Energy Medicine (in a bowl)

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The Chinese tea bowl.
A perfectly crafted cylinder made to hold the worlds most perfect liquid and affect the chemicals in the body and brain to promote healing and relaxation.
Ceramic tea bowls are mentioned in the first major text on tea, The Classic of Tea. Compiled between 758-60CE by Lu Yu (733–804) of the Tang dynasty.

Tibetian singing bowl isolatedThe Tibetan signing bowl.
A perfectly crafted cylinder made to emit vibration and frequencies to affect the chemicals in the body and brain to promote healing and relaxation.
Dates back to the time of the historical Buddha Shakyamuni between 560 – 480 B.C. when the Tibetan Singing Bowl is said to have originated.

 


Liquid energy in a bowl. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

We all know about how the chemical properties in tea leaves like flavonoid anti-oxidants and catechins, but have you heard of the powerful affect of the amino acid L-Theanine?

It’s a water soluble amino acid that’s found in tea leaves and when you drink tea,  it passes through the blood-brain barrier and affects the brain directly. It shares similar chemical structures to neurotransmitter glutamate – which is a transmitter involved in learning and memory, and, it increases the production of GABA and dopamine. It also helps reduce stress and anxiety and induces what is called alert/relaxed states of thinking and reduces the fight-or-flight response during high stress situations. In case you’re thinking that this is all a bunch of hooey, according to clinical studies by NIH:

Evidence from human electroencephalograph (EEG) studies show that it has a direct effect on the brain. L-theanine significantly increases activity in the alpha frequency band which indicates that it relaxes the mind without inducing drowsiness.”

So basically, tea is liquid energy medicine (healing) in a bowl. We tea drinkers already knew that. But what about the Tibetan Singing bowl and its magical healing abilities?

Sound energy from a bowl . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The tradition of using a singing bowl was brought from India to Tibet, along with the teachings of the Buddha, by the great tantric master Padmasambhava in the 8th century A.D. It is said that the sounds generated by Tibetan Singing Bowls are a type of energy medicine” that promote healing many forms of dis-ease.

“If we accept that sound is vibration and we know that vibration touches every part of our physical being, then we understand that sound is heard not only through our ears but through every cell in our bodies. One reason sound heals on a physical level is because it so deeply touches and transforms us on the emotional and spiritual planes. Sound can redress imbalances on every level of physiologic functioning and can play a positive role in the treatment of virtually any medical disorder.” – Dr. Mitchell Gaynor, director of Medical Oncology and Integrative Medicine, the Cornell Cancer Prevention Center in New York.

Duke University and the University of North Carolina have realized the power of alternative healing and have taken big steps to add new body, mind and spirit programs specifically sound therapy– to cancer treatments. In fact the medical director at the Chopra Institute, Dr. David Simon, found that by chanting and using a Tibetan Singing bowl, it activates chemicals in the brain that act as internal painkillers and aid in healing.

How it works . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
It’s all about vibration. And since illness is said to be a manifestation of dis-ease, dis-harmony and imbalance in cell matter, and all matter is vibrating energy, than altering a vibration should change the structure of cellular matter. Sound vibrations directly affect our nervous system, and often sets off a relaxation reflex which may lower stress and pain. Similar to acupuncture where needles allow energy (chi) to flow and assist the body in healing and rebalancing; so does sound vibration and sound frequencies–which enables the flow of energy to reach different parts of the body. The pulsating tone immediately feels good and kick-starts relaxation along with the following:

• Reduction in stress, anxiety + anger
• Lower blood pressure
• Improved circulation + increased blood flow
• Deep relaxation + pain relief
• Increased mental + emotional clarity
• Stillness, happiness + well being.
• Stimulated immune system
• Balanced left/right brain

When you are in the presence of someone (or yourself) playing a signing bowl you not only hear the pure sonic waves,you actually feel the sound enter the body. You can listen and watch a short Tibetan Singing Bowl video here on YouTube and see if you feel any different after listening. Or you can buy one and try it at home yourself. It’s really easy and you will be amazed at how good you feel afterwards.

