Believe it or not, there's more to tea than Oprah's Starbucks Teavana line. Tea's healing history dates back a whopping 5,000 years, and ancient wisdom suggests its influence can be life-altering.
This potential impact on our modern lives is what Master Tsai, of Coconut Grove's Zen Village, is looking to share with over-stressed, over-burdened Miamians.
The cozy, interfaith community center has a tea room, where Tsai leads tea ceremonies, pours steaming cups of aged blends and schools folks on proper teaware.
"It's not only to be used as a medicine to heal your body, but also to uplift your mind," says Tsai as she sits in one of Zen Village's cozy nooks, a delicate white teacup on the table before her.
In the age of the Yellow Empire, tea was the most precious gift, given from one ruler or luminary to another, Tsai explains. Lu Yu, known as the Sage of Tea, discovered that different leaves steeped in water had different properties that could affect your body.
Tea can help clear distractions -- assist with focus and concentration, Tsai says (skills that have fallen largely by the wayside in modern times). "They found the stability of mind; the peaceful state of mind was very valuable."
Nowadays, the practice of tea is equally as valuable, but drinking a cup of Lipton probably won't do it. Just any tea isn't going to bring all the benefits. The origin of tea, the variety, organic or not, who makes it, the teaware -- all of these elements are important, says Tsai.
"Through the tea ceremony or serving a cup of tea has a lot to do with how we prepare it. When we are doing the tea ceremony, it's more like a meditation -- how mindful you are serving a cup of tea," she explains. In other words, the energy you invest in the tea matters.
"Life is a process, the same as tea, when you're preparing it."
How you drink it matters, too, says Tsai. Just gulping it down negates the experience. "Either you're tasting the cup of tea, or you're just drinking it like having a mug of coffee. It's totally different as far as the value, the outcome around that tea."
The drinking of tea should serve as a form of meditation, as Tsai describes it -- a daily ritual that can bring a new level of awareness to your life.
"Sometimes we cannot see that the life we're living is a tool for us to grow, to evolve, to learn from," says Tsai. Just looking at the tea -- the color as well as the surface of the water -- can help you to reflect."
Every sense should be utilized in the drinking of tea -- looking at the color of the tea and the reflection; inhaling the aroma; holding the warm cup; swallowing the hot liquid, Tsai patiently explains as I start feeling like I haven't given tea anywhere near the attention it deserves.
"One of the most beneficial things about a cup of tea in our modern life is to help us relax and be able to remain in that state of mind for a longer time," Tsai says.
Essentially, drinking tea is a spiritual experience, I learn. Or it can be, if done properly. That's how this steeped beverage can change your life. It's an exercise in mindfulness, meditation, and focus.
"You calm yourself down, you're centering yourself, you're connected -- your body, your mind, and your spirit," Tsai says."If we see this happen more commonly in the community, we can transform the community."
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Hence Tsai's efforts at Zen Village. By providing a community hub for tea drinking, peaceful companionship and spiritual practice, she hopes to help change lives.
While anyone can start a tea drinking ritual on the daily (Tsai recommends it each morning), it helps to know what you're doing and what teas are best for you. Zen Village can help. Tsai serves cups of tea ($5 suggested donations), hosts tea ceremonies ($15 suggested donation), and teaches Tea Master classes ($285). They're open every day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., but it's good to call ahead if possible. Schedules can be found at zenvillage.org.
Follow Hannah on Twitter @hannahgetshappy.