I wasn’t expecting to find much related to tea in Puducherry. So it was great to run into Priti Sen Arora and Dheeraj Arora—who run the vibrant Karma Kettle tea brand and café in Kolkata—there, chatting about tea and small town life, or wander into The Promenade hotel and be able to order a pot of Manipur wild tea. Or, find the Gelato Factory also serves Rimpocha tea. Most unexpected, perhaps, was the experience of a proper gong fu tea drinking session.
I have found the gong fu a tad intimidating, since it seems to be better suited for the most sophisticated palate. Also, the need to keep aside all other preoccupations for the duration is not easy, though this may be why the gong fu practice is so favoured by practitioners of meditation. It is, however, a natural stop in the exploration of tea since it draws your attention to the nuances of flavours, steep after steep.
So, on a Sunday morning I made my way to Auroville for a tea meditation session at Serendipity. Like the rest of Auroville, Serendipity is green and calm and offers a community focused on mindfulness and wellness. In the gazebo, Jass, a resident Aurovillian who practises tea meditation, has set up the gong fu tray, gaiwan and cups for a small group.
There is a rhythmic choreography, rather meditative in itself, to the act of pouring water, cleaning the cups, steeping the tea and pouring it into every cup. And when it’s done repeatedly, you cannot help but be drawn to it, to await the cup, to be surprised by the changing flavours.
The choice of tea aids this exercise in mindfulness. That morning, Jass had chosen an aged white tea, rich, with deep flavours that showed no signs of fading even by the end of the hour. We spent most of the hour in silence, just enjoying the tea, distracted only once by a mongoose that darted out of the woods and back.
Later, I meet Jass again, at the Puducherry Promenade by the sea, to chat about his own tea journey. Jass has carried his portable gong fu set and set it up. He has chosen a 30-year old pu-erh, a tea well suited for the overcast skies. The rich earthy flavours of the first cup blow my mind.
While living in China and practising meditation, he says, he was introduced to the wide world of Chinese tea and the gong fu practice. We talk about tea, about meditation, about Chinese teas and tea connoisseurs, and about how tea finds you friends in unexpected places. Nearly an hour later, the tea is still giving. Jass tells me his master would say it’s the man who gives up on the tea—the tea never gives up on man. And so it is. I cry halt after about 10 rounds.
For those of you who have good white or green teas, I can’t recommend the gong fu way enough. To resort to clichés, it will change the way you enjoy your tea.
If you are in Puducherry or Auroville, look up Serendipity (serendipity.auroville.org) for a tea meditation session or the Unity Pavilion for a Tao of Tea session.
Tea Nanny is a fortnightly series steeped in the world of tea. Aravinda Anantharaman is a Bengaluru-based tea blogger and writer who reports on the tea industry. @AravindaAnanth1 on Twitter.