Life At A Tea-Junction
We often talk of “life at the crossroads”. I get that. You can go straight ahead – keeping on doing what you’ve already been doing – sometimes hoping for things to change. They won’t (usually). You can turn to the left or to the right in a fresh direction. But in reality you can never go back. So the crossroads idea doesn’t quite work for me.
That’s why I prefer the metaphor of the T-Junction. When “something’s gotta change” and it seems that your very life is being strangled out of you by continuing on your currrent path, deciding whether to turn in one of two opposite directions is much more powerful.
Yesterday was one such day. Not a happy day. In fact my partner had left for work early in the fog saying that something had got to change. She was unhappy with work, I was unhappy with life! My day then went from bad to very much worse. Something had to change… or perhaps someone?
Fortunately, for both of us, we were booked in to a special event at Comins Tea House (www.cominsteahouse.co.uk/about-us). Rob Comins was due to take us through a personal tea tasting based on his experience of his latest trip – to Taiwan. Rob and Michelle source their teas from single estates – so these trips make Comins Tea the unique business and experience that it is.
While Michelle cooked up some utterly gorgeous Taiwanese-themed food in the kitchen, Rob took us through the distinctions between Jade, Amber, Oriental Beauty and Brandy types of tea.
Rob is a gentle man… and soon the stresses of my horrible day were being soothed away by the relaxing timbre of his stories of his adventures. Even the science was relaxing – learning about cultivars and Tea Green Leafhoppers!
The link above will take you to a little of Rob and Michelle’s history and herstory. I hadn’t read this, nor had I heard their story. So, I asked Rob to explain to us how he had become so passionately interested in tea. It was a surprising story – as refreshing and inspiring as a cup of proper tea itself.
Before I share some of his story with you, let me just say I’m brewing my second cup of loose-leaf tea – Assam, from a single estate in India. These are whole leaves – and now I understand why this is important. You see, there is a story in the tea-leaves…
Rob hadn’t drunk tea for decades. This choice was very much influenced by his experiences of stewed and rushed tea in the family home. The time with family was sweet, but the tea was bitter.
So, for over twenty years, he hadn’t touched another drop. Sometimes, however, we need other people to be the catalysts for change. Rob and Michelle are blessed to have each other. There is the spirit of gentle adventure about them – a very English kind of adventure.
On a trip to Northern India together, outside the Tea-picking season, Michelle encouraged Rob to visit the Tea plantation that filled the hills below their hotel. Michelle was a tea lover – though not yet in the fresh sense that we are moving towards in this story.
Sometimes, when we reach a T-Junction in Life, the Universe provides additional helping hands. These were the kind, if charmingly eccentric, hands of Rajah Banerjee of the Makaibari Tea Estate. Though the Estate was in the resting period between harvests, he was delighted to welcome them – and to show them around his estate. His estate is pioneering in its preservation of the forest. The biodiverstiy he protects has a positive impact on the quality of his darling Darjeeling tea.
You can imagine Michelle and Rob’s growing sense of wonder as they toured the estate and also the production facilities… machines quiet, being repainted, in readiness for the next burst of activity.
All this was the Overture to the first Act where our protagonists’ lives were changed. The Tea-Junction was coming upon them rapidly!
Mr Rajah Banerjee offered them a personal tea tasting.
Now, in Rob’s shoes, I think you and I would have found it hard to say, “No!” don’t you? Rob experienced proper-tea! After eight cups, he felt euphoric and his life’s direction had changed – switched in the twinkling of Rajah’s eyes.
Last night, we discussed the wisdom of going back and trying that same tea again. Would Rob have the same eurphoric experience? As a group, we thought this wouldn’t be so. And so we uncover a vital aspect to the success of the Comins Tea House adventure – the experience of Tea is bigger than the tea itself.
For me, it’s a combination of vocation and location. Rob and Michelle felt “called” to a new life – not that dramatically at first – but their direction had changed from those precious moments in Darjeeling. Their lives would never – could never – be the same again. Location, location, location. With such a build-up to the tea tasting, the first stimulation of the tastebuds had to be something special. The ceremony, the accoutrements of the ritual, the setting, the company, the relationships – all have their own threads to weave in the tapestry of our own unique experiences.
