Inspiring Pu’ erh

Anne and Chris watch as Didi pours another infusion of her family’s pu ‘erh tea during the World Tea Expo held in Las Vegas in June.

The team gained insight into what Chris describes as “a meditative way of life that weaves the calming effects of tea into the building of relationship.”

“I was sitting in the hospitality room at the hotel, sipping wine, relaxing, and keeping to myself,” reminisced Lee Kennedy recently as he retold of an amazing experience he and the other founders of Compassion Tea Company had at the World Tea Expo held in June in Las Vegas. “And then Anne walked in and started doing what Anne does best,” he continued, sitting back in his patio chair. The people around the table chuckled because we all know what Anne does best; she’s a master at creating relationship where there is none.

Anne Kennedy, Lee’s wife, picked up the thread of the story. “There was an Asian man sitting near my husband and we started chatting.” And in the course of the conversation, they realized they were both there for tea. As Anne relayed some information she had just learned, the man became increasingly excited. As it turned out, the man was Professor Kanzo Sakata from the Laboratory of Molecular Bio-catalysts, Institute for Chemical Research, at Kyoto University in Japan. He specializes in the development of floral aroma during the production and processing of oolong and black teas. He works with the Japanese government to assist Japanese tea makers improve the quality of their teas, and Dr. Sakata was the one who had studied the impact of a certain leafhopper insect on the leaves used to make oolong teas; his published study was exactly what Anne was relaying. Immediately, a bond was formed.

With Dr. Sakata was a Chinese student named Didi Liu. A foremost expert on pu’ erh (pronounced poo air) teas, Didi was leading a class in these teas at the expo the next day, and she urged Anne and the other Compassion Tea directors to attend. The group of directors consisting of Lee and Anne, Chris and Jack Faherty, and Ed and Wendy Bjurstrom also met Didi’s parents who own a tea garden and a tea production business in the Yunnan region of China. The Liu’s purchased the land for their garden when they saw tourists trampling hundreds–of- years-old tea trees. Their tea garden contains tea trees that are roughly 800 years old and this age lends great flavor and value to the pu’ erh tea they produce.

The following day, the Compassion Tea directors headed to Didi’s seminar but found it sold-out and closed. Disappointed, the team strolled off to other parts of the expo. Later, they saw Didi again in the hotel hospitality room and shared their disappointment. Didi, also disappointed her new friends had been unable to attend the class, offered to serve the team tea.

What ensued turned out to be the highlight of the expo for the entire team. Joined by Dr. Sakata and Jane Pettigrew (an English tea guru who leads many seminars on tea), the team spent the next hour and a half in near silence punctuated by commentary about the pu’ erh tea and the ceremony itself. Didi’s mother prepared the water and cups in the background while Didi quietly and gracefully led the team through multiple cuppings and infusions of her family’s own pu’ erh tea. The cups she used had been designed by her mother especially for the ceremony of tasting pu ‘erh tea. The team described the ceremony as “purposeful,” “delicate,” and “gentle”… each participant receiving a thimble-full of tea to taste after each infusion. Chris remarked at her amazement that one serving of tea leaves could change and develop so markedly through multiple infusions, the leaves offering new colors and flavors with each steeping. Truly, they were in the presence of a great pu’ erh tea.

At the end of the ceremony, Didi presented each couple with their own cake of pu ‘erh tea from her parents’ garden and pressed in the ancient tradition by a stone weight. She instructed them to save the cakes for 5, 7, and 10 years, sampling one at each milestone. Pu ‘erh tea, because of the microbes introduced into the tea, ferments with age; like a fine wine, this is what gives the tea it’s uniquely dark, earthy color and flavor. The team views these teas as priceless.

During that hour and a half, the team gained insight into what Chris describes as “a meditative way of life that weaves the calming effects of tea into the building of relationship.” As Chris described the Chinese culture as humble and private, Lee remarked, “It was a true privilege. The ceremony gave me an added respect for tea and I feel a stronger connection to the roots of tea.”

The team felt that in sharing her tea and the ancient ceremony, Didi had shared herself, had built a relational bond, and had passed on an ancient art form. They spoke of the privilege, the contrast between our fast-paced American culture and the purpose of the timeless ceremony connected to the past and connecting them to their new friend. They spoke of the “fullness of being together,” of sharing, of passing the tea cup, of relationship building… all things we at Compassion Tea knew tea could mean for people and part of the reasoning behind our mantra, “Share Tea, Save Lives.” Tea brings people together, inspires meditation and communion and relationship, and provides a platform for revealing the true self.

As the sun sank behind the LA hills, and the chill of evening settled around us, Anne concluded, “I believe it was God’s little treat for us.”

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A Wink and a Nod

One day, two clean-cut young men dressed in stark white, freshly pressed shirts and black dress pants rang my doorbell. As I opened the door, they asked if I had received Jesus as my Savior and would I mind if they came in and shared the Gospel according to the Mormon Church with me. People have all kinds of reactions to door-to-door solicitors and preachers, most of which are less than hospitable. Most of the time, my inclination is to get rid of the person as quickly as possible without being outright rude. But these two were a bit interesting. Yes, I have accepted Jesus as my Savior, so really the literature they were holding out should be saved and used perhaps at a house down the way where Jesus is a curse word rather than a name of holy praise. One pushed further. “Do you believe God has sent prophets to our world even today?”

