I learned a lot this morning. I was brewing tea absent mindedly, looking at the computer while I was brewing Kagoshima Sencha, a famous Japanese Green Tea, raised in accordance with a Kyoto tradition. The book at the tea shop offered the instructions to “Enjoy daily as a ritual refresher, or bond with other humans through shared experience of stability and calm.” However, under distraction I destroyed the tea. It was a reminder that I should be more mindful. The mindful aspect of tea extends not only to the experience of drinking it, but also in the way it is steeped and brewed.
I made the first infusion at 180 degrees, and according to the tea shop it should have been at a low temperature, between 140 and 160. It was beginning to remind me of analog photography processing, which I did as a requirement for the photography department at SFAI. In analog photography development, you enter a darkroom, and under red light, very dim, you make out the forms of a dial for exposure times, to which light will be made on the photo paper in a liquid bath. You then develop it, and the process starts to be this intricate series of steps of experiment and revision as you slowly find the subtleness of the light and contrast. Whether dark or light, the process is both scientific and poetic, an elaboration of care and resulting effects. It is so different from the modern process of instagram. It was beautiful.
Tea is like that, and I learned from the tea shop that any colder brew of any tea results in a sweeter taste, and that the stronger and hotter the brew, the tea can become destroyed and become bitter. You can even cold brew tea at a period of 8 hours with more tea leaves in the infusion. My mistake brew yielded a tea that was bitter, with a strange sweet sensation toward the end of the arc of infusion. The tea shop said that they would replace the tea again, so they could do a proper infusion, and when I did that it really opened up the tea. The bitterness had faded, and instead the image of a rolling series of smooth, green hillsides, with wind slowly passing through the leaves came before me as I began to experience the tea. There is definitely a smooth texture, described by the shop as creamy, but it felt more like the general grassy flavor of green tea which I am starting to sense. It was complex and changed as the temperature became colder as I wrote this.
The analog process of art making is still something I remember from long ago. We didn’t have social media or digital photography. I remember getting my first digital camera, very rudimentary, in Texas for a design assignment, and that was, at the time, one of the first low cost models of this kind of camera. Analog development labs are still available at many camera stores, and there is one in Berkeley that has rentals available, so I could keep up with it, but I don’t. I have changed my process in art making. I primarily sketch through a digital tablet, I engage with photography with a digital camera.
But slowing down, which is what I did while I was in art school, is important, and the difference between that process and the more modern processes of my craft is something I just didn’t think about cohesively until this morning. My work flowed, in school, directly into analog making. Even at CCA, I made physical books and worked with paper. It was only in a few classes that I approached making with electronics and digital media.
Making tea, and experiencing it, has changed my life. It has made me focus on the present moment in ways that I would not have had otherwise. The tea shop confirmed my experience with the tea. The tea shop told me this morning that they actually emphasize mindfulness to their visitors. It is the profound experience of this environment. It’s really low key and simple. It looks as though the tables have been here for twenty years, and they have been. It is truly an extension of the West Berkeley aesthetic: urban, yet peaceful. Tranquil, where what is so delicately profound is the experience of peace, which is what being mindful of tea brings.