The connection . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Ritual. Aside from the actual chemical properties in tea, and the actual sound waves emitted from a singing bowl (both proven to aid in healing and wellness) there is the ritual of making tea or drinking tea out of a special cup or bowl. The ritual of sitting at the same time to play a singing bowl, or the ritual using a sound to evoke a sense of calm. And before you head down that “this is hooey” road again, there is scientific research around the benefits of rituals and its affect on overall wellness which can be extremely effective in reducing anxiety, increasing confidence and having an impact on thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Rituals help bring a sense of structure and order to an otherwise chaotic world. They are in fact a type of shield that helps protect us from uncertainty.

“The very act of engaging in a scripted sequence of ritualistic movements tricks the brain into thinking that it’s experiencing the pleasant state of predictability and stability. The crux of the argument says that in times when uncertainty is beyond our control, the brain will subconsciously lead us to engage in ritualized movements as a compensatory mechanism to bring about a sense of personal control. This, the argument goes, is the starting point for all of life’s little (and big) rituals.” – Psychology Today

The every day stresses of today surely didn’t exist during ancient times (and vice versa) but in the end, regardless of what causes stress and dis-ease, we’re all seeking the same exact thing: a way to stay healthy, survive and enjoy life.

Just a simple ceramic bowl for sipping.
Just a simple metal bowl for listening.
Two simple rituals for healing.

 
Happy Relaxation…
Happy Sipping…
~The Chief Leaf

 

Energy Medicine (in a bowl)

Welcome Yule! (Winter Solstice)

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Welcome to the best day of the year:
WINTER SOLSTICE or YULE!

Love this day because it means quite simply that… We made it! Starting tomorrow we are seconds closer to longer days and the light.  (Be sure to check out our 4th week of RATK tomorrow as well.) But before we get into how we celebrate the darkest day of the year, here is a bit of information for those of you who may not be aware of the history of Winter Solstice and Yule, and how its related to modern day Christmas traditions.

The word ‘solstice’ comes from two Latin words: sol which means SUN and sistere means “to stand still.”  To the ancients standing on Earth and looking up at the sky, it appeared that the sun stood still at this time of year. This is longest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere and is celebrated for the renewal of the sun – which is promised.

Yule, pronounced EWE-elle, is when the darkness of this part of the year finally recedes and gives way to the light. Literally, the very next morning at sunrise we are seconds closer to longer days. It’s a rebirth, and also  gorgeous reminder that we are all connected to a larger network, nature, renewal and the cycle of change.

Some ancient customs and rituals around Yule/Winter Solstice include:

Ancient Ireland: Celts celebrated Meán Geimhridh during the Winter Solstice each day from Dec 19 -23rd by creating a sacred room or hallway at proper angles to catch the light.

Slavic countries (Russia, Bulgaria, and Ukraine etc):  Believed in evil spirits and that they were at their apex on the shortest, darkest day of the year.  “Darkness and the Black God defeated the sun on the Winter Solstice, after which a New Sun was born. The Old Sun, named Hors, was commemorated with a ritual dance.”

Asia: Chinese and other East Asians celebrate the Winter Solstice as well with the Donghi Festival – a time for rejoicing at the longer light hours to come, symbolizing an increase in positive energy (chi).

Nordic countries: Celebrates with a Yule Goat also known as Julbok. Thankfully, it isn’t a real animal and is typically made of straw. Its origins are rooted in mythology, but still adopted as part of modern Christian tradition. Most Christmas traditions are rooted deep in ancient Yule rituals, many coming from the Vikings. “Even the Christmas tree goes back to pre-Christian times. The Vikings decorated evergreen trees with pieces of food and clothes, small statues of the Gods, carved runes, etc., to entice the tree spirits to come back in the spring.”

Ancient Romans: The Saturnalia was the most popular holiday of the Roman year, was designated a holy day, or holiday, on which religious rites were performed, and described as one of “the best of days” (Poems, XIV). A time when a “whole mob has let itself go in pleasures” (Epistles, XVIII.3). It was an occasion for celebration, visits to friends, and the presentation of gifts, particularly wax candles (cerei), perhaps to signify the returning light after the solstice, and sigillaria.

