Headmaster’s Thoughts – August 2016

Do you ever get carried away in the spirit of the moment?  Have you ever made a decision that you wanted to change the next day?  No, I am not talking about the British public and Brexit, although I easily could be, I am talking about getting sold two kilograms of green tea by a Chinese super sales lady.

Like most people from Britain, l drink black tea.  A lot of black tea.  Maybe five cups a day.  I have done it all my life.  I take it with milk and two lumps of sugar.  So I am still trying to figure out how Jayme and I returned from our summer trip to China with two kilograms (yes, 4.4 pounds) of green tea.  Of course, we were taken to a tea farm.  We were, after all, in the tea province of Zhejiang, whose terraced and well-watered terrain produces what is considered the best tea in China.  And we were served Longjing green tea.  It was beautifully done. The tiny cups were washed, the pot was washed, and the tea was picked out of the tin in pinches by the three fingers of the right hand of a lady who wore white gloves. This was a neo-religious occasion.  Every time we sipped the tea, our cup was refilled.  And then came the sales pitch.

The lady who supervised the ceremony was named Ms. Mei, and she told us that her family had grown tea on this plantation for over 1000 years.  I know that as a guest, I should not ask awkward questions, particularly in China.  But I was in the middle of reading “The Cultural Revolution” by Frank Dikotter, and really wanted to ask her how her family had survived destruction by the Red Guards.  But I was a guest, so I just listened.

Ms. Mei told us that the best green tea was grown during springtime. She told us that black tea was green tea that had been fermented and processed to make it more storable. This is because green tea will not last for more than a few months unless it is refrigerated, and there was no refrigeration on the tall clipper ships used in the 19th century.  And she told us that green tea will bring long life, great digestion, energy and mental calm. She told us that the province had the lowest cancer and heart disease rate in the world.  In my travels, I had noticed that most Chinese men (although not most Chinese women) smoke cigarettes, and so I wanted to ask her about lung cancer rates, but I was a guest and she was the host, and a guest does not ask awkward questions, particularly in China.

The tea was pleasant.  The super sales lady told us that because it was picked in the spring, it had very little caffeine in it.  In fact the whole experience was pleasant.  I was truly relaxed.  She told us to eat the tea leaves, since spring green tea is not sieved.  I ate the tea leaves. They tasted like cabbage.  Normally I am not that fond of cabbage, but the tea leaves tasted soothingly chewy.  How nice!  And then she sold me two kilograms of green tea.  To this day, I do not know what possessed me to buy so much.  After we had bought it, she presented us with two more tins of the tea as a present.  So thoughtful!

But now we had a slight problem.  Each kilogram of tea was a sizeable package, and we did not have room for it in our suitcases.  Ms. Mei had obviously dealt with this problem before, because in the room that you went through to leave her tea house was a mini-store where suitcases were sold.  Very convenient!  We bought a suitcase.  It was good thing that no one was offering the Brooklyn Bridge to me that day.

We brought the tea home along with two very pretty, small tea cups given to us by a friend in China. There is a slight difficulty with green tea, which is that it calls for very hot but (unlike black tea) not boiling water. The best temperature for the water is 176 degrees Fahrenheit or 80 degrees Celsius.  So I have bought a special kettle that will heat the water to the temperature you set it to and then keep the water at that temperature.  My only surprise is that Ms. Mei did not have one such kettle in her mini-store, with an adaptor for an American outlet.

Since we returned, I have tried to like the tea.  I made tea in the traditional way for members of the administration who were at school on one summer day.  Everyone was polite, and some thought the tea leaves tasted interesting.  “Like cabbage?” I asked.  “Exactly!” was the general response.

At the current rate we are consuming this tea, it will certainly survive this coming decade and probably the next one.  I am going to give it my best shot.  It does not require milk or sugar, and it is grown in this special place in China.  It is very high in antioxidants and the people who drink this tea have an extraordinary low rate of cancer and heart disease.  Can I pour you a cup?  Just sit back and allow the tea steam to envelop your face.  Do you know that the steam from green tea will relieve eye strain?  And drinking it will help your digestion a lot.  Are you feeling relaxed yet?  I just happen to have two kilograms of wonderful green tea that you can buy.  Just sit back and think of the pleasures of the tea ceremony.  You offer it to your guests, never pointing the spout directly at them; you encourage them to eat the tea leaves.  And then you all sip.  So pleasant!  Are you are ready to buy some tea?  If you act now, you can have a suitcase and a special kettle, too!

Ronald P. Stewart

Headmaster

York Prep