Knowing Your Tea Kettle

[This post appeared Dec. 1 2009 as part of the Great Blog Swap on the blog Budding Buddhist. It is reprinted here for archive purposes only]

Knowing Your Tea Kettle

I am absolutely delighted to be hosting NellaLou of Enlightenment Ward today as part of my participation in The Great Buddho-blogging Article Swap.  Check it out:
Thanks so much to Nate at Precious Metal blog for coming up with the idea to trade articles for blogs and to Dwan for participating and giving me the opportunity to post an article on her fine blog Budding Buddhist.
As a topic I’ve been given the following questions and references to work with:
You’ve been a practitioner of Zen for a while now, I’ve been one for just a short time, really.  Right now, my practice is centered on the edges – where am I not mindful, how can I bring my breath back, how could I more mindfully approach the problem I am taking.  Where are the edges of your practice?  What new things are you finding to explore.  On the one hand, I realize that it’s all about Breathing In, Breathing Out, and if you forget, it’s back to Breathing In, Breathing Out, but I imagine that the journey your practice has taken leads you to changing challenges or concerns.  Or perhaps it hasn’t – perhaps *Practice* is all about the edges and I’m asking a silly question. ^_^
In the 10.26 Upaya newsletter, Ben Howard speaks of “Closing Doors”:
  • When Thich Nhat Hanh, then a young Vietnamese monk, visited the Trappist monk Thomas Merton at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky in 1966, Merton observed how his guest opened and closed the door. From that action alone, Merton later remarked, he could tell that Thich Nhat Hanh was “an authentic monk”.
Howard then reminds us of the “subtle gestures” of Zen.  While not new, an undoubtedly not new to many practitioners of Zen, this subtle gesture, this idea of being known as an authentic monk by the way one closes a door – this has been the, well, door into my practice right now, the way in — the way back in from the edges.  What about yourself?

At first I was somewhat daunted by the subject. Then I looked at the words more slowly,tried to absorb them in a way to make them mine. Comprehension of a subject is the first step to understanding. We need to take the time to first comprehend What is this? What is my relation to this subject? How do I orient myself to it? This orientation is not about my feelings or reaction towards it, as that is only something I would make up inside myself after the fact of the encounter without actual relationship to that which is encountered. Basically it is a recognition of What am I looking at? The thing itself.

After that initial encounter with Dwan’s words it became clear that a response could get into a lot of real esoteric philosophical stuff. While that might be fun for me it might not be so for people reading this. So I did a little inner inventory of what else came up as I read the words and surprisingly “tea kettle” was on the list, possibly because I was drinking tea while considering the topic.

The tea kettle I have is 5 or 6 years old. It has a couple of small dents along the the bottom edges and doesn’t whistle. A whistle isn’t necessary to make Indian tea because one doesn’t just boil water and throw in a tea bag. It’s a little more involved than that. The lid to my kettle no longer fits properly since it’s rarely been used and over the years with all the expansion and contraction of heating the kettle the opening at the top may be slightly warped.

When I wash this kettle there are particular areas I have to give more attention to than others. On the inside just to the right of the spout is what might be called a weak area. Boiling tea with milk leaves a residue inside the kettle and this particular spot really tends to hold it there. Some scrubbing is required. And inside the spout sometimes the loose tea leaves collect so I have to get a wire brush and push it into the spout to remove these. If this is not done eventually the spout will clog up completely and pouring of tea will be impossible.

Making the tea requires a certain amount of attention as the ingredients are measured, although after a while one gets to know how much of which is preferable, it has to be brought to a boil twice and pouring through a strainer requires a bit of a steady hand or it ends up all over the counter top.

It becomes an exercise in relationship to the moment, mindfulness of the moment and what one is doing. Often we find we are living in our heads rather than realizing what is going on right in front of our noses. One can be pouring tea yet thinking about an upcoming meeting or a letter that needs to be written or the music on the radio. And one can drink the tea without even tasting it when an engaging television program is on. One can wash the tea kettle while dreaming of a tropical vacation or contemplating the pile of laundry to be done in the next few hours.

Practice is just like this. Just like washing the tea kettle and noticing the areas of accumulation, the clogged spouts, the temperature and conditions, the pouring of thoughts and words and actions. The breath, stopped, started, gasping or with ease.

Edges are borders and limits we erect within ourselves after the fact of encounter. It is a way to categorize relationship with everything and place ourselves within that relationship. This is useful and necessary to navigate the world but it is a mental construction. It can get very complicated and ornate. The more so, the more work it takes to see through it. This is why basic breathing is useful. It is the most simple human action but the most necessary and the most unrealized.

So with that said please enjoy some tea with me.

How to make Masala Chai (Indian Spiced Tea) – a recipe

This is the standard way people in North India take their tea. In South India coffee is preferred over tea but the method is the same so you can substitute fresh ground coffee for tea (and leave out the spices)


-tea kettle or saucepan
-cup or mug


(amount depends on number of cups and personal taste)
-loose black tea
-whole milk (skim milk just isn’t that good)
-(spices are optional-the plain Chai is quite good also) a few whole green cardamoms or a pinch of powdered cardamom (summer) or a couple of slices of fresh ginger (winter)

Method of preparation for about 2 mugs of tea

Put 1 and 1/2 mugs of water into the pot
Add about a tablespoon of loose tea
Add about 2 tablespoons of sugar (more if you like it quite sweet)
Add the cardamom or ginger if desired
Boil it
Add about 3/4 mug of milk
Boil until again until it foams up on top
Stir it a little
Pour through the strainer into your mug and enjoy.


2 comments on “Knowing Your Tea Kettle

  1. Hi Marnie

    I add a piece of cinnamon stick and one clove to my chai along with the cardamom and ginger – also delicious. Had kitcheri for breakfast this morning…this recipe makes enough for a week of breakfasts…

    I’m a creative cook so amounts are not scientific…

    1/2 c mung beans
    1/2 c brown rice (or basmati white or brown)
    1 bunch fresh spinach (sometimes include yellow zucchini – even beets work)
    1/2 bunch fresh cilantro
    1 small bunch fresh chives
    2 cloves
    about 1/4 to 1/2 sq. inch ginger (too much makes it taste like too much pepper)
    large Tb tumeric or more (I like more)
    dash of pepper – tiny dash because of ginger

    I soak the whole thing overnight and pressure cook it in the morning for about 20 minutes. Delicious. Healthy.

    Both recipes have been served while Tenzo.

    Laura from P

    • Hi Laura
      There can be some pretty elaborate additions to chai if one wants. I’ve had some with a touch of black pepper, but it wasn’t overwhelming, like a warm undertone. Sounds like a wine review.

      Kitcheri is something I’ve had sometimes too. When they make it in ashrams and places like that though it tends to be plain dal and rice-rather bland. We tend to make pullow instead with a full range of spices and vegetables-but they’re quite similar in terms of preparation.

      Thanks for the recipe. I’ll give this one a try.

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