England: We can’t talk about Winter Solstice without mentioning one of the most famous celebrations on the planet which takes place at Stonehenge. The ancient ruins of the Druids and Pagans who would gather there to chant, dance and sing through the night waiting for the sun to rise through the monolithic stones. Many people still travel there today to experience and take part in this magical tradition.

Germany: Evidently it was devout Christians from 16th century Germans who get all the credit for starting the tradition of having a decorated Christmas tree brought into their homes. Some say it was Martin Luther, who added lighted candles to a tree because he was in awe of the bright light from the stars above twinkling amidst evergreens. He wanted to recreate what he saw, so he put up tree in this main living area with lighted candles attached to branches by wires.

According to history.com:

“The pilgrims, English separatists that came to America in 1620, were even more orthodox in their Puritan beliefs than Cromwell. As a result, Christmas was not a holiday in early America. From 1659 to 1681, the celebration of Christmas was actually outlawed in Boston. Anyone exhibiting the Christmas spirit was fined five shillings. 

Most 19th-century Americans found Christmas trees an oddity. The first record of one being on display was in the 1830s by the German settlers of Pennsylvania, although trees had been a tradition in many German homes much earlier. The Pennsylvania German settlements had community trees as early as 1747. But, as late as the 1840s Christmas trees were seen as pagan symbols and not accepted by most Americans. [And] After the American Revolution, English customs fell out of favor, including Christmas. In fact, Christmas wasn’t declared a federal holiday until June 26, 1870.

It wasn’t until the 19th century that Americans began to embrace Christmas. Americans re-invented Christmas, and changed it from a raucous carnival holiday into a family-centered day of peace and nostalgia. Also around this time, English author Charles Dickens created the classic holiday tale, A Christmas Carol. The story’s message-the importance of charity and good will towards all humankind-struck a powerful chord in the United States and England and showed members of Victorian society the benefits of celebrating the holiday. The family was also becoming less disciplined and more sensitive to the emotional needs of children during the early 1800s. Christmas provided families with a day when they could lavish attention-and gifts-on their children without appearing to “spoil” them.

As Americans began to embrace Christmas as a perfect family holiday, old customs were unearthed. People looked toward recent immigrants and Catholic and Episcopalian churches to see how the day should be celebrated. In the next 100 years, Americans built a Christmas tradition all their own that included pieces of many other customs, including decorating trees, sending holiday cards, and gift-giving.”


It’s widely known that the early years of Christianity designated Easter as the main holiday and the birth of Jesus wasn’t celebrated at all. It wasn’t until around the 4th century that Pope Julius I decided to create a holiday for his birth and chose December 25. It was called the Feast of the Nativity, and that custom made its way and spread to Egypt in 432, on to England by the 6th century and all the way to Scandinavia by the 8th century.

Fascinating to learn how these ancient rituals influenced modern day Winter Solstice, Yule and Christmas and that we are left with one thing that connects them all: food and drink. Sharing food is particularly meaningful during solstice as it represents faith in the return of the sun and the harvest. It’s also the a beloved part of the Christmas tradition.

 

Orange and spices
Fruits and spices

Cookies and caraway cakes soaked in cider, fruits, nuts, pork dishes, turkey, eggnog, ginger tea, spiced cider, wassail, or lamb’s wool (ale, sugar, nutmeg, roasted apples) are a few of the foods associated with Yule. With the prevailing constant being some version of mulled wine. Natural Living listed some traditional beverages for Winter Solstice, Yule Christmas and even New Years:

