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Take Time to Take a Tea Break

Updated: Aug 30, 2022


Tea drinking is a time-honoured Asian practice that dates back thousands of years with the first credible record as a medicinal drink as early as the 3rd century AD, in a Chinese medical text. Tea first became known to western civilization through Portuguese priests and merchants during the early 16th century. The British created a monopoly on tea supply to Europe through their East India Company when they shipped tea as dried black oxidised leaves back to England. Tea drinking had become popular in the 17th century with the gentry, enjoying it in their parlours as they entertained themselves with the latest gossip while sitting straight backed on the edge of their seats.


When researching tea, you can be quickly be flooded with detail, it is a surprisingly large field to explore, and one that has many traditional practices. In fairness, it is a huge industry, that employs hundreds of thousands of people, with some companies going to the effort of ethically sourcing the tea and supporting their workers e.g. Dilmah.


The focus of this article is on black teas as I wanted to inform you but not overwhelm you. I have written a separate article dedicated to herbal teas and their benefits, and you can also practice ‘mindfulness’ mentioned below with them.


Most tea that is drunk comes from varieties or parts of Camellia Sinensis plant - be it green or black tea. The plant originates from the land between today's northeast India, north Burma, southwest China, and Tibet. The Europeans quickly learned that the picked green tea packed for shipping would spoil on route and rot. So, the process of drying, crushing the leaf to allow better oxidation of their active compounds in the cells was used to effectively preserve the tea leaves, turning them brown or black and concentrating their chemical properties. Green, Black, Yellow, White and Oolong tea all come from the same plant, they are just processed or oxidised differently to achieve the colour. Black tea has undergone more oxidation than green tea.


You may have seen an Asian tea drinking ceremony on popular television shows or movies. A tea drinking ceremony is used to welcome guests in Chinese culture, and it is part of a wedding ceremony where the bride and groom serve tea to their parents, in-laws and family in a very formal manner, signifying acceptance of the marriage. In Japan, it is also a serious affair and in the past reserved for the elite zen monks and warlords. There are tea drinking ceremony schools and ceremonies are performed in a strict manner, following traditions and practices in accordance with rank and custom. It is a valuable part of their traditional culture and is known as an art. Some ceremonies can take hours and include food. The purpose of the ceremony is to create harmony, bonding and inner peace with the quest. There is very little if any talking until the first sips of tea are taken and properly appreciated, unlike our casual European culture of ‘I’ll just pop the kettle on for a nice cup of tea, love’ when guests arrive or as a cure all to easing any social dilemma. Then there is popping a bag of ‘gumboot’ tea in a cup at 3pm, pouring boiled water over it, adding milk and possibly sugar to drink it while reading a book, or scrolling through social media.


European culture drinks tea (and coffee) in a way that it is supplementary to what we are doing, be it working at a computer, reading, or talking with friends or colleagues. We use it to keep up our daily fluid intake and to experience the chemical benefits as well as the calmative nature of having a warm drink in the stomach. Coffee may have its ‘hip’ culture that fuels the fast pace of city living, but in those cafes, there is also an increasing variety of tea blends. Tea drinking invokes a sense of ‘slowing down’ and calm; whereas coffee is about energy and a caffeine ‘hit’ or ‘fix’.


In the East, it is the event of tea drinking itself that is the focus. They have tea in a way that Europeans are beginning to understand as a ‘mindful’ practice. That is, concentrating on the moment, the sounds, the smell, the taste, the warmth, the feel, putting all else aside just for that moment in time, letting the mind rest from its frenetic activity of the day. This, practiced with deep diaphragmatic (belly) breathing, can help many who need to calm their sympathetic nervous system (or fight or flight state) and move it into the calmer para-sympathetic nervous state associated with the vagus (Latin for 'meandering') nerve; a wonderful long nerve that if kept in a ‘healthy tone’ can promote health and wellbeing as it touches and stimulates many of the body’s organs. Tea’s chemical properties can, along with this mindfulness practice help those with anxiety, and be a general health and wellbeing practice. Slow life down and enjoy the sensations of the tea while you breathe, trying to put aside the thoughts that your busy brain is producing.


The following ten-step guide to mindful tea drinking can be viewed as a westernised, abbreviated and more achievable version of what the tea ceremonies of Japan and China (rooted in zen Buddhism) seek to achieve. Feel free to modify it to suit your own preferences:


1. Recognise that you are going to partake in a relaxing mindful tea drinking break, having set the conditions of a relaxing quiet place to drink, switching off your phone, used the toilet, and ensuring you will not be disturbed so that you can be solely in the ‘present’.


