A few years ago I fell in love with loose-leaf tea. Once you watch the leaves uncurl in the hot water, to happily sit in your cup while you drink it, you will never want to use a tea bag or strainer again.
And then there is the taste. Ahhh. Drinking traditionally grown and processed tea from the tea tree, Camellia sinensis, is unlike anything you will get in a teabag. The flavors of the different types are as complex and variable as different types of wine.
The comparison to wine does not end there though. Like grapevines, the tea tree is influenced by its terroir[i], which gives each area’s tea its own unique character.
I have some tea from ancient tea trees from the Ailao Mountains of Yunnan Province in China. Some of the trees in that area are over 1000 years old. Unlike commercially grown tea trees, these trees can grow over 50 feet tall in the lush, misty mountains.
The tea tree roots spread out horizontally pulling the nutrients from the rich soil that they love to grow in. Like other trees, their roots connect with each other and with other living things creating an underground network that allows them to access what they need beyond their own roots. Like all plants, their leaves have a respiration process, taking in the air around them and then returning it, changed in form. (Plants have the complete inverse of our own respiration process.) The trees gather everything around them to produce new growth and leave. A process that happens not only at the cellular level, but at the molecular level as well. Some people even believe that the trees take in the energy of the environment that they grow in – the beauty, tranquility, and wildness.
Eventually the tea leaves are harvested, and end up as a delicious cup of tea that I will enjoy drinking. Not only experiencing the pleasure of the taste of the tea, but ingesting all that richness as well.
And what, you might ask, does all this have to do with compost?
When I am done enjoying my tea, like all other compostable organic materials at my house, the leaves will end up in my compost pile. With the help of microorganisms, earthworms, and other natural processes, the compost will eventually break down into rich humusy soil, which will provide nourishment for the plants growing in my own garden.
Those vital ingredients that the tea tree took from its environment, that then traveled half way around the world, are now broken down into another form to start the cycle over again. To nourish, to build, to grow.
So, while it might look like dirt to you, it is really a little bit of magic in my garden[ii], from the misty mountains of China.
Peace & love,
[i]Terroir is the combination of environmental factors influencing plants, including the climate, the soil, and even the other living things growing nearby.
[ii] The next time you throw a banana peel into your own compost pile, remember that you are adding the magic that it brings from the country it came from.