Sunday, March 6, 2011

Tea and stupas

I'm staying for the week in the Sonoma Valley of California.  What a beautiful place here.  The land itself is stunning enough without the jaw-dropping winery estates.  It's my first taste of traveling with tea and the challenges that brings.  Thankfully, I drove down so was able to pack along my electric tea kettle and trusty tea tray.

Inside my hotel room is a lovely book full of color photographs and descriptions of dozens of wineries.  As I was looking through it I couldn't help but notice the similarities between the photographs of grapevine fields and the pictures I've seen of plantation tea trees.  Although I love wines I don't drink them most everyday like I do tea.  I've often wondered if certain parts of the Northwest might be ideal for growing tea trees and I found myself re-imagining this pretty coffee table gift book full of photos of tea farms and tasting rooms and tea caves for aging.

I brought along a few samples for my trip, trying to pick out teas that might be facilitative for my purpose here (meditation retreat).  So far I've sampled some truly rich and pleasurable Essence of Tea selections, including the 1989 88QingBing and the 1990's Grand Yellow Label.  Already I'm checking my bank account to see how easily I can rationalize a purchase.  See what tasting these fine older teas does to you?  I did jot down my tasting notes for them, but somehow it seems trite to try and copy them here.  All I can say is, you owe it to yourself to taste some of these.  Fine tea, indeed.

Shunryu Suzuki-roshi stupa (Japanese)
The Sonoma Mountain Zen Center is here in these parts.  A surprisingly quiet and serene setting amongst all the winery fervor that abounds here.  It's been a pleasure to visit.  On the grounds of the place they have two stupas that are well worth the short walk to get to.  One is in honor of Japanese Zen priest, Shunryu Suzuki-roshi, and the other in honor of Tibetan Buddhist teacher, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche.  It was surprising for me to see the differences of style between the two, although each emanates it's own peacefulness.  I consider myself very fortunate to have spent time at each of these sites.  Being the tea-head I am, I thought about sneaking in a thermos of hot water and enjoying a bit of tea at the sites, but almost as soon as that thought appeared I dismissed it and felt a little guilty for entertaining such an idea.  These relic sites are very deeply revered.  You just don't skip down the path to have a picnic there.  But the spirit of these great teachers is with me as I enjoy my teas in the hotel room  :)

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche stupa (Tibetan)


  1. Would love to sit with Jakusho Kwong. Looks very shanti. Gassho.


    You cannot miss her in Napa.... divine!

  3. CloudMountain -- Best memory from the Zen Center: watching Jakusho Kwong interact with his grandson.

    toki -- divine, indeed! Thanks to your tip I located some of her cheese (Nocturne and Pianoforte), and ooooh my... yum!