2. Breathe in a big breath from your diaphragm (belly breathing) and exhale slowly through the nose, possibly close your eyes for this breath to signify to yourself that you are beginning the practice of mindfulness and doing something for yourself.


3. As you chose and prepare your tea, try to slowly and deliberately go about your actions, trying to keep your mind focused on what you are doing and taking slow controlled 'belly breaths'. Open the tea packet and give it a shake. Notice the aroma of the tea leaves. What can you smell? What colour are they? If the brain produces a thought that may distract you, simply notice it without judgement and say ‘thought’ in your mind and return to your controlled breathing and tell yourself what you are doing.


4. Select or prepare your tea in a cup or pot ready for hot water to be added, listening to and acknowledging the sounds and what you are sensing through touch. If you are going to add milk prepare that mindfully too. Breathe in and out slowly (longer on the exhale as this slows your heart rate and activates the parasympathetic nervous system or 'rest & digest' state) while you wait for your water to boil, listening for the associated sounds that your jug is making.


5. Pour your boiled water into the cup or pot, noting how the flow of water looks and the sounds it is making. Also, notice the steam that rises.


6. Take your cup, or pot and cup, noticing their weight in your hands and the heat they are giving off, to your chosen tea drinking spot or ‘sanctuary’ and breathe consciously while you wait for your tea to steep at least three minutes. If you have a view of the outside, acknowledge nature and how we are interconnected. See if there is any movement to observe, like wind moving leaves, birds flying or rain drops hitting the window.


7. Pour your tea into your cup, or if the tea is in the cup already, pick up the cup and smell the aroma of the tea and try to identify the different components. Notice the way the tea looks in the cup and any reflections you might be able to see on the surface.


8. Take a cautious sip to test the temperature noting how hot it is and experience the first taste of the tea.


9. Continue to try and be in the present, just drinking your tea, acknowledging the thoughts that may pop into your mind without judgement and return to your breathing and tea (this will get easier with practice). You may want to close your eyes or look out a window. Take your time and notice the tastes in your mouth and the warming effect of the tea as it passes from your mouth, down your throat and into your stomach. Also, notice any body sensations and simply acknowledge them in your mind as sensations and return to your breathing and tea. If there is any tension or tightness in your muscles, see if you can release it (we can hold our bodies subconsciously in a tense posture when stressed). Feel grounded to the earth through your feet as you sit.


10. Keep sipping slowly and when you are finished notice the empty cup and take another deep breath from your diaphragm, possibly with closed eyes, and as you exhale through your nose be thankful of the tea, being grateful for its existence, its properties, and relationship in your life.


This practice of mindful tea drinking should take 15-20 minutes. It is time invested in you.


Finally, when choosing your brand of tea look for brands that have a conscience about the planet, their workers, donate to charities, or are made from organically grown ingredients. This will heighten your feelings of satisfaction that you have made sustainable choices like ensuring that packaging is recyclable, biodegradable or made from recycled sources. Consider making reasoned product choices that fit your values and help to sustain our planet that we depend so much upon and leave as light a footprint as you can. Labelling on packaging will show you brands like ‘UTZ certified’, or ‘FSC’ (forest stewardship council). Supporting New Zealand made tea brands goes even further on the 'feel good' scale. Our tea range from t leaf T, available on our online store, provides you with a variety of green and herbal tea blends to help you enjoy different aromas and flavours during your mindfulness tea drinking, and we also stock tea from The Better Tea Co. who donate 5% of their profit to the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand.


Article Sources:

1. Tea in Europe / All about tea. Culture, Health Benefit, Business etc. World Green Tea Association presented O-CHA NET

2. Ceylon Tea | Ceylon Royal Tea

3. https://theteacurator.co.nz/

4. The Difference Between Tea Oxidation & Fermentation (hackberrytea.com)

5. Tea in Ancient China & Japan - World History Encyclopedia

6. JAPANESE TEA CEREMONY SCHOOLS - Tea Ceremony Kyoto (tea-ceremony-kyoto.com)

7. John P. Forsyth, PhD, and Georg H. Eifert, PhD (2016). The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety.

8. How to Tone Your Vagus Nerve and Why You Should — Dr. Shelly Sethi (drshellysethi.com)



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