One day, a few thousand years ago, the emperor of China was out doing research for his great encyclopedia of medicine, eating every herb he encountered in the forest and recording the results. On this fateful day, he ate something deadly poisonous. The world was going dark when the breeze lifted a few tea leaves to his face. Recognizing fate at work, he took them and swallowed them, recovering immediately.

So the story goes. From that day on, tea has been known as a medicine. Modern studies recognize the powerful antioxidants at work in the tea plant, giving many Americans a motivation to make tea a part of their day.

Yet, the most powerful health benefit of tea is completely overlooked by modern science: tea asks of us a few moments out of our day to prepare and appreciate it. This means that we are forced by our daily ritual to relax and recover, forced to take time to think about what we have achieved and what we wish to achieve. Twenty minutes of daily relaxation is just as critical to our physical health as twenty minutes of daily exercise if it manages to keep our stress levels in check.


Reverence and Tea Culture

Around the world, cultures have developed unique tea ceremonies. In China, the ceremony is so important to daily life that it survived the turmoil of war, famine, and revolution in the 20th century. Despite the push to modernize, traditional ceremony is as strong as ever precisely because of its importance in promoting a healthy and balanced lifestyle. The Mandarin word for the act of preparing tea can translate to “free time.” This idea of enforced leisure is embodied in the thimble-sized cups used to sip the tea.

In Japan, tea has become a kind of religion. In Okakura Kakuzo’s landmark piece, The Book of Tea, he describes teaism as “the adoration of the beautiful among the sordid facts of everyday existence.” Some of us might dismiss this concept of healing as something unfounded and abstract, but modern scientific studies directly link happiness, stress and physical health. Adding this easy and pleasurable ceremony to your day will not only provide the antioxidant healing power of tea, but also the psychological benefits of Kakuzo’s teaism.