As the light fades, a new ritual dawns
Hold your teacup close and tight. Winter is here, and that hot tea will rejuvenate both the mind and body as bone-tingling breezes bluster outside.
photo– Lila Theodoros
styling– Beck Marshall
Winter is the Earth’s way of reminding us to slow down and reconnect. With single-digit temperatures and short days ushering us indoors, the whistle of the kettle calls you to savour a restorative pot of tea. Each pot is a source of connection and contemplation that anchors you to this new season.
Whether a honey-sweetened chai is your winter elixir of choice or you hand-make your own herbal remedies with soothing ginger and lemon, tea offers many comforts. It warms, nourishes and invites you to take part in a centuries-old ritual that began in China and gradually spread across the world.
Tea was first consumed for its health benefits, and shortly thereafter Buddhist monks realised that the beverage gave them a gentle energy buzz that allowed them to stay awake during long meditations.
During the many centuries that have ensued, this ancient drink has become one of great cultural significance right around the Earth. In India chai wallahs are found amid the frenzy of busy street corners, while in Japan tranquil teahouses set the scene for meditative tea ceremonies.
“Each country, in its own way, has developed a different style of drinking tea,” says tea master and founder of Australian Tea Masters Sharyn Johnston. “Tea types grown in each country often dictate the type of service and ceremonial practice, and that is what is so exciting about tea; it is a never-ending journey of learning.”
Though our own culinary culture possesses a stronger reverence for coffee, winter is the season when tea’s allure comes to the fore. Mindful moments are stolen as we carefully boil the kettle and steep delicate leaves. Love is shared while benevolently preparing herbal brews for sick friends and family. And connection grows over a fragrant pot of tea, with the teapot forming a nurturing expression of togetherness.
The kettle burbles, slender leaves dance as they steep in boiling water and the steam rising from your cup carries a delicate aroma. This visceral experience invites you to linger over a brew and indulge in the rare pleasure of idleness.
Even though tea is a drink associated with gathering—with steaming pots shared among friends—it is solemn moments like this when tea offers its greatest bliss. Amid her workday, naturopath and Mayde Tea founder Kate Dalton savours these mindful interludes.
“I love that preparing tea makes me stop and walk away from my desk; I just watch the kettle boil and that is where all my focus is for those few minutes,” she explains wistfully, before outlining the therapeutic benefits of a cuppa.
“In winter we want to really warm everything up, so things like ginger, cinnamon, cloves—basically everything in chai—are really good,” she says.
Other warming ingredients Kate highlights include turmeric, black tea and cardamom, while rosehip, orange and citrus are all high in vitamin C and will give your immune system a helping hand to ward off omnipresent winter bugs.
This vivid assemblage of ingredients paints a picture of a beverage far richer than a limp teabag. And if ever there were a time to try new teas, winter is the season.
Green tea loads you up with healing antioxidants, whether it’s a delicate jasmine-scented tea from China or umami-rich Gyokuro from Japan. Then there are caffeine-free herbal blends to drink all day long—a welcome source of comfort on grey afternoons and rain-soaked nights—and black teas that naturally warm the body and get your circulation flowing to give you a gentle energy boost on sluggish mornings.
“In winter I love black teas from different countries,” Sharyn enthuses. Darjeeling from India, Korean Breakfast blends, Jin Jun Mei from China and bold black teas from Sri Lanka and Kenya are among her list of favourite winter brews, together with chai.
This world of flavour and comfort has evolved over centuries of refinement. Thousands of different teas are cultivated around the world, with tea masters carrying on the legacy of those who toiled in the tea fields before them. And it’s this farm-to-cup process that underpins Sharyn’s daily gratitude practice.
“Showing appreciation for that cup of tea when you are busy is so good for your soul,” she says. “If we can all just take a few minutes a day to stop and appreciate what is behind that cup—what has gone into making the actual leaf—it is a moment of gratitude. Letting our mind wander to the beautiful tea fields definitely helps us to have a moment of mindfulness.”
This gift of appreciation is as rich as the bite of a crisp organic apple at the farm gate. Tea can be dressed up and served in gold-trimmed porcelain, but its essence connects you to the land in which it was grown and harvested. Halfway across the world, your tea was hand picked as tender buds sprouted in thickly cloaked fields. Then it was gently rolled and dried into slender twirls ready for your cup.
To honour this provenance, eschew supermarket tea bags in favour of loose-leaf blends as we ease into the cooler months. This season’s ritual begins by connecting with tea makers like Kate and Sharyn to learn about the origins of your tea, how to brew it and what health benefits your blend of choice offers.
Right now as we enter winter, spring harvests have just finished in the fields of China, India and many other countries. Over winter, tea bushes sat dormant, quietly storing all their energy for spring to produce new leaves with healing properties that are believed to assist with everything from weight loss to bone strengthening.
From the tea field, these leaves are then cast right across the globe. In Russia, bold and smoky teas offer an antidote to freezing days. In Taiwan skilled tea masters gently hand-roll floral oolongs. And in Turkey, black tea is sweetened to the point of being sickly to the unsuspecting palate.
No two tea cultures around the world are alike, so cultivate your own tea-drinking ritual this winter. Allow each infusion to nourish your mind and body, and offer an antidote to busyness. Take the time to marvel at the simplicity of hot water poured over a scoop of leaves, and all that those humble leaves represent. And drink slowly from your favourite vessel, whether that’s a fine China teacup or one you threw yourself on the pottery wheel.
Even though a fast-paced momentum may return in summer—with its longer days, busy social calendar and humidity-soaked sense of adventure—you’ll recall those tranquil moments every time you open the cupboard and glimpse your favourite tea.