Taylor Cowan • October 02, 2023
Substance: Tactility and Place. Peak Fall 2023 Collection.
“These trees are in heaven because they carry the Buddha in their heart. If you carry the Buddha in your heart, any place can be heaven.” -inscription of old tree grove in Yunnan
"A pot of flowers, a painting on the wall, an open window, or a place brimming in elegance can all be heaven." —ethos, Wistaria Tea House. Taipei, Taiwan.
In our age of distraction
—screens constantly flickering, ads inundating our senses, endless scrolling, touchless payment, AI generated images and videos, binge-watching series, all music streaming at our fingertips—it can be difficult to know where you are. Right where you are is where you are and yet there is no feeling of being anywhere. If you’re near humans I can almost guarantee someone near you is buried head first in their phone. I’m guilty too—I’m writing this sentence on my notes app this very moment.
Have you noticed (In an increasingly globalized and digital world) all places seem more and more similar to each other, no matter how far away? It’s happening within our own country, but also, largely, the whole world. Go to McDonalds here, get an AT&T SIM card with your Visa credit card. It works everywhere. In a conversation with a friend recently they put it particularly well, “no one lives anywhere anymore.”
What once was absolutely unique about a city, state, or country has started to
unceremoniously blur from one into the other. The same kind of new condos and high rises pop up everywhere. Consumer goods have become hyper focused, targeted Instagram brands selling you your exact version of a given style based on an intrusion of your privacy. Even travel tok has created this strange, mass flatness of taste. Everyone wants to go to Portugal, to the isles off Vietnam, Fiji, Amsterdam. Perfect, reel length irrealities that we somehow are meant to crave. Your city probably may have a “Keep [City Name] Weird” associated with this struggle— but the struggle seems futile—weirdness and singularness are being snuffed out.
Rather than what it authentically is, many places, towns especially, have become the summation of the false notions people had about it when they moved there. If we are not careful, the same thing begins to happen to the things we love. Tea is very much this way: some of the most vaunted production regions have become present-day tourist traps or home to artificially inflated prices on serviceable-at-best productions. But wherein lies the truth; the real thing? The place, the process, the plant?
“The mind is its own place, and in itself / Can make a heav’n of hell, a hell of heav’n.” John Milton
I picked up an industry magazine the other day and the feeling was nearly ecstatic: to see type, to hold a nice stock of paper—even the full page editorial photograph ads were refreshing compared to the mindless drivel you encounter on most suggested social media posts. To see the weave and weft of the words, to read a well-crafted sentence, to see intentional visual accompaniment. It’s not like I’m that old but how these pleasures have left us cold! We now have their saccharine imitation: shiny, light-up, mass-produced, AI-assisted, “[insert genre] porn” visuals with planned obsolescence. Yes, before you ask, there is tea porn.
It is harder than ever to be right where you are
smell the smells of your environment, feel your feet on the ground, taste the food in front of you without the camera “eating first," detach and look around at the faces, just enjoy the stillness, the silliness of waiting or doing nothing. We are always doing something and always on our way to some thing. We’re always one step behind, always one requirement short and working on removing it. This cycle doesn’t end.
We love orthodox tea because, when it’s really great, it transcends purpose. Sure, some people still drink tea for its bountiful health properties, or even as a vessel of caffeine–but really great tea, made by producers utilizing centuries of tradition (an increasingly absurd and disappearing craft in this era) has no calling beyond itself. Just sit down with good friends, make tea, and enjoy it. The accoutrements of its enjoyment are not “practical” or “utilitarian”—they are simply and absurdly made for the enjoyment of tea leaves. This is why we wish to share it as intentionally and widely as possible. It is a reflection of one’s character, of hospitality, of communion and, importantly, invites presence.
To talk to someone, face to face; to look them in the eyes when they’re speaking and really listen to them—even if the topic is dry—the feeling is electric. To be in a room with strangers who are neither actively paying attention to you or ignoring you uplifts the soul. To be smiled at or said hello to by a stranger on a walk can feel like you’re part of a community. These simple, basic gestures are among the things the pandemic made us forget. To run into an old friend somewhere! For anything to happen by chance rather than by design (i.e. using your maps app, texting to confirm, while setting a reservation and checking the precipitation percentage and AQI). To have a place where people just know you when you walk in! To knock on your neighbor’s door and ask them to borrow something rather than just buying it on Amazon and watching a YouTube video to shoddily figure it out. To check in on your neighbors. To even know your neighbors!
Tastes and routine are not challenged when we can simply listen to whatever we want all the time. It takes intentional effort. There is no friend quite like the friend who you go to for new music, book, or film recommendations—their empathetic insight alone dwarfs most algorithms combined. This feeling, so simple and yet so elusive. The truth is, the barren simplicity of tea (“it’s just leaves and water,” detractors will say) Is also its essential beauty. When you slow yourself down enough to appreciate the marvels of tea: the bouquet of aromas from freshly steeped leaves, the spectrum of colors, the first airy and aromatic taste and the taste that lingers for hours—you are fully present, in a tactile truth of the moment, and that moment can be paradise.
This release celebrates the search for substantivity—the thing itself—no matter how difficult or seemingly futile. Each of the selections for this fall seasonal release defy imitation, commodification and appropriation. They are to be appreciated just as they are, for what they are and are testament to the people and places responsible for their creation.
Introduce yourself, get to know them.
Sprinkle them in hot water and acquaint yourself with aromas that were imbued on the other side of the planet. Somebody—many people—put their heart into cutting the soil, planting the seeds, tending the gardens, the plucking, rolling, baking and drying of these leaves. That connection is there, you can touch it. Tea is a ritual of touch, and of the senses, and, really, a transitive process of love. ❃