Tag Archives: Chawan

In Accordance with the Dance of Snowflakes

Winter’s sojourn continues to unfold over the city as December’s first snow falls gently down from a matte grey sky. Looking out upon the vista from my tearoom window, snowflakes fall as birds alight from leaf-bare trees. With only the warmth of a glowing brazier by my side, I sit for tea in the silence that is brought by a snowy day.

In the calendar for Japanese tea ceremony, the first snow of Winter is met with a quiet celebration, 雪の茶 yuki no cha (“tea for snow”). Low 下駄 geta (wooden clogs) and wide-brimmed woven sedge hats are given to the guests before they cross into the 露地 roji (the rustic garden leading to the teahouse). Warm water with cut ginger is offered to drink as they wait to warm their bodies.

In the tearoom, no flower is placed in the 床の間 tokonoma alcove, and a window is left open for all to enjoy the sight of falling snow. Teaware is left to be simple as, on this day, nothing is meant to compete with the beauty of the first snow of Winter.

As I sit to enjoy tea to this sight, I bring out a 鉄鉢形茶碗 tetsubachi-nari chawan(iron basin-shapes teabowl) to make 抹茶 matcha, the poetic name of which is 柿 “Kaki”, for its resemblance to a large, round persimmon. Balancing the bowl’s rustic feel, I select a carved lacquer 棗 natsume tea caddy. For the 茶杓 chashaku teascoop, I choose one carved from a bright piece of bamboo, the center node (節 fushi) of which is set with an emerging bump of a forming branch.

As I prepare to make tea, I cannot help to remain quiet. The teabowl is cleansed with a scooper of hot water, drawn from the boiling kettle.

Once warmed and set down, the bowl is ready for its use to make tea.

Three measured scoops of freshly-ground matcha are drawn from the natsume and placed one on top of the other within the void of the chawan. After the last scoop is issued, I tap the chashaku against the cream-colored rim of the teabowl, releasing the last remaining portions of matcha powder from its hand-shaped tip and producing a light, bell-like chiming from the chawan.

Tea is whisked as a bright, airy foam rises from the thick, emerald green brew.

Set before me, the bowl of tea glows within the low light of the tearoom.

As if to herald the coming future, the delicate matcha foam lifts up like a drift of snow, the aroma of which is crisp and refreshing. Without a pause, the bowl of tea is whole heartily enjoyed.

In the silence that follows, the gentle roll of the kettle boiling is met with the sporadic tapping of falling snow upon the windowpane. A joy to make tea in accordance with the dance of snowflakes.

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

Every Season Has Two Faces

Part of the enjoyment of tea is the continual meditation it provides on time and the constant changing of the seasons. In Winter, this change is marked in many ways. The transition from the 風炉 furo (portable briazier) to the sunken hearth of the 炉 ro, types of incense used in the tearoom, and even the shape of teabowls from shallow to deep; all are mindful adjustments made in reflection of the subtle shifts in the environment and the desire to stay warm.

Even as a season may be conceived as a “single moment”, it, too, is made up of many smaller moments. This may be the appearance of certain flowers or animals, the enjoyment of particular foods that become available during the cold months, and even specific celebrations. In tea these abound and offer ample opportunity to center one’s self and focus on “the now”.

Today is no exception as I sit down in my tearoom to make a bowl of 抹茶 matcha.

Pulling together items that I feel will harmonize with this moment in time, I bring out an array of objects from my tea cabinet.

A vintage 赤津焼 Akazu-yaki 茶碗 chawan paired with a small wooden 平棗 hira-natsume (a type of tea caddy) and a weathered bamboo 茶杓 chashaku (teascoop).

For the tea, I select a fine matcha produced from tea plants grown in Uji, freshly-ground by my friends at Setsugekka, a local tea shop in Manhattan’s East Village.

The teabowl, produced by famed Seto-based ceramicist 中島春草 Nakajima Shunsō, is unique in that it has two “faces” (正面 shōmen).

As one prepares the tea and serves it to the guest, the bowl shows the abbreviated image of two 柿 kaki (persimmons), drying from the eaves of a roof (to produce dried persimmon, 干柿 hoshigaki, a favorite early wintertime treat).

However, as one turns the bowl to respectfully drink from the obverse side, the bowl reveals another image: two 梅 ume plum blossoms, a flower that only blooms during the coldest days of Winter.

The meaning here is subtle but direct. What we enjoy now in early Winter (dried persimmons) is fleeting. What is to come (the ume blossoms) will come sooner than you can realize. Enjoy this moment, for it is in this moment that life is truly actualized.

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A Gathering for Thick Tea

After filling a 茶入 chaire (ceramic tea container) with 濃茶 koicha (“thick tea”), one can sit to make tea. Clearing the mind, one can give with their heart. Purifying the utensils encourages this and clarifies intention.

First the chaire is removed from the brocaded 仕服 shifuku pouch and is purified with the folded 袱紗 fukusa. Next, the 茶杓 chashaku (tea scoop) is cleansed.

