The “fish out of water” theme shows up in movies as a favorite. We all like to watch people coping with situations that are outside of their ordinary environment. The movie about the Aussie crocodile wrestler in New York City is one that made its star/writer/producer a millionaire almost overnight. And then there’s the time travel movies which have that “fish out of water” element to them, starting with H.G. Wells The Time Machine. Witness has a police detective seeing what life is like up close and personal for an Amish community. The examples roll on and on. This site has a whole list of them. And when it comes to tea, you can feel like a bit of a fish out of water as you begin learning more and more of its intricacies.

Chashitsu (Japanese tea room for Chanoyu) (Screen capture from site)

Chashitsu (Japanese tea room for Chanoyu) (Screen capture from site)

Your tea world consists of the tea or teas you are used to drinking and the way you are used to preparing and enjoying them. Consider this scenario:

You have your favorite bagged tea. You grab your favorite mug, fill it with water, stick it in the microwave and zap it until the water is boiling like crazy. Then you remove the mug (carefully to avoid the popping bubbles that can scald – been there, done that) and dunk in that teabag. If it’s the kind with a string and tag attached, you may have the habit of dunking the bag up and down in the water. When the tea is dark enough, you pull the bag out, squeeze it as best you can or just toss it (leaving a trail of drips), and either gulp the scalding tea right away or add stuff to it, whichever your personal taste dictates.

Now, imagine yourself suddenly transported to Japan (assuming you aren’t already there). You’ll encounter things like this:

Everyone around you seems to be drinking tea all day long. (They actually drink an average of 3 to 4 cups of tea per day.) Almost all of the tea will be green. But there are many different kinds. There are tearooms (chashitsu) all over that you can go to and experience the tea ceremony (Cha no yu, 茶の湯). Tea at the better restaurants is served with or at the end of the meal and is free. You can also find tea at some temples and gardens, usually served in the tranquil environment of a tatami room and with a Japanese sweet. Bottled tea is also common at stores and vending machines. Add to that the sitting on the floor in a toe-crunching, knee-stiffening position, and the culture shock can be rather acute.

Of course, tea in other Asian countries and India is equally vastly different than what Westerners do. Chawallahs in India, for example, have their milky, spicy tea available throughout the day. Tea is often made in a saucepan on an open flame. Asian tea times often involve multiple steepings of the same tea leaves and in small amounts where you barely get a mouthful in the handleless cup. You are meant to slow down and enjoy, not rush and steep and gulp on the go.

The one good thing about these “fish out of water” movies is that sooner or later you not only get adjusted to those new surroundings, but at some point you end up back in your own environment. But the best part is bringing back home with you that new perspective gained in your sojourn. The same is true of trying a new tea. Enjoy!

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

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