25.3.09

thoughts for/from my tea




as the steam rises from my pot,i look at the small, tiny discoloured leaves, uncurling and relaxing. the leaves stretch out from a long slumber- shreds of aspalathus linearis, commonly known as rooibos or red bush tea, grew in a small region in south africa, in cederberg region of the western cape province. rooibos tea is made from dried rooibos plant, from the needle-like leaves, so technically it is not a tea, but a tisane, a herbal infusion.

from the initial planting, it takes about 18 months for the bush to mature for first harvest. each spring, little yellow flowers will come up and transform into a simple legume with single seed inside. then when it's ready, POP, goes the seed. tiny as they are, the bush tenders used to go to the anthills to collect the seeds. imagine the surprise from the ants: you are robbing us, we found those seeds and brought them home- well, nearly! thieves! literally taking it from our jaws!

well, the seeds are collected little more ethically now, using machines. no ants are robbed in present days.

rooibos bush really resembles a puff ball from the distance, with its tiny thin green leaves. from the bright, translucent green at harvest, enzymes flirting with oxygen, those little bits oxidize (this process is often incorrectly termed as 'fermentation.') result is that bright red-brown-purple richness of rooibos tea that we see in out tea bags. the bush will stand for about 3-5 harvest cycle, then it will be 'retired.'

surprise harvest (i bet the leaves didnt know that they were going to be harvested- they were intending to stick around and live for a bit!), a brief flirtation with open air, then drying process under the grueling sun. now commercial plantations will further extend the process by adding steam pasteurization. more heat. more torture. capturing the essence of the life in the middle of its peak- these tisane leaves are taken away from flourishing further, put into a stasis, a long sleep.

shipped to the companies, my rooibos tea came with other buddies, rose and calendula petals. a harsh deal for both flowers- picked at their prime, then put into artificial stasis. they cant tell me how far they have travelled- where would you have came from, which continent? all they brought was the memories of their home, of their life, the songs and winds they have heard. now dormant, in my tea bag.

all these leaves and petals stay asleep in the merchant's counter. you can smell the memories- the bright sun, wind that tickled them as they danced in the fields, the sweet smell of earth as a nurturing mother, the raindrops that nourished their thirst. the storms they have seen, the thunders that fell nearby, the white clouds giving a little respite from blazing sun. in the faraway land of south africa. and many more. memories so beautiful that even when they are in stasis, the opened container resonates one's senses to million different direction, tiny little shards of life at the peak.

it's only when the boiling hot water is added that tea come alive. boiling water has so many cultural connotation, especially concerning: trouble, trial, surprise. hot enough to sear a man's hand, the water once again rudely awakens the tea. startled, the leaves and petals spring back to life, as if there was no break in their flourish, bringing all that life force back, the smell, the taste, and oh so much more.

not knowing where they are, brutally interrupted from imposed stasis, the tea gives off all essence to the water. for that brief minutes we wait for the tea, they stretch out and dance, swim as naturally as if they were meant to be fishes, not land plants, until everything is drawn out. until they sink to the bottom of the tea, now empty and gone. only the empty body remains.

i so conveniently draw my tea from the pot. and often drink it without thinking twice. forgetting that it really is the blood and memories of another life form, drawn to the point where the dregs no longer resemble any glory they emitted just couple minutes ago. forgetting that i can have such nice tea just because they have sacrificed. because they were forced to wait in stasis, travelled around the globe without knowing, then lastly graced by boiling water.

the nutty sweetness of the tea that nourished me and my mind was not just another tisane. it was the generous act of the tea and nature. i should be careful to never forget that only reason that this tea graces my thirst is that it died for me, for this instance. this evening, as i hold the last cup from the bag, i think of the mountain dusk falling in banff- silent and somber, closer to winter solstice than spring equinox, the amber lights warming up my studio, and the company that unexpectedly brought another window that opened up another world. all the sudden, im not drinking my tea in solitude, but in multitude of sensory riches.

thanks to my tea in that humble pot.
with your sacrifice, my life is elevated from being another living organism to a beginning appreciator of beauty, if fleeting, even just for couple minutes.

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