Tea Month?


I may go a little off topic here …

For obvious reasons, I’m professionally interested in “ritual”:  a category of behaviors that, when one tries to define precisely what one means by the label, is as ornery as they come.  It’s clear by now that the capacity to “ritualize” — to habitually repeat certain actions with little conscious thought — has an evolutionary history, provides a selective advantage, and continues to be useful.  In the same way that religions have appropriated, elaborated and modified other basic cognitive traits, ritualization has been transformed into action sequences with huge social implications.  For example, the transition to adulthood is marked with some form of ceremonial ritual in many cultures, the significance of which is so profound that one may not be accepted as a ‘real’ adult without it.

Unfortunately, by focusing on the more spectacular examples in the ethnographic record, we sometimes fail to acknowledge, first, that most rituals are quite mundane, and second, that a primary explanation for the performance of rituals is that many of them are fun.  In fact, I’d argue that the costly ones are the exceptions to the rule:  a ritual that is less than pleasant probably has this character for a reason.  The prototypical pattern for ‘initiation’ rituals, for example, is spectacularly unpleasant, precisely because one needs to signal one’s commitment before being accepted as a member.  At the opposite end of the spectrum, note how often individual communities, or even individual families, mark the change of seasons with a personalized ritual:  “Every autumn we always get everybody together, and ______”; “It just wouldn’t be Christmas without _____.”  The ritual isn’t functional — a boy who isn’t initiated still goes through puberty; December 25th comes and goes on its own — but without the ritual practice (which is to say, social display and acknowledgement) it just doesn’t seem as real, and we feel we’ve missed out.

For my family, it wouldn’t be October without Tea Month.  Every day, we have a different kind of tea, making sure to hit all the major varieties:  black and green, pu erh and white, flavored and oolong, etc.  (Today’s was a Meng Ding yellow tea, btw.)  It’s not “important,” and certainly doesn’t have the gravitas or cultural significance of the Japanese “Way of Tea.”  In fact, it’s a little tongue-in-cheek — but nevertheless, we actually get upset by the idea of skipping a day.  A few friends of ours participate now, too, and are equally obsessed.  There’s even a Facebook page.

Imagine my delight when, in the middle of Tea Month (“An event steeped in tradition, and infused with good taste!”), I stumble across a science fiction book about the ritual importance of tea in a future with little potable water:  Finnish author Emmi Itaranta’s Memory of Water (review HERE).

So, if you were wondering what to buy me for my Tea Month present …


2 thoughts on “Tea Month?

  1. nerdexploring

    For me the ritual of tea month also carries with it a sense of importance around how the tea is consumed. While of course I encourage and partake in the general enjoyment of tea, I have to admit that the busy schedule this month has caused disruptions to the rituals. The time for tea has come to late in the day to be enjoyed as they should and therefore the choice becomes (a) have a compromised cuppa – rushed and may keep you up all night* (b) skip a day and therefore not fully partaking in the ritual. Neither option is satisfactory but I have found that I prefer b. In my mind I stipulate that I will compensate with extra thoughtful cups in November.

    Another key thing that this tea month ritual allows is a connection between friends who are far apart. Knowing each person is going through it as the same time (day) even if there is no direct communication. And the Facebook group (let’s ignore how much Facebook annoys me most of the time) allows connection with completely new people too!! Amazing!

    Can’t wait to read the tea sci-fi!!

    *Genmaicha just seems the worst/best for keeping us up at night!!

  2. Steven Hrotic Post author

    I think you’re right … better to skip a day and remain mindful. Especially since I like to use the time to think fondly on others not PHYSICALLY present, but nonetheless remain part of our lives! ;o)


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