Now that was a great question! There is an overriding sense in Western culture that God is dead. Burning bushes, seas opening up for people to cross over, staffs turning into snakes and back again, flaming altars quenched by rains that appear out of nowhere after a lengthy drought… those are the stories of a time so long ago it almost feels irrelevant. It certainly feels antiquated and archaic. God just doesn’t appear to His people anymore, let alone send people into the world to prophesy.

When these two young men showed up at my door, I was beginning an eye-opening process whereby God was opening my eyes to the ways in which He does work in the world minute-by-minute, second-by-second, behind the scenes, covertly arranging and mystifying the person willing to look. At the beginning of this process, God had introduced me to a woman, a very good friend, who dreamed dreams, saw God in places I would never have thought to look, and who boldly and uncompromisingly preached God’s Gospel. Did I believe at that point that God sends prophets into the world even today? Yes. It was fun to see the faces of those two men when I jumped into my own experience with a prophet of today. Yep. There wasn’t much else they could say or do except invite me to join them at church someday.

Willing to look for God in my world, I am now seeing Him everywhere! One of my favorite places to look is in creation. When the white moon hangs over the brilliantly green ridgeline in the abundantly blue sky, my heart soars in praise of His creativity and goodness. But God is unlimited and even when we try to limit Him because of our own smallness, He shows up in big ways. If you are willing to look.

For example, this blog has been writing itself in my head for the past week. On Friday, Joni Eareckson Tada emailed this as her daily devotional.

“Oh, magnify the Lord with me, And let us exalt His name together. Psalm 34:3 (NKJV)

It’s time for the NBA basketball finals. When Ken and I went to a playoff game in the Los Angeles Staples Center, we sat in the cheap seats-up so high in the stadium we had a difficult time seeing the basketball players on the court. They looked so small. But then I glanced at the towering jumbo screen above the court. What a difference! We could see every player up close. Even facial expressions!

The screen magnified what was already there. The magnification didn’t actually make the players bigger, they just seemed bigger to our eyes. Every aspect of each player could be enjoyed. Here’s my point: When we “magnify” the Lord, we make the God who looks small in the world’s eyes seem…huge! No, we could never change anything about Him. He’s the same “size” He has always been. We can’t make Him any more grand or great or powerful than He already is. We just “enlarge” Him before the world’s eyes so they can see Him up close.

As Christians, our lives are a little like that jumbo screen. Through our actions and attitudes, we enable others to see God better. When we let the Lord showcase His grace and power in our lives, when we display His peace and patience and joy in our daily attitudes and circumstances, then we truly are magnifying Him.

The world has such a diminished impression of God. He appears so insignificant to so many. Most people don’t even take notice of him. This is why the world needs to see the true details about who God actually is. They need to see Jesus, in His love, His strength, His majesty, and His tender care.”

God knew what was on my heart; He probably put it there! Here’s a wink and a nod that I’m on the right track. Because we put limitations on God, have reduced Him to archaic and antiquated, we also don’t look for Him. But believe me, He is still showing up!

The Compassion Tea team believes that God is our CEO. That is one of the founding principles of our company. We invite Him to join every activity we have whether it be our weekly meeting or while we are preparing for a large event. We believe He comes and directs our paths. This week, He has led us down some amazing roads and reminded us of people He has put in our paths before who might be resources of information and aid to us. We only see a few puzzle pieces at the moment, but knowing that God sees the whole completed puzzle before us is enormously calming. He will reveal each piece as it becomes relevant to our road, to our puzzle. And we are so excited by the possibilities for outreach and compassion.

Let me relay one way God showed up for us recently. The first weekend in June was the big World Tea Expo in Las Vegas. If you follow us on Facebook, you know that some of our team attended. Ed and Wendy Bjurstrom had recently been to London for business. While there, they had the opportunity to purchase a special tea produced by the East India Company and picked from a bush HRH Prince Philip planted in 1954 in Sri Lanka. Only 500 caddies of this tea were produced and numbered. Ed and Wendy presented this gift to Anne and Lee Kennedy, Compassion Tea’s dynamic president and spouse who have done so much for the company, while in Las Vegas at the Expo. The number of this particular caddy? 85. Because they are willing to look for God, Ed and Wendy asked if anyone could come up with a special significance to that number. Lee did. “We have 85 memberships as of today!” A wink and a nod from God. When Lee and Anne returned home, membership 86 came in!

I think the world sometimes scoffs at Christians who look for God to show up and who see His influence. Happen stance, coincidence, fortune, magic, science, “miracle of modern medicine,” astrology are all ways the world today explains God showing up. Let’s call it what it is, people. God’s got a wink and a nod for you, too. Will you catch it?