Monthly Archives: June 2019

A Mirror Onto Tea

I recently received a package from a farmer in Fujian, China. Filled with individually-wrapped samples of various 岩茶 yánchá (“cliff tea”) from the ancient tea producing region of Wuyishan. Wanting to test each tea and assess their flavors without distraction, I set about creating a minimal tea space in the center of my brightly-lit apartment in New York City.

In the clear, bright light of the mid-Summer’s day, I could easily discern the various qualities of each teas’ leaves. Opting to do a “focused tasting”, where I would methodically work through teas based on variety, I decided to first test several 肉桂 Ròuguì (lit. “cinnamon”, referring to the characteristic flavor of the tea).

Opening up the first package of tea, I carefully set the long, twisted leaves atop an old 白銅 báitóng (lit. “white copper”) tea scoop in the shape of a banana leaf. In the bright light of the day, I could instantly note aspects of the tea’s overall health, care taken during production, oxidation level, and degree of subsequent final roasting done by the tea master in Wuyishan. Pockets of red intermixed with darker shades hinted at mid-level roasting, one meant to preserve complexity of the tea’s original flavor, supported by layers of roasted flavors.

Placed within a warm and wetted white porcelain 蓋碗 gàiwǎn (“lidded bowl”), the rich aroma of the tea began to lift upward, foreshadowing flavors to come.

As the mid-afternoon began, I sat before my tools for tasting: the white gàiwǎn, a matching white porcelain 潮州茶船 Cháozhōu chá chuán (lit. “Chaozhou tea boat”) and white porcelain tasting cup. These, plus a kettle of boiling water, were all I needed to assess the qualities this tea had to offer.

Pouring the first round of hot water over the leaves, a light foam arose from the coiled bundle of tea that sat submerged in the tiny porcelain vessel. From this, I could determine how oily the tea would be (something I often look for in a high quality yánchá).

Placing the lid atop the gàiwǎn, I waited for the tea to steep, using the small space between the lid and the bowl to see the color of the tea liqueur darken with time.

Once ready, I fully decanted the tea, letting the now unfurled leaves rest in the gàiwǎn for the next brew, an opportunity for me to further investigate their physical attributes.

Finally, tea in cup, I admired its color; a deep reddish brown, akin to a burnt umber. Next, lifting the cup to my nose, I assessed it fragrance. Sweet aromas of chestnut and spices intermingled with notes of peppercorn, roasted barley, and the haunting scent of incense.

Lastly, I sipped the tea, slurping as I aerated the tea liqueur across my soft palete to enhance my ability to taste the tea’s flavor. Layers upon layers of spice notes, cacao, wet limestone, bittersweet chocolate, caramelized sugar, and cinnamon bark flooded my senses. Even after the tea had been fully consumed, the flavor lingered on.

Breathing out again produced a residual sensation, a cool, slick finish and the characteristic 岩韻 yányùn (lit. “rock/cliff rhyme”). This, classically, is defined through five distinctive points found in all great yánchá of Wuyishan: 活 huó (liveliness), 甘 gān (sweetness), 清 qīng (clarity, pertaining to the liqueur and taste), 香 xiāng (fragrance), and 岩骨 yángǔ (lit. “rock bones”, as if the tea has substance or the heartiness of eating meat).

Not content with drinking just the first steeping, I continued long through the remainder of the afternoon brewing cup after cup of this tea. Even as the day wore on and my partner returned home from work, I invited her to join in on the appreciation of this fine tea. Brewed in a simple white porcelain gàiwǎn, enjoyed with small white porcelain cups, each acted as a mirror upon tea, reflecting back to us the complex and shifting flavors of this superb Ròuguì yánchá in the bright light of the mid-Summer’s day.

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If you would like to learn more about Wuyishan’s many varieties of classically-crafted yánchá by experiences them directly, I hope to soon offer some of my favorites through connections I’ve collected throughout my years in tea. If you are interested to learn more, and perhaps would like to purchase some of these select teas, please do not hesitate to reach out to me.

