(I tried to post this in the "other" section under "teas" but saw that I could not start a new topic. apologies if this is in the wrong place)
A few years ago, I was a professional bar musician. I played four nights per week, on average, usually for two or three hours per night. I'd go to work typically at 9pm or so, and return around 2am. Almost without exception, nightclubs and bars provide tabs to their entertainment, and patrons buy drinks for performers following well played sets. I'd always have just one or two drinks before starting, and following I'd have a few more. Typically I'd end the night drunk, sometimes high. Along with alcohaul there is an undercurrent of narcotic use in current urban nightlife. Honestly, it's frighteningly accessible. Being single, it didn't hurt that there were so many pretty girls who liked to party, who sought out the guys who were more socially popular than most, and who themselves partied from time to time. It was regular to not get to sleep until four or so in the morning, entertaining guests all night, swapping trench stories with other musicians, promoters, bartenders or fans. I was drunk three or four nights out of the week, I was smoking a pack of cigarettes every day, and I can admit to having been - a couple of times - so looped on narcotics that there were times I wasn't sure who was sitting next to me.
Of course this was a cycle of feedback, complete with the morning cough and overdrawn bank account. Sure, you get most drinks for nothing, but it's good form to tip the bartender, and it's always nice to buy a drink for an attractive woman. Package goods as well are typically not included in a tab, and they are required for any afterparty worth its salt.
What all this meant was suicide by degrees, a slow burn which consumed thought, energy, and health. The universe was limited to that night's party, and friends were never seen in anything but artificial light. There was no regular sleep cycle. Hangovers could be debilitating. Superficiality became the norm in personal relationships. Most interaction became conditional: What can you do for me? How can you make me happy, even for a minute? All this while health was being slowly eroded with every day's receding tide, while headaches existed as a default conditon, and where money was spent in wide swathes to perpetute it all.
Still, there were lots of pretty smiling faces, there were lots of laughs and a few soul baring moments that couldn't ever exist in daylight.
Suicide by degrees.
I eventually met a woman who seemed to care for me. She was visiting from Japan, and since I speak enough Japanese to not need English, we spent a lot of time together. She went to my shows, met my friends, going to clubs and parties nowhere on any tourist map. I would sit up at night on my days off and play classical music for her, Mertz, Tarrega, Bach - and it became painfully evident to her that I was killing myself.
So she took me to Japan.
I stayed on the edge of a rice field in the outskirts of Nara for a month, no concerts, no bars or clubs nearer than a 30-minute train ride. No drugs, and drinking only with her, only once or twice a week. I was still smoking cigarettes, but understood it had to end soon. I'd play for four hours a day, I discovered the Pavanes by Purcell, and dusted off my old Ellington songbook. We drank tea every day. Unsweetened Japanese tea every day, first thing in the morning and last thing at night. I drank tea and stared up a strange ceiling two thousand miles away, feeling calm and seeing notes in the shadows, fine thin lines of silver that quietly sang with the breeze and moonlight.
I saw in those green and amber bottles of tea something of a salvation. If I wanted to smoke, drink some tea. If I wanted to drink, make it tea. I promised her I would quit drugs - which I did then and there, on the spot, never turning back - and used tea to occupy myself when I wanted to get high.
I visited farms and talked to farmers. I met monks who grew tea high in the mountains and sold it for pennies. I spent a day trying to duplicate my favorite vending-machine blend, eventually scoring the company's actual blend in paper bags from an employee who was a friend of a friend. Green tea became a particular fascination, the method of brewing and drinking it, learning to use it for cooking and to fall into the gentle charm of understanding what made one farm's yield so special from any other, a farm that had been making the same tea for many hundreds of years under the same family name.
I came back to America and got a regular job, albeit in the music business. Five days a week, office hours, health plan, the whole picture. I quit smoking and drinking completely, falling deeper into tea as a culture and ritual, an 'ism', unenunciated and (to my knowledge) untranslatable. Tea became life - drinking tea, the fingers on my hand lost their sickly nicotene stain, drinking tea my headaches and cough went away, drinking tea I was sleeping well and saving money.
One night I found ready-made Adagio tea in a supermarket and bought a bottle of white because it reminded me of Japanese bottled tea. It was wonderful, clean and cool. I checked the website on the bottle hoping to find the loose leaves, and was pleasantly directed here. I have about eight kinds of Adagio in house now along with four Itoen, three or four with Indian writing which I can't read, and another three or four I bought from huge glass jars in Chinatown.
This last Christmas, the few friends I kept from my gigging days all gave me loose teas. Unanimously and unplanned. It was a profoundly moving thing to receive them, an acknowledgement that health and serenity are unspoken aspirations. 'Could this have a deeper meaning?' I thought, glimpsing for a breathless moment the impossible alignment of a tiny slice of this universe, noise becoming music, leaves on trees all dancing with a shockingly natural choreography - if only for a second. It was a tiny slice of syncronicity that I was lucky enough to notice as it happened. Everything lined up into little tins of fresh tea. All of the frightening chaos in this world evaporated, swirling into tiny teacup nimbus. I'd rather have received loose tea last year than anything else in the world.
So tea saved my life. I don't drink, I don't smoke, I don't do any drugs. I drink tea. I recently signed a record deal, and have advanced to run the company I started at only six months ago. It's all in the tea, all in the leaves.
The only necessities now are loose teas, a scale, a teapot, a timer, my instrument, time and someone to share it all with. I think here it's appropriate to remember the words of Kakuzo Okakura, who nimbly articulated that culture which I had joined and revered without knowing it even existed - teaism.
"The heaven of modern humanity is indeed shattered in the Cyclopean struggle for wealth and power. The world is groping in the shadow of egotism and vulgarity… We need a Nikua (Nu Wa) again to repair the grand devastation; we await the great Avatar. Meanwhile, let us have a sip of tea. The afternoon glow is brightening the bamboos, the fountains are bubbling with delight, the sighing of the pines is heard in our kettle. Let us dream of evanescense, and linger in the beautiful foolishness of things."
The Book of Tea (1906), p. 8-9
Here's to those dreams, and much more beautiful foolishness.