TEA LITERATUREComplete books, excerpts of books, poetry and articles.
An excerpt from “Tea Fried Brain”
Tea Fried Brain
A Novel By Frank Hadley Murphy
Copyright © 2014 Frank Hadley Murphy
An excerpt from “Tea Fried Brain”: (pages 8-12)
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By late morning I grew hungry, got up out of my chair, walked over to the van and pulled out a number of canvas bags. I carried them all over to the oaks and put them down on the ground in the shade. The trees acted as a windbreak. I grabbed a container of food out of one of the bags and went to river’s edge to eat. After a while, when my blood sugar stabilized and the taste of food had left my mouth, I began to think about making tea.
Often times, the thought, the desire to have tea, the decision to move in that direction, shifted my consciousness and signaled that the ritual had already begun. Part of that shift was to move my attention from the natural world that surrounded me, the expanded awareness of nature observation, to the focused discipline of an inner landscape that was required for any practice. So I got up out of my chair again, walked into the trees where I’d placed my tea bag and plunked myself right down on the ground.
I first made a clearing in the dirt by brushing away the season’s debris: twigs, acorns, dead leaves and grasses. I then set the stove up by wiggling the base of it into the dirt to make it level. It was a single burner backpacking stove with a small butane tank. I spread out the metal pot supports and placed an empty saucepan upon them. Over the years, living in this desert clime, I grew to appreciate water more and more because of its’ scarcity. My understanding of it, my relationship with it approached reverence. So when I heard Thich Nat Hahn’s simple prayer for water, I adopted it as my own and spoke it now as I poured water into my pan: Water flows from high in the mountains, water runs deep in the earth. Miraculously water comes to us and sustains all life. Thank you, water.
I next unfolded the flame adjuster, turned it on till I heard gas escaping, struck a match and lit her up. Under my breath I said these words: I call upon the spirits of the wind to stir the flames of my fire. I call upon the spirits of the fire to heat my water and I call upon the spirits of the water to help make my tea.
These words were inspired by the three trigrams on a brazier that was owned by China’s patron saint of tea, Lu Yu. One trigram was for wind, another for fire and the last for water.
Next, I unwrapped a bamboo tray and placed it on the ground as well. Upon the tray I put a porcelain gaiwan, a few wooden implements and a cup, a Chinese teacup, without handle or saucer.
It never takes long for water to boil with certain backpacking stoves. So when it started boiling, I lifted the pan off the flame with one of those contoured potholders that slip right over the handle and poured warming water into the gaiwan and the cup. I put the pan back on the stove and poured the water from these vessels onto the ground at the foot of the trees. I then lifted a disk of pressed tea from its’ box, removed the protective paper just enough to expose one end and inserted a knife made from the rib of an ox, that was designed for this maneuver, into the side of this Puerh, or Puer, cake and twisted it. I broke off some tea, dropped it into the warmed gaiwan and poured the boiling water over the leaves. I then took the lid of the gaiwan, dipped it into the hot water at the bottom of the saucepan to warm it up and placed it over the brewing leaves. As the steam pressure built beneath the lid, it pressed down on the water raising the level of the brew and made it overflow into the saucer. At the same time, air trapped in this old cake began to be released and the lid of the gaiwan would sometimes pop and clatter about.
Parting with tradition, I rarely rinsed the leaves before brewing them because I considered rinsing to be a “deficit disorder”. The thinking was this: if I were to rinse these leaves, if I were to pour water over them briefly and throw that water out, I would also be throwing out some of the tea’s nutrients, some of the taste, some of the caffeine, theobromine, theophyline and L-Theanine, but most importantly, I would also be throwing out a portion of the tea’s vital life force, it’s chi. However brief the rinse, the leaves will be in a depleted state before we even take our first sip and our experience will be compromised. The other thing is that no one could adequately explain to me the whole tradition of rinsing, when it started, why people did it. So why begin your relationship with a new tea at a deficit? It’s disruptive to the leaves and to the process. Friends, however, did not agree.
