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Davis, California

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

The art of mindful tea drinking

A UC Davis librarian and student team up to bring together meditation and tea for university community


By ALINA ISSAKHANIAN — features@theaggie.org


While some opt for a cup of coffee for their daily caffeine fix, many benefits can come from having a cup of tea instead. Erik Fausak, a UC Davis Student Services librarian in the area of health sciences, has started weekly mindfulness tea meditation sessions with the hope to introduce more people to the world of tea and the benefits it offers. 

“It was actually born out of the idea of me seeing that mindfulness seemed to be an effective tool in a lot of medical schools to deal with anxiety and stress,” Fausak said. “Having come from a veterinary professional background as a veterinary technician for close to 20 years, I’ve known the psychological toll it takes on everyone in the profession.” 

With a little consistency, Fausak said he believes that tea can help people become more relaxed and mindful overall. To help students and community members wanting to learn more about tea, the UC Davis Library website has compiled a guide, including Zoom links for virtual mindfulness tea sessions, information about weekly in-person sessions as well as podcasts, self-guided videos and infographics for those looking to get into tea independently. 

Interlibrary Loan and Document Delivery Billing Assistant Lilia Wright is studying to be a veterinary technician and is one of Fausak’s loyal meditation attendees. She said that she has found the sessions to be a great form of self-care. 

“Erik has a wealth of knowledge about tea,” Wright said. “I get to learn about different teas and explore what I like or don’t like. What I enjoy most is taking a moment to pause a busy work week and [take] the time for self care — just to be and breathe.”

Fausak hosts two different styles of tea meditation. One is a bowl style, which is easier to participate in, since Fausak said it has less rigid equipment and requirements. All that is necessary to properly participate is loose tea leaves, a bowl and hot water. The bowl sessions are held on Zoom on Tuesdays at 9:30 a.m. 

His other sessions, done in a gongfu style, require a more specific tea set. Gongfu is a popular Chinese mindful tea practice that utilizes the traditional teaware of a small teapot, or gaiwan, a fairness cup and a drinking cup. It is paired with breathing exercises and thought-provoking questions to create a relaxing experience. Fausak hosts the gongfu style sessions on Mondays at 4:30 p.m. on Zoom. He hosts an in-person outdoor gongfu session, which is limited to four people, on Fridays from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. 

Fausak developed the program with a student who was in his first-year seminar in Global Tea Culture and Science during winter 2021. Gabrielle Tirsell, a second-year economics major, said that she met Fausak during her first year at UC Davis and has been working on the mindfulness tea program since, assisting with research and supplementary materials.

Growing up, tea was always a presence in my life, whether that be drinking it at home, at restaurants or at the Buddhist temple I grew up in,” Tirsell said. “I always enjoyed having it as a beverage but never came to appreciate it as an experience until taking the global tea first-year seminar where I was introduced to various types of tea ceremonies as well as the meditations that Erik and I have worked on.”

Fausak accredited the mindfulness aspect of these tea sessions to Buddhist practices. Although he said that mindfulness has become more secular than religious in the Western world, it has roots in Buddhism. Having a background in meditation through Buddhism, Tirsell was able to bring a helpful perspective to the development process of the mindfulness tea sessions.

I was taking the first-year seminar associated with the Global Tea Initiative when I mentioned the fact that I grew up doing meditations as a Buddhist,” Tirsell said. “Erik suggested that I assist him in establishing a tea-based meditation program at Davis. I had never really considered tea as a medium through which to practice meditation, but I was excited by the concept and got involved.” 

After learning more about Buddhist meditation practices, Fausak moved forward researching and seeking out academic work centered around the mindful practice of tea but found that the topic was lacking in academic literature. This is when he found Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk who taught Oprah about mindful tea drinking on her show.

Using this knowledge as a jumping-off point, Fasuak began researching and developing his mindfulness tea meditations. Now, he helps those curious about mindful tea who are beginning their practice. Fausak said that UC Davis has been a leader in the growing tea education field, with the help of UC Davis’ Global Tea Initiative (GTI), led by founding director Katherine Burnett, and GTI’s Global Tea Scholars, which includes researchers, tea industry professionals and others interested in the academic study of tea.

UC Davis also offers the first-year seminar in Global Tea Culture and Science that Tirsell took, which is co-taught by Burnett, Fausak and a few other experts every winter. In this class, students learn all about tea, including, but not limited to, teaware, the origins of tea, mindful tea practices, tea’s benefits and its production practices. The class offers students the opportunity to grow and learn more about what goes into their cup of tea.

Originally a program created for the veterinary profession, Fausak’s mindfulness tea meditations, with the help of the GTI and the first-year seminar, has created a large community, with people from different backgrounds and professions. 

“Taking five minutes to just enjoy being where you are, enjoying the sounds around you, enjoying your tea and engaging all of your senses — it’s not a deep mindful practice where you’re supposed to have an empty mind,” Fausak said. “It’s just enjoying that moment or taking that moment for self-care.”


Written by: Alina Issakhanian — features@theaggie.org



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