As the busy holiday season wraps up another year of tea in our store, I look forward to the quiet month of January. Deliveries of tea from China slow to a trickle ( with the exception of a few autumnal teas ) and will remain as such until the manic energy of the new tea season begins in the spring.
Each season has its purpose, and I view winter as a time when the orderly pattern of Nature is restored. Life quiets, giving man, animals and plants valuable time to recharge.
Not everyone does, but in truth, I like the months when darkness comes early and nights are quiet and still. I like to drive home from work and see the welcoming porch lights illuminating neighboring houses. And pass by restaurant windows that are steamed-up from the warmth eminating within. I imagine the good times and can almost smell the food being enjoyed inside the jovial atmosphere of the restaurant. It makes me smile.
Winter is a time to think and to reflect on past and future. I also appreciate the natural, physical side of winter, such as early darkness, blankets of soft, white snow covering the earth and the clarity of the crisp, cold air. The dark, star-studded skies behind my house brings the Big Dipper back to December/January position. In the dark silence I often hear the hoots and howls of neighborhood owls and coyotes who lord over the fields and forests as we humans concern ourselves with indoor activities.
Farming has ceased across the Northeast, and garden plants and trees have slowed into complete winter dormancy. Animals, both farm and wild, take it slow before the next round of birthing begins. The gardening catalogues show up in mailboxes now and it is pleasurable to sit by the fire and plot additions to my flower garden. ( Vegetable gardening we leave to the two farming families down the street in our neighborhood who are much more successful at it that we are, and who keep us happily supplied during the summer with the best sweet corn and tomatoes that one could ever wish for. )
I also use this time to think about the new tea year that will begin just a few short months from now. In most ( but not all ) tea producing countries tea bushes are dormant now too. Dormancy ( our word ‘dormant’ is derived from the French word ‘dormir’- to sleep ) gives plants a restful time to develop strength in their ‘core’ by storing energy in their roots. This stored energy will be necesary for the tea bushes once the slumber of winter is broken by the spring thaw. As the air warms and ground temperatures rise, the plants flush with energy released from the roots and leaf production begins once again.
Spring brings a resurgance of new tea in the tea regions of China, India Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. Depending on what country one is speaking of (and what region or production area within each country) green and black teas come back into production first, followed by Pu-erh, whites and the various types of oolong. Each tea has a season in which it is at its glorious best, so learning what teas to purchase from which season is a distinction that every tea enthusiast would benefit from becoming familiar with.
But for now, early winter is time to savor dark, charcoal-fired oolongs from the Wu Yi Shan ( Da Hong Pao, Shui Xian, Shui Jin Gui, Tie Lo Han, and others ) and big, leafy, fragrant Fenghuang Dan Cong oolongs. Shou Pu-erh and black tea, too, are teas for drinking during the cold, dark months. Dark tea feeds our soul during the cold times when our being wants to be nurtured by strong tastes in tea, spirits and foods.
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