And now, while the leaves brewed I placed my hand over the vessel and said a few more words: “Bless this tea and bless this water, may this union be made in heaven. I call upon the spirit of the leaf, the devas of the plant and the soul of the species to waken from your slumber and impart upon these waters the wisdom of the earth and I shall endeavor to create within myself a receptive vessel within which to receive that wisdom.” Then in silence, I held my hand over the leaves and ran my energy and intention, my love and gratitude, down through my palm and into the brew.
After four minutes, I decanted into the teacup, retaining the leaves with the lid of the gaiwan. I then poured a little of the tea onto the ground in an offertory gesture of thanks and went back to my perch above the river with this dense, black sludge.
I then let the tea rest, let it cool for a few minutes in my lap, for even though the leaves have been pulled from the brew, there was still particulate matter in the tea to keep it infusing for a while longer. This, plus how the tea cools, is what can cause a tea to taste different with every sip.
With the first sip, there is a second shift in consciousness as my whole body fills with the essence of the leaf. I make tea in an empty vessel and then I become an empty vessel to receive it. The practice of maintaining this emptiness is a practice that runs through all of the world’s mystical traditions. In the West, there is a prayer that goes:Lord, make me decrease so that you might increase in me. The point is to get out of our own way and become a kind of receiver for whatever is to come. We take that first sip and open to it, yield to it and let it affect us. Tea has now begun to infuse us. This ritual of making and tasting tea can then become what I call an entry ritual, a doorway into other realms. That is why I write of tea as an entheogen, a substance that is capable of creating the sensation of the divine within or that causes one to become inspired or to experience feelings of inspiration.
With the first taste I encounter the silken viscosity, the floral notes and dried, fruity tones, the earthen depths, wooded bite and all of it bathing my tongue with waves of unfolding complexity before it slides down the back of my throat. “Waves of cascading epiphanies” may be more accurate, for such is the way it feels when tea stirs us to our soul, sharing with us her deepest mysteries.
I begin to notice a number of opening sensations in my tummy and then, as my body and the tea continue to shift and mobilize in union with each other, there are these opening, flowering sensations in my heart: open, expansive feelings of love and joy. So in a way, it may be said that tea flowers twice. Once on the bush and a second time in our hearts. And so she stirs. And she mobilizes.
I sat for a long while savoring the whole body sensations a well-aged Pu-erh imparts. I followed the warmth of the tea down into my belly where it has pooled and where it seems to activate every pore on my skin. It then flows out through those same pores, looking, perhaps, for its way back home.
The tea pulls me back so far into myself that my senses became attuned to a different set of coordinates, a different set of phenomenon. Perhaps it is that my senses align themselves with a subtle, more refined resonance. One that is silent and still. Perhaps a part of this shift in consciousness is what is meant when it is said that tea muffles strident noises. I do not know. I am not a scientist. I have never been known for my powers of deductive reasoning. I would prefer to lay down under tea bushes on the green, terraced hills of Yunnan…and dream. Dream as I dreamt now in this altered state, feeling the tea leading me through doorways coupled with the mesmerizing sun sparkling on the water.
© Frank Hadley Murphy: All rights reserved. Permission to use any portion of this material or any excerpt from “Tea Fried Brain” must be obtained from the author.
Frank Hadley Murphy
From Frank Hadley Murphy, Author of “Tea Fried Brain” and “Spirit of Tea”
DECEMBER 31, 1993
My life in tea begins with “Pu-erh epiphany.” My first taste experience of a single estate China tea from Yunnan province. I was reminded of the words of D. H. Lawrence in his book “Mornings in Mexico” “……something stood still in my heart and I started to attend.”
Then, in 1995 I began formal training in China Tea under the direction of Tea Master Donald Wallis. and began to contribute articles for publication in tea journals including the ‘American Tea Journal’ and ‘Tea A Magazine’. “The Spirit of Tea” article appeared in ‘The American Tea Journal’ Spring/Summer 1996; “Camellia” appeared in the ‘American Tea Journal’ in 1996 & ‘Tea A Magazine’ Sep/Oct. 1998. Excerpts from “The Spirit of Tea” talk appeared in ‘Tea A Magazine’ in their April/May edition.
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