Lemonade Tea Ceremony
During a brief window of opening last summer I was fortunate to spend a couple of nights in the Jedediah Smith Redwoods. I was nestling into the giant trees, channeling the thoughts of a little forest fox, when I came across a couple who invited me to share some black jasmine tea with them. They were very quiet. They sat on a rug. They waited for what seemed like a long time before pouring the tea. They passed me a cup but only after they decided the perfect side of the cup to offer. I drank the tea, along with my surroundings, in a calm moment of presence. Thanking them, I went on my way, enjoying my forest bathing a tiny bit more after the tea exchange.
The pause for a quiet cuppa (that’s what they call it in Britain) tea activated my inner scientist. I became hyper-aware of my surroundings and was able to observe deeply and with confidence. It left such an impression that I made an inner note to build in a meditative pause to all of my future scientific inquiries.
Making Tea and Doing Science
Back in town, I did a little research into tea ceremonies. Here is a bit of what I discovered:
Several countries enjoy types of tea drinking traditions including, India, Japan, Australia, Russia, Morroco, Korea, Argentina, Great Britain, many parts of Africa, and China.
East Asian tea ceremonies can last for as many as 4 hours. There are often strict rules in a tea-drinking ceremony.
In east Asian tea ceremonies a person called the Tea Master runs the tea ceremony and people train for at least three years to be able to practice as a tea master.
It occurred to me that what I was reading looked a lot like another practice I know – Science. Both the practice of tea ceremonies and the practice of science require so many of the same qualities to be successful. Precision timing and measuring, confidence in one’s skill, replicable parts, complete cleanliness, an exacting focused presence of mind, a lot of training. There are even more similarities; the main one, being the person manning the whole operation – tea masters and the scientists seem to be cut from the same cloth. The tea ceremony is led by a master that works to create the perfect tea every time and does so with precision gleaned through years of daily practice, similarly the scientist experiment and the scientist.
Scientific thinking is a part of being human
People’s ideas, skills, expertise, and intentions guide science as much as they guide tea ceremonies. People create the scientific questions/the tea. People prepare the investigation materials/ the tea accouterments. People are analyzing the results/tea. People are sharing the finished product data/tea. The centered, exacting practice of tea ceremonies is the same in science. This comparison illustrates how the scientific process is embedded in so many things we do. Why wouldn’t it be? Isn’t Science is the most basic human endeavor – to find out about the world around us and possibly improve our experience of that world? While sometimes seen as a cold and heartless job, fundamentally the most important part of being a scientist is the human doing the science! Human senses, human bodies, the previous experiences of the people doing the science all make up the first and most important data-collecting tool – the human being themselves!
How is it that the fields of science lack equity? All people engage in inquiry. If science is anything like tea traditions, which, this article means to illustrate, then, of course, all different people are doing science everywhere! The ideals embedded in tea ceremonies across nations, thoughts of balance, calm precision, respect, sharing of information, and harmony, are ideals that are embedded in science as well. The bigger the pool of people asking questions, the better and more exciting the questions will be, the better the tea party.
Lemonade Tea Party Experiment
I teach this fun exercise in my science inquiry classrooms and you can do it at your home. Kids make Meyers lemonade, but only after they learn about tea ceremonies. They write down everything they do diligently in their notebooks- how to cut the lemons, how to measure the sweetener, what is the best lemon squeezer, etc… They break down what they did into parts. They talk about possible changes in the recipes: make sugar water first? Use honey? They observe and note the differences in recipes during very serious taste tests, stating their favorite versions and why. They do this every day over a period of time, at least a week. The goal is to make several different versions of lemonade with the care and intention of a Japanese tea master or, of a scientist. In the end, the kids have a personal record, that has even been peer-reviewed, of what makes the best Meyers lemonade. Usually, most of the kids have memorized the recipe after doing it so many times, sort of making them into Lemonade Masters.
I try to add more ritual to the whole project by using certain lighting, the same beginning and ending, certain times that we do the project, and other things. Not because I want to impart a false reverence, but because the kids seem to have a different mindset when it is taught like that. Much like last summer when I first met the tea drinkers, I want the kids to enjoy a similar observative pause, a scientific experience of their own making. If they are present, giving all of their attention, they will discover things! That is scientific confidence and I hope to give that to them! Last summer the tea drinking in the forest was a fantastic gift, a gift that turned into the gift of how to trigger scientific observation! Deep noticing can lead to wonderful questions, authentic appreciation for our surroundings, and gratitude for our connections to the earth and each other. This is what ScienceWorks hopes to pass on to you this season. We wish you a Happy Lemonade Ceremony this solstice!
Here is a great article expanding on the science of tea ceremonies: