Throughout all my encounters with tea masters in China and Taiwan, I have noticed some common characteristics they all seem to have in common-their minds and behavior are calm; they are spontaneous and unattached; and their behavior melds fluidly in every given moment, just as water flowing down a river regardless of whatever obstacle it may encounter.
A tea master who I have great respect for once told me that the most important thing in making tea is the mind. Initially, I had no idea what he was talking about and thought this was some kind of placebo effect to help tea pourers maintain that calm composition that attracts so many customers to their door. I couldn’t have been more off and it wasn’t until that I tried pouring the same tea with the same pots as this teacher that I realized my tea always tasted different.
To be more exact, it tasted worst. I had been making tea for several years and was confident I had learned all there was to making tea, such as proper leaf preparation, water temperature, steep times, utensils and cups, as well as the kind of atmosphere created around my tea pouring area. I usually had positive responses from people who tasted my tea, both experienced and novice, but it wasn’t until I had given some to a master who had been making tea for decades that he laughed and told me there was still a piece missing to the puzzle- the mind.
It may sound abstract but the mind influences everything we do on an unconscious, almost invisible way that we do not realize. In everything we encounter, say or do, there is energy responding with one another. It could be the energy from a person or from a place. This energy is the same type of feeling they get when they say “I got a bad vibe from this place or that person” etc., and extends from the sentiments or energy fields left over from events or people, all of which were carried out and produced starting from the mind’s intention. In other words, the mind is at the core of creating all energy, which is something we can see quite concretely if we look at the way emotions effect people.
When it comes to tea, the energy produced from the mind while making tea or even pouring it greatly affects the way the water reacts with the tea leaves, according to the teacher. I remembered that quite some time ago I had watched a movie that showed the biological effects of words spoken to water and the shapes that were formed as a result. When the water was blessed with someone with positivity and calmness the water formed shapes similar to hexagons found in nature. If you were to put a snowflake under a microscope, something of which when it flows freely to the ground and is unaffected, you would find similar results. On the flip side, water that was scolded and matched with negative emotions turned black and grey. This shows how much that emotion affects our bodies due to the fact that we are 70% water.
When we are not in the right state of mind our results are usually worse than what we normally experience when it a good state of mind, as our bodies and thoughts are all over the place, hence the phrase “your heart (mind) is not in it” etc. The same goes for tea making. When we are not in the right place and expect to serve someone a drink that is highly sensitive to the emotions around it this may highly effect our tea tasting, the teacher claimed.
Now, that is not to say that you can’t make tea when you have a bad mood but it does shed light as to why certain people can have the exact same playing field but achieve better results. The question also has to be asked: Doesn’t other peoples’ moods and emotions also affect the tea based on this claim as well? Absolutely. However, the difference lies in the intention of the tea pourer over the intention of the person waiting to be served. One is a more active while the other is passive and energies can be balanced or shifted depending on the intention and atmosphere.
When pouring tea it is important to remain in a calm and unfettered state that many equate with being in the moment or a “Zen state”. Through this method you can understand stillness and the foundations of mediation in addition to improving your tea taste. It is quite simple in fact yet requires concentration as our minds are typically scattered and not in the moment. Take some time to practice on your tea and notice the differences as well the way you encounter other daily activities through a change of the mind, for once the mind changes then everything else follows.