Tea Writings

A blog about tea from the desk of Cecilia Tan

Tea Witness

December 15, 2009 By: ctan Category: Tea Books, Tea Musings

You meet all sorts of people on the Internet. Having a tea blog is a little like running an online tea shop. People stop by from all over, and sometimes you get into interesting conversations with them.

One recent visitor to TeaWritings was Jason Witt, the author of the recently published book Spirituality of Tea. Right now the Kindle edition of the book is only a dollar, so I bought it. Jason is something of a tea monk. He eats a low-calorie diet, doesn’t drink or do drugs, doesn’t own a car or house and tries not to clutter up his life with possessions, and finds his ecstatic pleasure in tea and communing with God daily through tea. He doesn’t live on a mountaintop in Tibet, though, but in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Jason’s book reminded me in some ways of the books of Earl Grollman, who although he is a rabbi, focuses his books on a wider audience through the belief that all human beings, not just those of a particular religious sect, could benefit from his message. Grollman’s subject is grief and bereavement, and he writes in a very direct and almost simplified manner, soothingly repeating the messages distraught survivors need to hear. Jason’s subject is overcoming the stresses of modern life and the get-ahead mentality that distances us from our true needs, both physical and spiritual. Like Grollman, he invokes God and Heaven without specifying a specific church or doctrine and sends a powerful, direct message about the peace and happiness one can find.

Despite rampant commercialism and battles over its meaning, the holiday season still means something spiritual to me, making now a good time to talk with Jason about God, tea, religion, and other such subjects. I chatted with Jason, of course, through the Internet.

CT: The basic message of your book is that people can find God within themselves through drinking tea. Can I ask which one you came to first, God or tea?

Jason Witt:
Actually tea was a part of my conversion experience. It took a few years to accept God, and along the way when I was getting close I discovered that soothing tea was better for my outlook than the coffee that provokes anxiety. Amazingly, it was a social phenomenon. People didn’t like me drinking coffee and wanted me to switch to tea.

CT: Would you say that there are as many ways of believing in God as there are of enjoying and preparing tea?

JW: There’s only one God but people are all different. For those people who truly do connect with God, it’s always in their own way.

CT: What prompted you to write a book about tea and spirituality?

JW: Tea is what I’d like to offer to people just as Jesus gave Himself as wine.

CT: You have a very nice synthesis in the book of the Zen outlook of trusting one’s self to find the spiritual within and the more “Judeo-Christian” notion of God as a moral force outside of us. Did tea help you develop this outlook?

JW: Tea helped me to get in touch with myself, yes. If I were to overdo it on alcohol or habitually drink coffee it would alienate me from myself.

CT: One line in particular resonated with me. “Tea can be trusted as a way to approach God.” I think a lot of people out there want more spirituality in their lives, they crave a connection to the spiritual, but they are distrustful of sometimes corrupt religious organizations, afraid over actual religious wars going on, etc. But could the cup of tea they already drink every day be the door to opening that connection to the spiritual themselves?

JW: Yes, that’s the basic premise of my book. The perfect balance of caffeine and L-theanine in tea provide the stimulation so that the tea drinker can approach God with wonder (caffeine) and while yet relaxed (theanine.)

CT: One line in the book in particular had me smiling and of course feeling superior, because I drink tea rather than coffee. (The relationship between coffee-people and tea-people to me is a lot like that between dog-people and cat-people. Each believes their preference is best, but coffee is so dominant in American culture. The line was where you were talking about the effects of caffeine in perpetuating the stress-sickness cycle, but how coffee lacks the calming effect of tea.) “Coffee is a fearmonger,” you wrote, “jolting you with dread but lending no companion confidence. And coffee thus promotes endless anxiety about earthly things, adding no remedy for the pain it causes.” I always feel that coffee makes people speed up, whereas tea slows them down. Can you say a bit more about the contrast between coffee and tea?

JW: Coffee is incomplete because it contains mainly caffeine alone. Therefore it causes the stress response and a whole host of sicknesses that are related. Tea has the L-theanine along with the caffeine. Therefore it too gives energy but its effect is more on the order of the relaxation response, which is considered difficult to achieve, to overcome the culprit stress.

CT: What is the kind of tea you drink most often? Do you have a favorite kind?

JW: Right now my favorite is tea from India or Sri Lanka. Perhaps my favorite is Assam. I like the history that is behind these British teas. The Brits did a real spiritual service by making tea available for everyone.

CT: How long have you considered yourself a “tea-drinker”?

JW: My “conversion” happened around 1993, but after that there were times of too much coffee and alcohol also. But now I’m a teetotaler who doesn’t drink any alcohol and I wouldn’t want any coffee for any reason either.

CT: I was fascinated by the information in the book about the amino acid L-theanine being unique to the tea leaf and also being what gives tea its “umami” flavor. Do you think tea is somewhat amazing for the fact that it is one of the few things that is truly good for human health that also tastes good? Nearly every other thing that we can enjoy (or crave) is ultimately unhealthy for us — salt (high blood pressure), sugar (cavities, obesity), wine (liver damage, alcoholism), but not tea?

JW: That’s a great idea for a tea book, I must say. Yes, it’s true that fine tea is a culinary delight and there’s no real upward limit. For the most part, more tea is healthier for you. That’s not true of practically any other food.

CT: Did you study neurochemistry previously, or was it just the study of tea that led you to this knowledge about amino acids and neurotransmitters?

JW: It’s very kind of you to think that I sound professional with what I’ve written in the book. I have no medical or science background so I’m not a credentialed authority. What really happened was I very much wanted to get off caffeine to give it up as a habit. I began to study it in depth so I would know it would be possible to quit. It worked and I was totally free of caffeine for a couple interesting months. Of course I wanted the tea back and also learned my lesson that it is good and not a bad habit. Knowledge is liberating in this way.

CT: You go quite a bit into your description of the Tea Lifestyle Diet. Will that be your next book?

JW: No, and I may have gone a bit too far with that. I think I get a bit preachy because I’m an ascetic when it comes to food but a gourmand with my tea. I wanted to include tips on how to eat for longevity because it’s something tea promises for its faithful drinkers. And I do eat a low-calorie diet myself, as I’ve written. But it’s just a sideshow where the tea is the main attraction.

CT: Any last comments you’d like to make?

JW: Just thanks for some interesting questions. It was fun answering them.

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