Finally, the 茶筅 chasen (tea whisk) is cleansed along with the teabowl itself.

Preparing koicha is a process, one that involves giving everything to the gathered guests. In this, tea is first scooped from the chaire and, then, the remaining tea left inside the tiny ceramic caddy is poured into the teabowl.

Everything is offered up. Nothing is left over.

Unlike 薄茶 usucha (“thin tea”), koicha is not whisked.

Instead, it is “kneeded” into a thick, glossy liquid. The flavor is intoxicating, inescapable, memorable.

A single bowl is shared between the guests. A single moment is enjoyed. A single spirit emerges.

Even when the guests have left and gone their separate ways, they are forever joined in this memory. A gathering for thick tea.

As we gather around together, whether it be over a feast or over nothing at all, let our spirits join together. In the receiving of a bowl of tea, we first bow to host who made it so careful. Then, next, we raise the bowl as if offering thanks to the universe, to the myriad of forces that united together to enable a moment to occur. Tea is always a thanksgiving. It is always a feast, for the eyes, for the heart.

Today, fill your heart, your mind, and open your spirit to the moment at hand.

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

Red, White, and Blue-and-White

I am not typically political in my writings (at least on such a public and tea-focused forum). Alas, to remain politically inactive and indifferent is not only a fallacious privilege but is also callous to the many ills and terrible abuses that our political system has engendered (and continues to engender).

On this day, a cold, rainy Tuesday in November, I encourage all who can vote to vote (I voted by mail). Remember, many have fought and dedicated their lives to ensure this right. To vote is to honor this and protect your own agency in this world.

As dark storm clouds gather outside my window, a 鉄瓶 tetsubin (“iron kettle”) softly bubbles atop the warm, glowing embers inside an antique 火鉢 hibachi. Deciding to drink a bowl of hand-ground powdered white tea, I pull-together the implements needed to properly whip-up a delicate bowl of Song-style 抹茶 mǒchá (matcha in Japanese).

A 15th century Vietnamese blue and white teabowl. A red and black 根来塗り Negoro-nuri lacquer 茶杓 chashaku teascoop. A carved Song period-style lacquer tea caddy. A bamboo tea whisk made in Nara, Japan. A lacquered tray atop which all the items are carried. With everything assembled tea can be made.

Opting to make tea today in a relaxed style, I decide to adapt the informal 盆点前 bon temae of the 宗徧流 Sōhen Ryū school to make a bowl of Song period-style white tea. Against the dark crimson field of the red lacquered tray, the assembled items seem to harmonize, their subtle differences still shining through.

Against the rich hues of scarlet, the rough and refined qualities of the Negoro lacquer are evermore apparent. In this style of lacquer, famously produced by the monks at Negoro-ji Buddhist temple in Wakayama prefecture in Japan, layers of black lacquer emerge beneath top layers of red lacquer. The result is an understated elegance.

With all tea objects purified and readied, the moment arrives to make tea. For a brief instance, I sit and enjoy seeing each item as they exist and interplay with each other.

Gathered from around the world, spanning through history, from a multitude of cultures, each have by some unique way come together to enable something beautiful to be made.

A bowl of tea and a moment to meditate. A calm within a violent storm. What will come from this day is not entirely up to me. Which way will the wind bend? In what direction will the storm blow?

To sit and observe these moments is not enough. To act and act with right intention is a start.

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Filed under Ceramics, China, Education, History, Japan, Matcha, Meditation, Tea, Tea Tasting, Vietnam, White Tea

The Heat of Summer. The Quietude of Tea. The Sound of Wind and Approaching Rain.

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As Summer deepens its presence tea, too, transforms. The 風炉 (furo, literally “wind brazier”) has long since replaced the sunken hearth in the tearoom and the hope of the host is to induce a sense of coolness in the guest. In this effort, the inventive nature of the tea person comes alive, from replacing the stoneware 水指 (mizusashi, “fresh water vessel”) with a plain well-bucket (木地釣瓶水指, kiji-tsurube) which has been soaked in water over night, to employing items made of clear glass or pieces that contain visual allusions to water (famous being the kettle lid rests (蓋置, futa-oki) in the shape of a crab in a river stream or that of water wheels).

The teabowl, too, changes its shape during Summer, becoming more shallow, allowing for the otherwise hot water pulled from the kettle to cool down, making the experience of holding the bowl and drinking the tea more enjoyable for the guest.

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As I make tea today, I use one such bowl, an antique Shigaraki-yaki (信楽焼) chawan. Light, informal, and perfectly imperfect with its pockmarked and vitrified surface, it offers-up a subtle reminder to enjoy the moment (and the heat) of a Summer’s day.

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I pair the chawan with an exposed-wood hira-natsume (平棗, a jujube fruit-shaped tea container in which its width is twice its height) and a chashaku (茶杓, tea scoop) hewn from a piece of smokey-hued bamboo. The wood of the natsume and chashaku seem to shine in a way that seems to add to the refreshment of the moment, reminiscent of the washed and weathered boards of an engawa (縁側, the open-air “veranda” that often surrounds old Japanese homes and temples).