Additionally, I cannot help but to give credit where credit is due to Austin Hodge of Seven Cups Tea. His eloquent definition of 岩韻 yányùn, as well as his detailed information about yánchá was a great help to my developing of this article. You can find his full write up on yánchá here on his website.

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Filed under Ceramics, China, Education, Oolong, Tea, Tea Tasting

One thousand flowers bloom. Reflecting on the past.

It finally happened. My one thousandth post on Instagram. While for some this means nothing, for me, it reflects quite a journey. For those who follow my posts, I’ve never strayed from what my little bio reads: “Just a man, wandering the world, making tea.” While, certainly, many of the images I snapped and shared throughout the years may not have been “tea-centric”, many of them have.

Beyond this, within the half-a-decade I’ve been sharing via this platform, I’ve seen my practice of tea deepen. This I’ve also shared on my blog Scotttea and through countless public and private, organized and impromptu tea sessions with thousands of people. Many small images. Many cups of tea. Many hearts moved to share a moment.

On this hot June day, I sit down to reflect on this. To celebrate, I decide to make tea in a large antique teabowl roughly dating from the Song and Yuan period (960-1368). Scooping tea into a small wooden 棗 natsume (tea container), I contemplate how many scoops of tea I’ve issued-out over the years to make thousands of bowls of tea.

Assembling the teaware together, I can’t help but to appreciate the harmony of the object seated together. The cream color and crackled glaze of the antique 茶碗 chawan (teabowl), the texture of the overturned 茶杓 chashaku (teascoop), the soft folds of the white linen 茶巾 chakin (tea cloth). I purify each object, some with a silk 袱紗 fukusa (small cloth for cleansing teaware), some with the hot water from the 茶釜 chagama (spoutless kettle).

The wetted ancient bowl now seems revived. The fissures in the glaze awaken. The color of the underlying clay deepens.

A small patch of glaze in the center of the bowl beckons for tea.

Three scoops of bright, freshly-ground 抹茶 matcha powder is placed atop this, into which I engrave a small secret marking.

The void upon the heaped mound of tea in the natsume. An amount telling of what I’ve removed from this world. Telling of the amount I’ve given back.

The 茶筅 chasen (tea whisk) is placed upon the small clump of tea, covering it from the direct stream of hot water I pour over it.

Taking the whisk in hand, I breathe outward, offering up my internal energy as I whip-up a frothy bowl of tea.

As I sit to enjoy this tea, this humid Summer’s day, I notice the residue of tea upon the chashaku. I notice the shift in light within the tearoom. I take in the aroma of sweet smelling incense. I hear the roll of thunder from a distant storm.

One thousand images. One thousand moments. In June, the hydrangea blooms, producing one thousand flowers with every blossom. A burst of color. A flash of lightning. A bowl of tea.

Cleaning up afterwards, I set the chasen upwards, something my school of tea does during the warmer days of Summer. When the seasons change, we change. Nothing remains constant, for that I am sure.

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Filed under Ceramics, China, Green Tea, History, Matcha, Meditation, Tea

The Sun Hangs Highest in the Sky

As the year progresses, the subtle changes of the seasons mark the many “gateless gates” we pass through. While often too minute to notice from day-to-day, nature offers us clues. In Fall, the world becomes radiant in the final brilliant colors of trees and grasses. In Winter, colors mute, the soil hardens, the air becomes crisp, the plum blossom blooms. Spring marks the slow reemergence of life from its frozen dormancy. And in Summer, the world is fully awake, bursting with life.

As the sun hangs highest overhead today, marking the Summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, I find myself sitting in my tearoom, enjoying the vibrancy of the day outside. This activity is also felt internally, as I feel full of energy and excitement, having just received a collection of tea samples from a tea farmer based in Wuyishan, China. The small, individually-wrapped packets, each contain a different tea, a veritable treasure trove of flavors, each expressing the slight effects the shifting of one season to the next has on the tea plant.