  1. Gluhwein: This drink originated in German-speaking countries. It is a red wine heated with cinnamon sticks, vanilla pods, clovescitrus and sugar. Romainians call it vin fiert, in Moldova it is izvar, Italy it is vin brule, and in Latvia it is karstvins.
  2. Glogg: This drink originated in the Nordic countries and was also called glug.  It is red wine mixed with cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, cloves, bitter orange and sugar and sometimes with vodka, akvavit or brandy. It is usually served with raisins, blanched almonds and gingerbread.
  3. Navegado: This is a mulled wine from Chile. It is heated with cinnamon sticks, orange slices, cloves, sugar with raisins and almonds added.
  4. Wassail: This drink is a mulled cider from Germanic countries. The word wassail comes from waes haeil, which means “be healthy”. The historical wassail drinks were more of a mulled beer or mead. They made it by mixing sugar, ale, nutmeg and cinnamon in a bowl which was then heated. They topped it with slices of toast which they called sops. The wassail bowl looked like a goblet and was made out of wood.  Later the drink became associated with apples and the song was sung around the apple tree for the next year’s harvest. A-wassailing was going door to door, singing and asking (demanding?) the drink from the household, usually the rich in the town.
  5. Hypocras: Another mulled wine heated with spices such as cinnamon, ginger, grains of paradise and long pepper.  This drink was named after Hippocrates. Hypocras became more popular after the crusades until its popularity waned during the 18th century.
  6. Eggnog: This drink was developed backed in the 1700’s in Europe. It was mixed with eggs and warm milk and served in a wooden mug called a noggin. Traditionally it was mixed with Sherry or Brandy. George Washington loved eggnog and he crafted his own recipes!

 

So today Dec 21, 2017 at 11:28am, we welcome Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere – the darkest day of the year. Though it made be the official start of Winter, it’s also the end of darkness and the dawn of light! How can that be bad?

For those of you interested in connecting with nature today and and preparing for the closure of the year, there are some rituals you can preform that are simple and easy to do:

• Try to stay away from electronics today. (yikes!)
• Try a meditation at sunrise and sunset. Ideally outside if the weather supports it.
• Smudge yourself and your home to purify, or to clean out negative thoughts. You can light dried rosemary, sage and lavender and walk around your home allowing the smoke to waft and purify the space.
• Leave a gift for nature such as sliced fruit such as sliced apples and seed for the birds, and other creatures.
• Try making and sipping a Winter-Solstice-Yule-Christmas Decoction (Tea):

  • 2 tsp black tea (Kenya black)
  • 3-4 cups filtered water (depending on desired strength)
  • ½ an (organic) apple, peeled
  • 2 whole cinnamon sticks (Sri Lankan)
  • ½ inch chunk of fresh organic ginger, peeled
  • ½ tsp (organic) orange zest
  • Optional: cloves or star anise or caraway seeds
  • A few (organic) raisins
  • Local honey if sweetness is desired

Place all ingredients into a pot and simmer slowly for about 8-10 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow to cool for another 10 minutes or so. Strain into a cup or mug. Add a few raisins and honey if desired. If you prefer to make this into a Glogg, spike it with dash of brandy then sip by candlelight, relax and direct your thoughts to gratitude for having a roof over your head, people to love, for being loved, and for knowing that the darkness is over and tomorrow we are given the gift of more light.

Happy Solstice!
Happy Yule!
Happy Christmas!
Happy Sipping!
~ The Chief Leaf

 

 

Welcome Yule! (Winter Solstice)

25 Days of Tea: Day 22 (Matcha)

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Green tea powder: Matcha

Are you losing steam? Too much to do in the next 2 days to prepare for Santa’s visit down the chimney, gaggles of holiday visitors, cooking, cleaning, shopping, work projects, dog walking, cookie baking, present wrapping, sipping tea, reading blogs… your list is long.

Solution: Matcha.

I’m never more productive, focused and oddly calm then after a bowl of this green wonder. Matcha is gaining in popularity in the West for a heap of reasons with the obvious being its superior health benefits:

  • High antioxidants and EGCg (Epigallocatechin)
  • High in chlorophyll to aid wound healing
  • Anti-inflammatory, anti-aging properties
  • Lowers blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar
  • Vitamin C, selenium, chromium, zinc and magnesium
  • May boosts metabolism to burns calories
  • Protection against HIV
  • Gastrointestinal health
  • Cancer prevention from polyphenols
  • Helps Type-2 diabetes
  • Detoxification from high levels of chlorophyll
  • 100% of the leaf is ingested and has 137 times more antioxidants than regularly brewed green tea.
  • One cup of matcha = 10 cups of regularly brewed green tea in terms of nutritional content

and last but certainly not least, my favorite: It enhances mood level, mental alertness AND is calming.

