As soon as I heard about a mindful tea ceremony here in Sydney, I booked to go. Always keen to experience something new, I’m excited. It’s my first tea ceremony and is about time I learnt a something about mindfulness.
Where is Altitude Tea?
Walking down Regent Street to the venue, I’m pleased to see that the Gelato place I’ve always wanted to try is open. And over the road is a craft brewery I’ve been wanting to visit. I’ll be having a gelato followed by craft beer on my way home.
Altitude Tea is located in Botany Road, Alexandria in The Nest Creative Space. After calling Cara to let me in, I wait outside, pleased that it’s not raining as there’s no shelter. A young man who is leaving the premises, lets me in to wait in a reception area.
Cara greets me with a surprisingly strong deep voice for such a little person. She’s wearing a cream cross-over top with a wide kimono sleeve and flowing pale green pants. Her long black hair falls in curls over her shoulder.
I follow her up the stairs to a delightfully decorated space. Bamboo ‘blinds’ hanging against the wall and yellow cushions on a raised platform create a welcoming setting. A little table set with a tray and tea ceremony accoutrements rests on the cushioned platform.
I’m lucky to have Cara to myself. The other couple who were to join me aren’t coming. Cara, aware that I’m of a certain age, offers me a chair, but I prefer to try to sit cross-legged across the little table from Cara.
Learning about Tea
Cara has been interested in tea since she was fourteen. She regularly visits her home town in China’s Fujian Province, which is known for its tea. There, Cara attends courses to improve her knowledge of tea and to refine her skills in performing the tea ceremony. She says there is “so much to learn about tea, about the tea ceremony and the philosophy of tea.”
A Mindful Tea Ceremony
A tea ceremony, correctly done, is a performance. Each smooth gentle movement by the host is intentional and practiced many times over to perfect it. Cara explains that her ceremony involves 21 steps. Every movement, putting the leaves into the teapot, pouring in water, picking up a tea cup and pouring the tea, counts as a single step.
The tea ceremony is a mindful process where participants focus on each element using all five senses. To begin, Cara encourages me to close my eyes. Closing my eyes in front of strangers makes me feel uncomfortable and I reluctantly comply. A soothing sound fills the room as Cara glides a ‘mallet’ around the rim of her crystal singing bowl. I soon relax focusing on the swirling sounds.
After a few minutes, a clear “dong” breaks the spell and I open my eyes.
Tools of the Trade
Gentle music plays in the background as Cara explains the tools of her trade. She will use her tea tongs for handling hot cups. The tea tray drains the water used when rinsing and heating cups. There is a terracotta teapot, a special steeping teapot and a fairness cup. This is a glass pouring vessel which ensures that each person receives the same amount of tea of similar strength. There are two different types of teacups: the aroma cup and the tasting cup.
Cara has prepared three bamboo tea scoops, each containing a different tea. We’ll start with Milky Oolong, followed by Madam Chen and end with an Australian blend. This has no caffeine and is good before bedtime.
With gentle flowing circular movements, Cara performs the tea ceremony. Watching as she deftly picks up the tea pot or replaces a lid all the while holding her wide sleeve out of the way is strangely calming.
Using all my Senses
As this is my first tea ceremony, Cara explains each step, encouraging me to look, listen, feel and taste. She talks less with guests who are familiar with the process, allowing them to focus completely on being mindful.
I follow her lead and roll the aroma cup between my palms and smell the tea. Copying Cara, I put the tasting cup upside down over the aroma cup. Then, placing the cups firmly between my thumbs and index fingers and supported by my middle fingers, I quickly invert the cups, thereby transferring the tea into the tasting cup. I concentrate as I gently break the suction that has developed between the two vessels.
My senses are heightened in this mindful tea ceremony. I watch Cara’s gentle movements and observe the depths of colour of the tea. Feeling the warmth of the aroma cup as I role it between my palms, I then raise it to my nose to breath in the tea’s aroma. I taste the fullness of the tea as it swirls around in my mouth. There’s a milky richness in one and a hint of lemon in another. My ears tune in as Cara pours the tea and count the glugs as I gently release the tasting cup from the aroma cup.
It’s not all about Mindfulness
The small cups mean lots of pouring of tea, promoting a connection between the host and guests. It encourages socialization. While today there are only the two of us, Cara hopes that strangers participating in her tea ceremony will leave as friends.
I’ve been sitting, quite comfortably, in one position for over 60 minutes. When I stand up, I groan. Everything creaks and my joints struggle to move.
Note: Taking head of feedback, Cara has redesigned her room. Now all guests sit comfortably on chairs.
How do I feel now?
Leaving Altitude Tea, I feel relaxed and refreshed. I’ve spent a most enjoyable afternoon enjoying a mindful tea ceremony. And I didn’t need to leave Sydney to do so.
But wait…there’s more
I do stop at Ciccone and Son for a gelato on my way back to Redfern Station. The assistant encourages me to try their special – the Redbird Spice. She describes it as a spicey mandarin. Creamy light brown in colour, the spice is subtle and most enjoyable.
Atomic Beer is gearing up for one of the Matilda’s matches in the FIFA Women’s world cup. All tables are reserved for later, but I take a perch and chat to some England supporters while enjoying my craft beer before catching the train home to watch the game on TV.