Today, celebrating the solstice, I opt for a coppery 肉桂 Ròuguì, the name of which literally translates to “cinnamon”. While I will be brewing the tea hot, the effects of drinking it at the peak of Summer will be slightly cooling.

This desire to evoke a sense of “coolness” is revealed in my choice of teaware. An antique porcelain 宝瓶 hōhin (handless teapot) with a touch of 金継ぎ kintsugi (gold lacquer repair). To measure-out the tea leaves, I select an antique 白铜 báitóng (“white copper”) scoop in the shape of a banana leaf. To serve, I select a set of four blue-and-white cups from 景德镇 Jǐngdézhèn, each of which containing a vista reflective of a season. Spring and Summer.

Fall and Winter.

Warming each ceramic vessel, the water brings out their clean, porcelain sheen.

Placing the tea leaves atop the báitóng leaf, I admire their uniformity and the rich color they contain.

Placed into the warm hōhin, the twisted leaves release a soft, complex flavor. Notes of spices and cacao fill the air.

Pouring hot water over the leaves only intensifies the aroma.

Once fully steeped, I slowly issue-out the amber liqueur into each cup. Enjoying the deep color, matched with the swirling, nuanced fragrance of tea brings pause to my busy day and a cool calm to the heat of Summer.

Silently sipping in my tearoom, I enjoy the unfurling flavors of cinnamon, cloves, wet limestone and black walnut. Subtle, gentle, like the shifting of the seasons. On this, the longest day of the year.

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In Summer’s Heat, Dew on Blades of Grass

As mid-Summer approaches, the heat can become oppressive. Moments when cool breezes rise and a chance Summer rain fall are eagerly snatched-up, enjoyed evermore, fully aware that, as Summer continues, such occurrences will become rare.

In the morning, the air feels heavy and damp. A walk outside reveals a world that sparkles and shines with tiny drops of dew that have collected on patches of moss, small fields of flowers, and bright green blades of grass. Returning inside to the quiet of the tearoom, this vision remains with me.

I ready my tearoom for a solitary moment for tea, arranging each item in accordance to the season. The 風炉 furo (portable tea stove, lit. “wind brazier”) is pushed to the corner of the tearoom, isolating its heat. The 茶筅 chasen (tea whisk) is placed with its tines pointing upward, evoking blades of grass, inducing a sense of coolness and relaxation. The teabowl it sits in, an antique Chinese 平茶碗 hira-chawan (lit. “flat teabowl”), is wider and flatter than those used during the colder seasons, a shape that will cool the tea.

The 棗 natsume (tea caddy), too, is flatter, and made of thin, lightly lacquered wood. This, too, helps to create an atmosphere of ease and informality.

As I purify each item, I take time to appreciate the care taken to craft each item. The lightness of the natsume filled with 抹茶 matcha (powdered tea). The antique bowl, the edges tattered and glaze crackled. The speckled surface of the 茶杓 chashaku (tea scoop), a pattern reminiscent of drops of dew. The outstretched tines of the chasen, wetted and flexed.

Ready for tea, the chawan stares up at me, an ancient face, still bright as a moon in a Summer’s night. In its center, an 石爆 ishihaze, revealing where a stone exploded through the glaze.

Issuing-out three scoops of matcha into the bowl’s center, I lightly mark the mound of tea with the rounded end of the chashaku.

Afterwards, I tap the inner rim of the bowl with this bamboo scoop, to remove the remaining tea powder from its hand-hewn tip.

Before ladling water into the teabowl, I place the chasen over the small heap of powdered tea. Dipping the 柄杓 hishaku (bamboo ladle) into the 茶釜 chagama (spoutless kettle) and retrieving a dipper-full of hot water, I proceed to lightly pour half of its contents over the tines of the resting whisk. Done this way, the sound of the cascading water seems brighter, more refreshing, evocative of a light Summer’s rain or a tiny rivulet running through a forest.

Peering down, I notice that small droplets of water remain, clinging to the thin bamboo blades of the chasen. The image instantly refreshes me, cooling my mind.