How does it do that? One of the chemical components of this treasure is L-theanine, a heavy-hitting amino acid that has anti-anxiolytic properties which boost alpha brain waves which encourages relaxation, seriously profound mental clarity and an alert state of mind – all while making you feel calm and in control. What else offers that without the need for a doctors prescription? Studies suggest that theanine acts as a neurotransmitter on the brain which is where that sense of calm comes from. It is said to help aid in deep concentration during meditation which Buddhist monks have known about for thousands of years. The anti-stress properties of theanine inhibits neuron excitation which helps lower physiological and psychological stress.

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A nice frothy bowl of Matcha

So what exactly is the wonder brew? Matcha is made from the raw material (leaves) called Tencha. Tencha is grown in the shade for about a month or so before actual harvest. The shading of the tea plant forces a reduction in photosynthesis which creates a higher lever of chlorophyll (resulting in a deep green color), and theanine which is what gives it a very robust yet slightly sweet flavor. Any gardener knows that shade grown plants usually have darker, greener leaves. Same is true for the tea plant camellia sinensis. As is the case with most fine teas, to produce Matcha only the youngest leaves (two leaves in a bud) are used. After picking (which in Japan is often by machine), the leaves are steamed to stop the oxidation process, dried and cut. There is no need for Tencha leaves to be rolled or kneaded like Sencha or Gyokuro because the leaves (no stems or veins) will be ground into a powder using a granite wheel. A lot of work goes into producing Matcha and it is totally worth it once you see the rich, emerald green color and taste its distinct magical flavor.

There is a lot of history around Matcha, and many books and documents have been written on the subjest. A blog post could go on for days just discussing Matcha. Here is the super short version:

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Matcha tea labels

Tea was thought to have been introduced to Japan in the 9th Century CE by a Buddhist monk from China, where the custom of drinking tea for medicinal (and later pleasurable) reasons was already common. It didn’t take long for the Japanese to become smitten with tea. By the 12th century, Matcha, was introduced and used in religious rituals in Buddhist monasteries. By the 13th century, Samurai warriors got in on the action and started drinking Matcha which laid the foundation for the Japanese Tea Ceremony. It was during this period in Japanese history (Muromachi) that art and architecture when through a transformation to an extreme simplified style used by the Samurai. By the 16th century, tea drinking was widespread throughout all levels of society in Japan.

The Japanese tea ceremony (Chado), which means: the Way of Tea, is the ceremonial preparation and presentation of Matcha, a powdered green tea. It is practice meant to transform with order (rules) and refinement, humility, restraint, simplicity, naturalism, asymmetry, simplicity, and respect for the time and care it takes to engage in the practice of being present and sharing that time and a bowl of tea. Sen no Rikyu, one of the most well know historical figures in tea “introduced the concept of ichi-go ichi-e, (一期一会, literally: one time, one meeting), a belief that each meeting should be treasured, for it can never be reproduced.”  These principles still in practice in Japanese tea ceremonies today.

The tea ceremony (and just making an ordinary cup of tea) is a strong reminder to live in the moment, be present, and connect with others and with the earth. I can’t think of anything that tops that, especially this time of year.

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Matcha tools: scoop, whisk, bowl

So how do you make Matcha? Its actually quite easy and no need for an elaborate ceremony to enjoy. The classic way is to use a bowl and whisk, but as its gained in popularity many people are just putting the powder into smoothies. I’ve done that on occasion but still prefer to whisk up a bowl in the morning. A Japanese Tea Ceremony goes on for hours and no one has time for that in everyday life, so here is a shorted way to make Matcha with 3 tools: spoon, whisk, and bowl:

Step 1: Take a bamboo scoop (or measuring teaspoon) and scoop the powder into a bowl. A scoop or two is about right.
Step 2:  Heat water to about 175˚ – not boiling – and pour 2-4 oz of water into the bowl.
Step 3: Take whisk, called a chasen, (which ideally has been soaked in warm water to soften the bamboo) and using a back-and-forth motion whisk the tea until it is frothy. Ideally you want to keep the whisk straight and make like you are whisking the letter “W”. There should be no lumps in your final product.
Step 4: Sip your Matcha and enjoy the energy and serenity it will gift you. (If you are feeling cheeky, enjoy 1 simple butter cookie with your bowl of tea. The sweetness enhances the experience.)