This is part of what Comins Tea House in Sturminster Newton stands for. “Tea” is = tea + setting + the ceremony + the company… all in a way that is accessible to all – even families with young children. In fact, Rob confided that one of the high points of his life is seeing the honest reaction of young children to their first encounter with proper tea, properly prepared, perfectly shared.
So Tea teaches us.
Rob’s early experiences with tea as his teacher taught him not to drink it again for over twenty years! His new teacher, expressed skillfully through the wisdom of Rajah Banerjee, switched him on to this new subject! Many of us have experienced such teachers – those with such an enthusiam for their subject that you cannot fail but to take an interest in their topics.
Rob and Michelle are now such teachers themselves – and Comins Tea House is their beautiful classroom. I’ve certainly learned some lessons.
What can we learn from Tea and those passionate about it?
Rob and Michelle had reached their T-Junction or Tea-Junction! They both knew that their current direction was unsatisfying. The most important lesson for me is that they put themselves in Change’s way. They had chosen the adventure of a trip to India. Michelle’s suggestion to the visit the plantation had some curiosity and purpose in it. They were open to fresh directions and new distinctions.
Sometimes a bit of frustration can become our friend.
They also learned that the journey to the destination influences the destination. Personal development gurus often exhort us to “enjoy the journey” not just the destination, but here there is a more subtle aspect: the quality of the journey changes the destination.
Please let me say that again:
The quality of the journey changes the destination.
You see there is a world of difference between a tea-bag cast callously into a mug and doused with boiling water and the journey of full-leaf tea to the tastebuds. I had not heard of the picking, oxidation and baking processes that give each tea its unique character. Before Comins (BC?) I hadn’t appreciated the subtleties of water temperature, infusions and brewing times. My tea ritual was a poor one – beggarly in the face of the richness of proper tea preparation.
For me, I now see preparing the Tea as a “rite of passage” – permission to myself to switch from one part of my daily adventure to another. For sure, it takes a little longer – but the pleasure gained lasts a lot longer. In the stark language of economics – there is a far higher Return on Investment!
My life needs new rituals, new ceremonies, new adventures, new companions on the journey, fresh direction, and fresh Tea!
And let’s not forget the accoutrements! The instruments for preparing the tea are gorgeous! I am now in love with a tiny tea-pot! So also in life, the props matter. That pair of shoes, that outfit, that pen that has special significance – daily life is full of opportunities to enrich our experience.
Making the Change
So how shall we start? Shall we choose our own adventure? It may not be India but it may be the local market to try something new that is produced locally – something that will surprise your tastebuds. On the previous occasion at a Comins special event, my surprise was Whitebait basted in Marmite!
Shall we accessorise? Is it time to Spring Clean your wardrobe, or even to dig out old friends? This week I put on my sandals again – which for me “means” Spring is here.
Shall we create our own new rituals? Tea cultivation has a very ancient history – but not in Taiwan. In Taiwan, it’s about 200 years old – a youngster compared with China, India, Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and Japan. Yet in those 200 short years, “Made in Taiwan” has taken on fresh significance. From Taiwan comes the strange “Oriental Beauty” – a precious tea that can only develop from the interaction between the Tea Green Leafhopper bug and the Tea plants. This is something new – even the tea itself has a delicious sense of adventure about it.
Or shall we cultivate new relationships? There is a Mr Rajah Banerjee waiting out there for you and me. He reminds me of the rather private gentleman in the “Mr Ben” stories of my youth (by David McKee). He owned a costume shop, and Mr Ben would access his own new adventures by changing his costume then walking through the door to a new world with new relationships.
Is it time to change costume?
Is it proactively time for adventure?
Rob and Michelle’s lives have changed, but they are also changing other people’s lives and destinations. I’ve confirmed this with Rob. They are good stories.
Let me close then with a really important thought.
When you change your direction and your destination, you change other people’s lives too.
Happiness for others may well be symbiotically linked to your own happiness. When you find fresh purpose, you may well discover that you become more of a blessing to others too – just has Michelle and Rob are to so many.