Whisking tea in a hira-chawan takes patience, control, and skill. As a shallow bowl, it is easy to splash tea over its edges. Only with a focused mind and trained hand can one properly whisk tea in this teabowl.

Once prepared, the foam of the tea appears lighter against the bright backdrop of the antique bowl. Lifting it before me, I enjoy three sips of tea, the temperature of which is significantly cooler than had it been served in a deeper bowl.

Setting the bowl back down again, I take a moment to appreciate the residual foam that lingers, caught against the stone that pushes through the glaze.

Washing the bowl one more time, I pause to feel it in my hands. The gentle warmth. The rough edges. The smooth surface of the ancient glaze. The texture of the ishihaze contrasted to the 高台 kōdai (“foot”) of the teabowl.

Setting the bowl down once again, I finally bring the moment with tea to a close. The 茶巾 chakin (linen tea cloth) folded and set against the inner edge of the teabowl. The whisk returned with its tines placed upwards. The chashaku resting against two points along the rim of the Summer chawan. The natsume brought next to the assembled wares. I close the 水差 mizusashi (cool water jar) and slide the lid back onto the chagama.

As I look out my window, the mist of the morning remains.

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Breaking Through Writer’s Block

Gone is May. It will not come again until a year has passed. Now is mid-June and the true heat of Summer has arrived. Wet. Heavy. Sweltering. Outside my windows, the deep green leaves of the forest hangs laden with moisture. The out-stretched hand of a maple leaf, dipping low, dripping with the residue of a sun shower. The tall towers of the city, far in the corner of my vista, stand covered in a thick haze, invisible to me now.

Sitting by my window, I stare out coiled like a spring. Unable to write save for only the thin structure of a thought, and I find myself in the grip of writer’s block. “Have a cup of tea” once mused a Zen teacher, a 公案 gōng àn (“koan” in Japanese) statement that has caused me great doubt. What might exist in a cup of tea? Perhaps I will try it out.

Boiling water and pulling out teaware, I cannot yet find the words to break these mental chains. A tin containing tea now twenty five years aged.

A metal and jade scoop in the shape of a banana leaf more than a hundred years old.

An empty pot and a jumbled mind.

An empty cup to be filled.

The color of the tea once brewed is dark. Red like the bark of an old tree. Becoming blacker and blacker with each successive steeping until it resembles calligrapher’s ink.

Closer and closer it draws my mind inward. Closer and closer to the flavor of nature. Viscous like honey. Bitter like medicinal herbs. Smooth like tobacco. Soft like old, worn leather. Deep like a rambling forest. Onward and onward it goes.

Changing. Waxing and waning like the silver moon. Brightening and fleeting within several hours until the fog of thought lifts and ideas become visible again.

The heat of the day still lingers, but the deadlock of Summer eases. A faint, cool breeze moves through the air and causes dark green leaves to flutter again. Shakes the raindrops off their emerald backs. What a lovely sound this residual rain makes, falling to the ground below.

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Filed under Ceramics, China, Meditation, Pu-erh, Tea, Tea Tasting

The Rich Flavor of Friendship

Every once in a while I escape New York City, replacing the clamor of the urban jungle for the somewhat more relaxed climes of San Francisco. Being born and having lived in this West Coast city, I find myself feeling instantly at home amidst the hills, the fog, and the “single season” that never seems to shift. Likewise, whenever I return, I find myself reconnecting with old friends and, sometimes, making new ones.

What now seems like a second tea space for me, I often find myself welcomed into the sunlit tearoom of Chris Kornblatt, fellow tea person and purveyor of fine tea.

Unbeknownst to me, that day Chris has also secretly invited our shared friend and my mentor of over a decade! Seeing him again after many so years was truly sublime, a delightful opening to a day filled with tea.

Memories soon began to pour out as freely as tea did into many small cups. A bounty of locally-procured food was present to stave-off hunger. The sweet scent of a high mountain Taiwanese oolong brought by my mentor began our session.

