Francis Xavier’s feast day is December 3. For those of us who love our afternoon tea, it is a feast we should well note. For the world’s most civilized habit owes a huge debt of gratitude to Xavier and his Jesuit missionaries who traveled to Japan in 1549.
Now, to properly appreciate this story, you must know that among the Japanese, tea is practically a sacrament. They don’t just drink it, they have an entire ritual and a philosophy dedicated to its consumption and appreciation: The Way of Tea. Perhaps better than anyone, the Japanese understand its paradox: Unlike other drinks and meals we share, tea is humble, yet so extremely gratifying!
One of the most beautiful descriptions of tea and the culture that produced it is from the Historia, written by Jesuit priest and missionary, João Rodrigues, who loved tea and wrote quite a bit about it. He and his Jesuit companions soon recognized that it was a deeply beautiful part of their culture that Japanese converts could wholeheartedly enjoy because it promoted rather than compromised their beliefs.