The Seasons of Tea

Tea is my favorite beverage, and I love the whole spectrum, from fresh, unadulterated loose-leaf tea brewed in a pot, to sweet, milky boba tea. Oolong is my favorite variety (I still remember the moment I had my first sip of ti kuan yin oolong). I was interested in the way tea shows up seasonally in haiku, and decided to make that the focus of a post.

Tea does not appear as a kigo in Haiku World: An International Poetry Almanac, which is my guiding haiku text for 2022. However, there are many saijiki in the world, with different interpretations of the seasons. In The Five Hundred Essential Japanese Season Words (PDF), available from the Haiku Foundation, there are three entries that relate to tea:

  • tea picking (late spring)
  • new tea (early summer)
  • tea flowers (early winter)

In Jane Reichhold’s A Dictionary of Haiku Classified by Season Words with Traditional and Modern Methods (PDF), also available from the Haiku Foundation, there are two entries that relate to tea:

  • tea garden (summer)
  • drinking tea (winter)

Ultimately, I don’t agree that tea-drinking should be confined to the season of winter. Just as coffee drinkers take their beverage of choice hot even in the worst of summer, many committed tea drinkers take their tea hot all year long. In the examples I’ve come across so far, tea in general seems to be an all-year word, dependent on the context of the poem to connect it to the seasons.

All Year

Tea in a vintage floral cup
Tea in one of my vintage floral cups

swish of the whisk
green foam clings
to Mum’s tea bowl

Lillian Nakamura Maguire, Haiku Canada Members’ Anthology, 2018

While personally I associate green tea with spring (thanks to a former colleague of mine who believed it was best in spring), matcha can be consumed at any time of year. Not only that, but formal Japanese tea ceremonies take place throughout the year, meaning there is no specific season in which to consume matcha. For an in-depth overview of the ways in which tea ceremony changes throughout the year, check out Kaiseki: Zen Tastes in Japanese Cooking by Tsuji Kaichi.

sipping turmeric tea
grey curtains catch
the wind

Erica E. Benson, Haiku Pea Podcast, Series 5, Episode 6

I initially wrestled a great deal with where to place this poem. Turmeric can be grown and harvested all year in temperate zones, and it’s not clear that the turmeric tea in this poem is from a fresh root; it could be dried turmeric, and thus could be consumed at any point in the year. In addition, wind happens throughout the year. As I did not feel there was an overpowering seasonal element, I chose to place this as an all-year poem.

troubling dreams
loose tea eludes
the infuser

Brad Bennett, Failed Haiku #76

Brad Bennett’s senryu likewise doesn’t contain a clear seasonal element; tea in and of itself is not enough to serve as a kigo here. (I know that many people argue that senryu do not/should not contain seasonal words. I believe that kigo are appropriate to senryu. While they’re not mandatory, they can be a compelling element to the poem. I take a nod from Haiku World and incorporate senryu into this project, and note the seasons accordingly.)

Spring

first light. . .
I sip birdsong
with green tea

Neena Singh, Haiku Pea Podcast, Series 5, Episode 6

At first, I was torn between placing this as a spring or summer haiku. My instinct said spring, but early morning birdsong is common in summer as well; I’m thinking of the sparrow nest outside my studio window at my previous apartment. Jane Reichhold lists the word “birdsong,” as a spring kigo, so with her backing me up, I’m following my initial instinct and placing this haiku in the spring category. Note that the tea itself isn’t necessarily seasonal; it’s the birdsong that grounds this haiku in spring.

Summer

A glass of Moroccan mint tea next to a silver teapot, on a silver tray.
Moroccan mint tea in the set that John brought me from Morocco!

you bees
may share my cup of tea
I’ll grab another

Ronald K. Craig, Haiku Pea Podcast, Series 5, Episode 10

Bees connote summer, and thus the (presumably hot) tea is not being consumed in the winter. There’s no modifier indicating iced tea (and in the United States, at least, we’re more likely to say, “a glass of tea” when referring to the iced version of the beverage). Even the bees don’t mind hot tea on a warm day!

Autumn

As of this writing, I haven’t found any examples of tea haiku that are clearly grounded in autumn. However, that doesn’t mean they don’t exist! Please let me know if you find any.

Winter

A cup of black tea
Black tea in one of my favorite cups.

lavender tea
before and after
the first snow

Hifsa Ashraf, First Frost #2

The mention of snow is important in this haiku. Since the tea is lavender, a reader might initially place the poem in spring or early summer, if they assumed the tea was made with fresh flowers. In Hifsa Ashraf’s haiku, lavender tea could be seasonal, but the word “snow” overrides any seasonal associations that lavender might have.

sea smoke rises
from icy harbor
I sip earl grey

Pam Joy, Haiku Pea Podcast, Series 5, Episode 6

Although Earl Grey tea could be enjoyed at any time of year, I find that the floral aspects of the blend create a spring connotation for me. However, that’s a personal association; I don’t think Earl Grey tea is inherently seasonal. Even if it was, the image of the “icy harbor” again grounds the poem in winter, regardless of what other season the tea might or might not suggest.

froth on my green tea empty winter

Alvin B. Cruz, Haiku Pea Podcast, Series 5, Episode 6

Once more, the explicit mention of the winter season makes the setting for this poem undeniable. As I work through the tea-related haiku that I’ve collected so far, I can’t help but feel that tea is an all-year word, unless the context of the poem indicates otherwise.

5 thoughts on “The Seasons of Tea

  1. Hi Allyson, I wrote a post last week that had several tea-related haiku including this autumn one by Basho.

    sensing autumn’s approach
    four hearts draw together
    in a small tea room
    -Basho

    1. Thank you for sharing! I need to figure out my WordPress settings because I tried to subscribe to your blog but for some reason I’m not getting notified of new entries. 🤔

      1. Hi Allyson, thanks for the follow! I hear you about the WordPress settings. Sometimes they have a mind of their own. Looking forward to your next post.

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