Here in the U.S. April 27th is Tell a Story day. These stories can be from a book or other published source (including online) or a memory or even a yarn you’ve spun yourself. So, for us tea folks it seemed appropriate to tell a tea story. We’ll leave it up to you to determine which source it is from (book, memory, or tall tale).
Once upon a time in the days when man knew little of the plants around him – which ones were good to cultivate and consume and which ones were not – there lived a man in the part of our world now called “China” who helped sort these plants out. His name was Shen Nong. And one of the greatest things he did was discover that the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant family were suitable for steeping in boiling water and then drinking that water, infused with the flavors from those leaves.
The real hero of the story, though, is not Shen Nong (also called the “Divine Farmer” and said to be imbued with almost magical powers, such as surviving poisonous plants that would have killed us mere mortals). The real hero is a little brass pot that Shen Nong carried with him on his travels. He used this pot to boil water before drinking it, having determined that this removed “impurities” (what we now know as bacteria) from the water and make it safe to drink.
That little pot was not an ordinary one. It was itself imbued with powers to entice the plants and animals around it with beautiful songs. The pot sat full of water over the flames of the fire that Shen Nong had made and sang a song to the leaves of the tree branches overhead. The song was so alluring and so beautiful that the branch began to quiver as the leaves struggled to break free and join the water in that pot. Several leaves managed to do this and fell with a little splash, bubbling happily in the lovely singing pot. Shen Nong napped nearby during the heat of the afternoon. Not even the flies landing with curiosity on his face could disturb his gentle dreams.
After a few minutes, Shen Nong finally awoke and thought he heard a gentle song. The flames of the fire had grown low and the water in the pot no longer boiled but merely simmered. He saw the leaves in the pot and thought at first that the water was spoiled, but the pot sang to him and charmed him into drinking the water, which he did. The flavors so pleased him and he felt so refreshed and full of new energy that he gathered more leaves from the tree branches, stored them in a pouch, and carried them with him on his travels to find more safe plants for humans to enjoy.
Those leaves did not stay fresh long, though, and grew withered and dry in his pouch. He was going to throw them away the next time he stopped to boil more water, but the pot sang to him to go ahead and toss some in the boiling water, which he did. This time the resulting infusion tasted even better, and he made a note not only of the type of tree from which the leaves came but also how to preserve the leaves by withering and drying them. These methods survive today, and that singing teapot has taught other teapots his songs to entice us humans to enjoy tea.
Listen to your teapot, follow it’s song, and steep your tea.
That’s our story of tea. What’s yours?