Steeping after steeping marked by the moving of small glassy and metallic beads along a woven thread. New teas emerged in time as the energy of the room became more lively.

An aged and roasted 鐵觀音 Tiěguānyīn (“Iron Bodhisattva of Mercy”). The leaves, twisted and curled, darkened by the slow, calculated roasting overseen by a tea master in Anxi county, Fujian province. The color of the tea, dark and coppery. The flavor, smooth, velvety, with a medicinal finish. As time continued, more tea emerged.

A 蜜蘭香鳳凰單欉 Mìlán Xiāng Fènghuáng Dān Cóng (“Honey Orchid-scent Phoenix single grove”), with its long, wiry leaves, offering up flavors of sugar cane and sweet ripe melon.

A “mystery” oolong, which, after close inspection and several rounds of brewing, was determined to be an aged 金玫瑰 Jīn méiguī (lit. “Golden Rose”) from Wuyishan in Fujian province. Its flavor was shifting, a unique blend of apricot and barley, soybean and zucchini.

A 1990s, Hong Kong-aged 生普洱茶 shēng pǔ’ěr chá (“raw puer”), with the characteristic maltiness and mustiness of a “wet storage” aged tea.

Finally, my mentor produced a final treasure from his pocket, a rare and aged brick of 熟普洱茶 shú pǔ’ěr chá (“cooked puer”).

Like a beautiful day, it opened softly, brightening as it warmed, and ending into a deep, relaxed, inky darkness. Friends sharing tea, sharing stories, sharing time together as if the years apart did not exist.

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Dear beloved blog readers,

I wanted to thank you all for reading (and commenting on) my blog. Seven years and 100 posts (yes, this is the 100th post!)! I wanted to bring it all back to where it began: in San Francisco, surrounded by friends, delicious tea, and dreams of a greater and more connected future.

In the over twenty years of making tea, almost two decades of practicing 功夫茶 gōng fū chá everyday, fifteen years of practicing 茶の湯 chanoyu, I’ve only wanted to make tea and share tea. You’ve allowed me to share my most private moments and offer tea to you all. In the end, the tea tastes better. The memories last longer. The world we live in gets a little smaller.

Looking forward to sharing more tea and time with you as time goes on. I hope we can enjoy each moment together!

Yours truly,

Scott

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Over the Vast Sea of Time

On June 5th, 栄西忌 Eisai-ki is observed by tea people throughout Japan. Often performed with offerings of incense, sutra recitation, and tea, the event commemorates the death 明菴栄西 Myōan Eisai (whose actual death was on July 2, 1215), most known for bringing both the 臨済宗 Rinzai-shū (Línjì zōng in Chinese) sect of Zen Buddhism and green tea to Japan.

It was upon Eisai’s final return from China in 1191 that he brought with him, tucked within a small ceramic jar, tea seeds, which he would plant on the hills around Uji. Having witnessed tea culture and the practice of taking tea firsthand while visiting Buddhist monasteries in Song China, Eisai was an early proponent for tea consumption in Japan. In his 喫茶養生記, Kissa Yōjōki (“Drinking Tea for Health”), Eisai wrote about tea’s ability to bring balance to the body and ward-off disease.

Today, as I sit down for tea, I bring with it the intention to remember the history of tea and the memory of Eisai. For this, I select an antique 天目茶碗 tenmoku chawan, made to resemble the famed 建窯 Jiàn yáo (Jiàn kiln) teabowl of the Song period (960-1279). I set this atop a simple, wooden 天目台 tenmoku-dai (tenmoku stand). For a 茶杓 chashaku (teascoop), I select a more formal scoop which has been carved from a single piece of cedar. For a tea container, I select a 大海茶入 daikai chaire (“great sea” tea container), within which is held finely-sifted 抹茶 matcha tea powder for 濃茶 koicha (thick tea).

This chaire, the form of which resembles that which contained the tea seeds Eisai brought back from China, is enrobed in a silk brocaded pouch (仕服 shifuku). The cord is tied in a way that resembles a fluttering insect, perfect for Summer.

