Though I haven’t been able to keep in touch with pretty much anyone in SF, I am now free from school duties and about to move back home in a month, which allows me to catch up.
I periodically check out the website, when I get nostalgic about the times at Samovar, my “tea time”. I was reading about the Ambassadors…and thought I’d share the story between me and tea.
Tea has always been a tradition in my family. As far as I know, my mother does not drink water- black tea in the morning, more in the afternoon, and some herbal infusion in the evening. Over the last few years, it’s strictly been organic and fair-trade also.
When I was a young teenager, I really got into herbal teas- and began going to herbalist stores to buy different herbs with different properties, then mixing my own blends, either acording to taste, or to healing properties. I made infusions nightly for a few years, and cured (or tried to) family and friends with my concoctions. Yet, I was a coffee guy. My people’s affair with coffee dates centuries back, and coffee culture there is omnipresent.
When Samovar’s idea was introduced to me, it made me curious, yet skeptical. As I wanted to learn about tea, and was intrigued by all these new concepts and stories introduced to me, I also was not sure tea could have such a big place in our society. Of course, that changed as I witnessed Samovar grow into what it was when I left, and the profound influence tea culture has had on myself and the many people around me. And I started understanding, and sharing, the values the store embraces- those of community, relaxation, slowing down, environmental and human responsibility, and health.
I left San Francisco with James, a few belongings, and a big bag of tea samples. One of the first things we did when we moved in together, was brew some tea in a koryo cup, to celebrate.
I have since used black tea to power my brain during the long course of studies I chose. A good cup of strong Assam was always by my side during those long nights on midterms’ or finals’ weeks. There was no way I could have studied well with the jittery, confused, edgy buzz coffee or energy drinks give you. Tea helped me keep a clear, focused mind, while sustaining my body, aching from sitting down for long hours, while my classmates studying with me and drinking their Rockstar or triple lattes, were constantly scratching, tapping their feet, needing a break, worrying about failing.
Yet, having to wake up at 6am every day for class, getting out at 3, then going to work until 11pm every day, I never felt I could give up coffee. My fogged morning eyes demanded a punch in order to stay open, drive to school, and sit through a dark radiology class. My evenings of running around carrying plates to impatient, snappy, over-worked, Starbucks-fueled Americans, felt like an unsurmountable mountain without the kick of a coffee cup.
Yet, this has certainly not added life to my years nor years to my life..and the more I drank coffee, the more I depended on it daily, the more I needed a powerful herbal infusion to slow down enough to go to sleep at night. What a concept. Amp yourself up, then slow yourself down. Repeat daily. How retarded.
I kept with this coffee-and-tea-and herbals routine until my last two trimesters. As I entered my last few months of school, I started my internship in the college clinic. So here I am, still a student, dealing with real people, real sick people, trying to diagnose and treat and apply all that I have studied, struggling to keep calm and have a good vibe, yet being attent to every word or movement which can provide a clue to diagnosing a condition….and as I do this, I am full of coffee. Trying to calm down patients in severe pain, with my heart racing. Trying to listen and be sympathetic, with my head spinning.
It worked out for the patients, but it was such a struggle.
Then two things happened.
Number one, I was assigned to a different clinician, who ensured me of how good I was and how confident I looked, and how knowledgeable he knew I was.
Second, I pulled out a bag from my cabinet. I opened it and took out two old, dried-up friends from their meticulously sealed bag. Their names? Jinxuan and Baozhong.They were old and a little beaten up, but still full of that chestnutty aroma that made me fall in love with them. I thought, why not sip these to start my day?
So the next day, while I was chopping my breakfast fruits, the Baozhong was in the koryo cup. I take the lid off and the aroma of orchids blesses the new day, brings back memories of tea-lecturing strangers on Sanchez street, mingles with the scent of the nearby raspberries. I sip, and my day starts in second gear. It has been a necessary habit since.
My last few months, I was the intern I wanted to be. I got to the clinic still sleepy, but relaxed and uplifted by the gorgous smells, and confident that the oolong will soon help me wake up. I was always relaxed, yet well aware and awake. With my mind clear, I listened carefully to every patient, made contact with them, felt their spines not only for lack of motion but also for blocks in the subtle fields around their nerves, feeling where the problem was, knowing exactly how to fix it. After a physical exam, the list of differential diagnoses I presented to my clinician was always on target. I would always back up and justify, calmly, my findings and my treatment plan. I connected with patients on a different level- and they felt it, and told me about it. Oolong helped me achieve this.
Now, when I recommend a nutritional plan, which I custom-make for each patient, there are always three staples: daily omega-3 fatty acids, Vitamin E, and a cup of green tea. Everybody has heard about the benefits of tea, but it is when they are told by someone in a white coat, that they do start drinking it- following the recommendation to not just chug it, but to sit down, calm down one’s thoughts, and sip. Believe me, it does wonders, together with regular adjustments. I also switched to black iced tea before and during work, which proved to be the best choice- strong enough to power me through a busy night, yet without the stress and impatience and feeling of impending doom of my coffee-fueled nights.
As I write this, Kwan Yin’s elixir is next to me. It’s my nice afternoon treat before I go out with friends.
Baozhong has, to me, the character and versatility no other tea has. The scent of orchids and chestnuts and tropical foliage always pleases the senses; it is a friend in the morning, who slowly holds up your eyelids, and assists your body in unfurling as the day begins. It is light enough to be a night companion- when the mellowness of its taste overpowers the caffeine and promotes a good night sleep. It is a great entertainer of guests during hot Los Angeles evenings- everybody loves some Oolong on the rocks, and some even enjoy it with a splash of vodka.
Tea has been a friend, a helping companion, and a source of interest and inspiration to me throughout the years.
Thank you for having given me the opportunity to explore the world of tea. I miss you all and will do my best to come to San Francisco soon, before I leave.
Gabriele Malinverno, DC