ZEN in TEA© Sylvia Ye


by Sylvia Ye - Managing Partner Redy Hotel Total Solutions

The culture of tea is rooted deeply in China for thousands of years. Chinese enjoy tea for not only its flavor and benefits to health, but the spirit of Zen.

There are two famous stories about Tea and Zen:

 A Cup of Tea 

Nan-in, a Zen master, received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen. Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring. The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!”

“Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

Tea of Life

A depressed young man walked into an old temple, asked, “Why is life unfair?” Master Shi-Yuan listened to his complains quietly, serving the young man a cup of tea with warm water. He told him it’s the best tea.

The young man looked at the tea, finding the tea leaves floating. Had a taste and said “No good.”

Master Shi-Yuan changed the cup, pouring it with hot water. The young man looked at the cup: tea leaves flow with hot water up and down, a fresh tea aroma comes out, melted in the air.

The young man suddenly understood: ”We are just like tea, and life is water. Frustrations are nothing but the ups and downs stimulate tea to release its energy, and to deliver the aroma.”


There are many stories like these talking about Zen with tea. It’s usual that Zen practitioners spend a whole afternoon making tea. People who buy a paper cup tea from Starbucks would not understand that tea carries a type of emotion and a philosophy of life.

The Chinese character of TEA is composed as human in between grass and wood, which indicates the secret. Smelling a cup of tea makes you feel like walking into a forrest, breathing the fresh air. The energy that nurtures the tea leaves brings you back to nature and roots your feet on the floor. Feeling the flow of chi with tea, the impurity of body, mind and sprit is immediately dissolved.

However, how many people ever feel the flow of tea, watch the ups and downs of tea leaves, or realize the Zen inside? We are often full of opinions, desires or complaints in our mind, like what’s described in the stories.

Zen practitioners love tea for the way they make, drink and feel it. The process is a ceremony leading their mind to a free land.


published: 11/05/2014

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