Pearl Fine Teas offers 3 grades of Matcha, but below are some general notes on the tea overall:
• Overview:   An ancient tea made from Tencha leaves that are ground into a fine powder.
• Dry Leaf:    Ground, bright green powder
• Liquor (liquid):   Thick and frothy, also bright green
• Aroma:   Vegetal, melon fruit, very slight toast
• Flavor notes:    Intense, crisp, clean, tangy, vegetal, artichoke, strong and slightly astringent, sweet notes on the finish
• Brewing recommendation:     160-70˚F  for 1-2 minutes.
• Caffeine: Yes

25 Days of Tea: Day 22 (Matcha)

25 Days of Tea: Day 21 (Mao Jian)

img_lg_maojianWe made it!

Today at 5:44am EST, we welcome the Winter Solstice: the shortest day of the year and the day that marks the “turning of the Sun.” From tomorrow onward, the days will now get longer as we head into Spring. The first day of Winter is a not a gloomy day, but a celebration of the end of darkness, the dawn of light and the unending cycle of nature. There are so many traditions and rituals surrounding the Winter Solstice, from Pagan rituals to Norse, but the one I wanted to focus on this year was that of  Dōngzhì (冬至). This Chinese Winter Festival that celebrates the shortest day of the year began during the Han Dynasty (202 BC – 220 AD) and really peaked during the Tang and Song dynasties (618 – 1279). Families came together (and still do) on this most auspicious day to celebrate with a meal made of filling, hearty foods that inspire hope for the warmer days of Spring.

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Tang Yuan rice balls

The traditional meal is a  rice dish called  Tang Yuanglutinous rice balls filled with sweet sesame or red bean paste cooked in a ginger broth – an auspicious symbolize of family togetherness and reunion.

What could be better then celebrating the end of darkness by spending time with family and friends eating dumplings and sipping endless cups of tea. And not just any tea, but another one of China’s Ten Famous teas: Mao Jianrevered for its pleasant aroma and refreshing, easy taste. Legend has it that that nine fairies from heaven brought this tea down to earth for humans. It is said that, when you drink this tea, you will see the images of those nine fairies dancing in the steam. The name Mao Jian is broken into two parts to reflect Yin/Yang or “Xinyang” – the words “Mao” and “Jian” refers to the shape of the tea. Mao (hairy) and Jian (straight and pointy/sharp).

Whatever ritual or celebration you participate in today, or even if you do nothing at all, try to remember the bigger message: There is an end to darkness, and what follows is always light. Tomorrow morning when you wake to seconds more of that light, give thanks to nature for providing us with everything we need and one of the most delightful plants on earth: the tea bush! Here are some notes on our Mao Jian:

• Overview:   One of China’s 10 Famous Teas
• Dry Leaf:    Emerald green, sharp and pointy with tiny hairs
• Liquor (liquid):   Gorgeous green, clear and sparkling
• Aroma:   Cucumber, fresh, sweet
• Flavor notes:    Easy on the palate. A green tea for every day. Slight sweetness on the finish after notes of clean crisp cucumber find its way out front.
• Brewing recommendation:     170˚F  for 2-3 minutes.
• Caffeine: Yes

If you are interested in giving todays pick a try, please visit the Pearl Fine Teas tea shop today and use code: 25TEAS21 at checkout to get 25% of Mao Jian– today only!

Happy Sipping!
-The Chief Leaf

#tealove
#teaunites
#teasaveslives
#sipteafeelhappy
#TeaTent
#teainDC
#teainVA
#teainMD
#25Teas
#maojian
#greentea
#wintersolstice

 

 

25 Days of Tea: Day 21 (Mao Jian)