am indeed part of the crazy, geeky, niche world of “true tea”- my first love is herbs and thus I will strive to inform the “true tea” world about what they’re missing out on! Camellia sinensis is indeed very special, but she is only ONE plant! Imagine if you just expanded your mind a little bit more and explore what other beautiful leaves have to offer out there! Free your gaiwan!