As I untie the pouch, I pull the silk cord to its full length (which is referred to in the shifuku‘s poetic name 長緒 nagao, “long cord”).

As I loosen the cord I peer down into the pouch, revealing the dappled glaze and bone-white lid of the chaire.

Once removed from the shifuku, I begin the process of purifying the tea container and other assembled teawares.

Once cleansed, I lift the chashaku from atop the lid of the chaire and begin to scoop tea into the tenmoku chawan.

After issuing three scoops into the teabowl, I set the chashaku upon the rim of the chawan and then proceed in emptying the remainder of the tea from the chaire into the bowl.

Adding only enough water to wet the mound of tea, I proceed in kneading the matcha powder into a thick paste with the 茶筅 chasen. Crafted by the famed tea whisk carver 谷村丹後 Tanimura Tango, the chasen’s tines are intentionally cut thicker to provide the needed strength to knead koicha.

Once the tea is kneaded into a consistent paste, additional boiling water is added. Rather than whisking the tea into a foamy concoction (as is done with 薄茶 usucha, “thin tea”), koicha is left flat, shiny, lacquer-like. What is produced is a mirror-like finish. A mirror into the mind.

As I finish whisking the bowl of tea, I take a moment to reflect. To reflect upon the history of tea. Upon the vastness of time between now and the age of Eisai. Upon the blink of an eye life can seem to be. How many single moments like this can comprise a lifetime?

As I lift the bowl to my lips, I am overcome with the fragrance of tea, more pungent. As I sip from the bowl, the thick texture and rich flavor of koicha fills my body and mind and I become engulfed by its strength. While it is more common to share a bowl of koicha, I enjoy this alone, almost instantly becoming intoxicated by the powerful brew.

Setting the bowl down, I enjoy the slick pattern created by the residual dregs upon the iridescent surface of the tenmoku chawan.

Opting not to waste the remaining tea, I joyfully whip this into a final bowl of usucha. On a solemn day to remember Eisai, I meditate for one final moment. The scent of incense lingering in the air, mixing with the fleeting aroma of tea.

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Filed under Ceramics, China, Education, Green Tea, History, Japan, Matcha, Meditation, Tea

Tea for Anxiety

As a tea person, I am regularly asked whether there is a tea to treat anxiety. As a caffeinated beverage, I know that, on a chemical level, tea isn’t really the best to help someone to calm down and center the mind. However, I know that as I sit and focus on the act of mindfully making tea, the anxieties I may have seem to dissipate. This week I found myself in the grip of anxiety. While I regularly travel, I still harbor a fear of flying. Although not as severe as it used to be in my youth, still to this day, my mind cannot help but to think through all of the graphic scenarios of airborne perils that might await me.

It was at this moment, an hour or so before I had to head out to catch my flight, that I decided to make a bowl of tea. With not enough time to bring my 茶釜 chagama (spoutless tea kettle) to a boil and set up my tea room, I decided to keep this tea setting informal. Filling my 鉄瓶 tetsubin (“iron kettle”) halfway with water, I set it within my antique 火鉢 hibachi (portable ash brazier).

As the kettle began to come to a soft, rolling boil I began to collect the needed teawares. A small grey 井戸茶碗 Ido chawan (“Ido teabowl”). A bamboo teascoop and 茶筅 chasen (tea whisk). A white linen 茶巾 chakin (tea cloth). Putting these aside, I then begin to sift a small amount of 抹茶 matcha powder into a finely-lacquered 棗 natsume (tea caddy).

Before I entered my small tea space in my apartment, I assembled every item and arranged them atop a red and black lacquered 盆 bon (tray). What I had in mind was to perform a simple 盆点前 bon-demae (“tray preparation”). While bon-demae is considered to be the most informal method of preparing tea in 茶の湯 chanoyu (Japanese tea ceremony), this informality is balanced with a pervasive formality, both in the concentration in movement and in the subtle mental shifts between host and guest. I kept this in mind as I sat down to make tea.

