On the unspoken ritual of drinking tea.
It’s official. Drinking tea prolongs our lives.
A study published this week by the Annals of Medicine finds that drinking two or more cups of tea every day reduces mortality by up to 13%.
Better still, this is regardless of whether we add milk or sugar, how hot it is or the rates at which we metabolise caffeine.
If you’re a tea drinker you’d probably already guessed this.
Maybe you’re brewing up now — deliberating on mug or cup, leaves or bag, waiting for the kettle to steam. Meditating on the meaning of life.
Tea drinking is unspoken ritual and daily practice.
I love how the poet Ian McMillan (@IMcMillan) starts each day on Twitter in praise of his first cup of tea.
Recent posts include: ‘First cup of tea: the liquid from this wishing well wishes me well.’
And ‘First cup of tea: I am a desert. This is rain.’
Tea drinking is a religious discipline… whether or not you believe in a religion. A life enhancing ritual we don’t stop to notice.
In the office it’s a weighty responsibility to make a brew for a colleague. What if you get it wrong? Milk — first or second? Bag — out or in? The steeping to extract the perfect flavour from the leaves.
We live in the south of England and when a friend from the north lived with us she was routinely disgusted by the insipid appearance of the tea I made, asserting that I had no idea what a cup of tea should look or taste like.
She referred me to the British Tea Chart, modelled on those ones you use to choose paint but with cups of tea instead…. the palette on this one featured Early Gravy, Iron Brew and Skimmed Alive.
The making and drinking of tea is a time-honoured devotional practice, at its most revered in the ancient Tea Ceremonies of Japan and China.
In Buddhism, tea is said to keep monks awake during their meditations, to help their digestion, to calm the mind and to suppress desire.
It became such a key part of religious life that it was said that ‘tea and Zen have the same flavour’.
That might be pushing it… but if science now suggests tea can give us a longer life, maybe religion suggests it can give us a deeper life. And a kinder one.
After all tea is sign and symbol of welcome and hospitality, which is the place where true religion walks its talk.
‘Drink your tea slowly and reverently,’ said the Buddhist teacher Tich Nhat Hann, ‘as if it is the axis on which the earth revolves. Slowly, evenly, without rushing towards the future. Live the actual moment, only this moment is life.’
Milk and no sugar for me, thanks.
From BBC Radio 4’s Thought for the Day on Saturday September 3rd. Other recent radio thoughts :‘The Renewable Energy of Silence’, ‘How To Be Good Ancestors’, ‘This Bright Sadness’ and ‘I Can’t Speak For The Tree.’
Talking of tea, ‘Julian of Norwich’s Teabag’ is a new collection of poems I’ve made with Wild Goose Books.