Settling down into formal 正座 seiza (a posture where one kneels with the tops of the feet flat on the floor, and sitting on the soles), I set the tray down to the right of the hibachi. Next, I set down the 建水 kensui (waste water bowl), situating it just left of my left knee. I center my body and focus on my breath. Each outward motion is in conjunction with an outward breath.

As I bring the teabowl up to my center, I breathe inward. As I set it down before, I breathe out. Reaching for the natsume, I breathe out, lifting it up towards my center, I breathe in. As I set it before the teabowl, I breathe out. With each outward motion corresponds an inward motion. Energy I expend into the space, I return into my inner space.

This breathing continues as I purify each tea object. The natsume. The 茶杓 chashaku (tea scoop). The chasen and the teabowl. As I remove each from their first setting, they return to a different spatial arrangement, their new placement in accordance with their action. The chashaku now sits atop the natsume, which has moved across the bon.

The chasen, having been cleansed and flexed in the warm water contained in the teabowl,…

now stands upright, its wetted tines stretching upwards.

Lifting the chashaku once again, I draw it towards my body, holding it parallel to my right thigh. With my left hand, I lean slightly downward to pick up the natsume. An out-breath. An in-breath. Lifting the lid of the lacquered tea container reveals the low mound of freshly-sifted green tea powder, glowing in the light of the early morning. Drawing forth three scoops of tea, I lightly tap the edge of the chashaku against the inside of the teabowl, removing any excess powder from its hand-hewn tip.

Placing the chasen over the tea, I let the hot water of the tetsubin pour through the thin tines, dispersing the water and producing a gentle trickling sound.

Whisking the tea, I draw-in my energy, center my body, and focus my mind. One smooth outward breath evens my hand as I move the whisk back and forth in a methodic, rapid motion. Rather than tighten my body, I open my chest, my arms, my center, offering everything that resides inside me into the bowl of tea.

Once whipped into a fine, even foam, I lift the chasen out of the bowl and return it back to the bon. Now, sitting before the bowl of tea, I can see every bit of anxiety and frustration looking up at me. I can imagine my fears, my self-doubts, and expectations. I can feel every time I said to myself “I cannot” or “I am not”… And in this very moment, I invite these sensations to join me in a bowl of tea. As I lift the bowl to my center, I breathe in. As I hold the small grey chawan before me, I bow to my anxiety. “Please accept this bowl of tea,” I say.

To drink this tea, one must first calm the mind. To enjoy the warmth of the bowl in one’s hands, one must be able sense this. To hear the faint bubbling of the matcha foam as it settles, one must quiet the mind. As I bow to my anxieties and invite them to have tea, these anxieties must come to the state to accept the tea. They may not fade away, nor may they entirely disappear, but for a moment, they must focus, center themselves, and be able to accept a bowl of tea. I and my anxiety, joined together, finally sit and enjoy the fragrant flavors of matcha. The smooth texture. The warmth that cuts straight to my core.

As I set the teabowl down, I begin to clean it again, finishing the informal moment I had enjoyed. Folding the chakin and placing it into the teabowl. Next come the chasen, followed by the chashaku. Before I place the teabowl back on the tray, I move the natsume over to the right, returning each object to its original location.

Everything now sits as it originally had, and, yet, change has occurred. Time has passed and actions have taken place. A kettle that was once cold has since come to a boil. Tea that was at once a fine powder has been whipped into a beautiful foam. This, too, has changed. My anxieties, while they still remain, have changed as well. Feelings that had once dominated my mind have since joined me in sharing a bowl of tea.

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Just in case you were wondering, theanine and other chemicals naturally found in tea have actually been found to promote alpha-wave brain activity, or a meditative state of relaxed alertness. More information on this can be found in this 2008 research paper, titled “L-theanine, a natural constituent in tea, and its effect on mental state”.

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Filed under Ceramics, Education, Green Tea, Japan, Matcha, Meditation, Tea