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On closer inspection of the chashaku, it reveals a hidden landscape of mountains enveloped in mist. Caused by the natural pigmentation and aging of the bamboo, this chance shān shuǐ (山水, literally “mountain and water/mountain and river”) painting, contained within the slender frame of the chashaku (in a way akin to a tanzaku (短冊, a thin, vertical strip of paper often showcasing calligraphy or painting, often hung in the tokonoma alcolve)) offers an additional layer to the tea gathering. It is a landscape so minute that only the host and guest can observe it within the intimate confines of the tearoom. As such, it is an inferred space for both to travel through as they join together to enjoy tea.

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The faint hiss of the boiling water in the chagama, a sound poetically referred to as the sound of “wind in the pines” (松風, matsukaze), accompanies every action during the tea gathering. Not only the element with which the tea is brewed, water is also employed to “purify” the tea implements, from the chawan to the chasen (茶筅, tea whisk). In this process, the chasen is placed gently into the teabowl, itself filled with one hishaku(柄杓, bamboo ladle)’s-worth of boiled water. The tines are then lightly pressed against the center of the bowl, flexing them and testing their strength. In this patient act, the host is both checking for damages (that may result in particles of the whisk adulterating the guest’s tea) and cleansing the tea object in a manner that displays attentiveness and hospitality. Once complete, the chasen is left to sit upright, its thin bamboo tines, like blades of grass at dawn, are left moistened and refreshed.

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The Shigaraki-yaki chawan, once washed and wetted by the water from the chagama, sits ready to accept the powdered tea. Here, too, the act of cleansing has brought out a new sense of life and vitality from the tea object, revealing bright colors and a deep range of textures that once remained dormant. Born out of the laborious process of hand-feeding a wood-fueled anagama-kiln (窖窯, literally “cave kiln”), the Shigaraki-yaki chawan bears the distinctive marks and patterns that are the result of extreme heat.

As with the chashaku, the chawan, too, contains an inferred “landscape” (景色, keshiki in Japanese, literally “scenery”). Through the hand of the potter, a light and loosely-applied glaze was poured over the rim of the teabowl. The result gives the appearance of an undulating mountain range, articulated through the uneven dissipation and pooling of the yellow and blue-green-hued glass-like glaze (ビードロ, bidoro, from the Portuguese word vidoro meaning “vitrified”). This visual feature becomes yet another “vista” for the guest and host to admire during the tea gathering, offering a moment to pause and imagine the refreshing breezes that often blow through the mountains on a Summer’s day.

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Three scoops of bright, fragrant matcha are pulled out of the natsume (as is the practice within the Sōhen-ryū (宗偏流) school of chanoyu) and placed into the chawan. The presence of the powdered green tea against the rough, earthen-toned well of the teabowl is striking and seems other-worldly.

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Whisked and whipped with the chasen, the matcha is transformed into a bright and airy foam. Instantly, the aroma of the fresh green tea fills the space of the tearoom. One merely needs to breathe to take in its flavor.

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Picked-up and turned in the hands of the host so that the teabowl’s “face” (正面, shōmen in Japanese) greets the guest, the bowl of matcha is then left to sit between the two individuals. After a friendly bow of gratitude (offered simultaneously by both host and guest), the guest accepts the bowl of tea. Turning the bowl’s face away from their own out of respect to the chawan, the guest lifts the vessel to their lips. Within three slow sips, the bowl is savored, the freshly-prepared tea enjoyed to its last frothy dregs.

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The Shigaraki-yaki bowl is held quietly in the hands of the guest, the warmth of the tea it once contained still lingers within its earthenware body. The roughness of the clay, the unevenness of the glaze, and the words of a poem painted on its sides are all appreciated by the guest before the bowl is returned to the host for its final cleaning.

In the silence that follows, there remains a stillness that is the quintessence of a moment with tea. Although no physical distance has been crossed, both host and guest have traveled together. While no mountains have been climbed nor landscapes entered, they have both viewed vast vistas and wandered a path together. At journey’s end, no words need to be exchanged. No need for a thoughts nor response. Just to be quiet is enough.

In the heat of Summer, a moment to take tea offers a chance to to quiet the mind and to hear the faint sound of the wind and approaching rain.

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When Spring Feels Like Summer

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When Spring feels like Summer, the shallow teabowl is favored.
 
In Japanese tea ceremony, the coming of Summer is heralded by a series of subtle changes. The ro (炉, sunken hearth), which was so lovingly appreciated during the cold of Winter, is covered and the furo (風炉, literally “wind furnace”, portable brazier for tea) is brought into the tearoom. Whereas in Winter, thicker, deeper chawan were preferred, more shallow and delicate teabowls are favored in the warmer months of Summer.
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As Spring draws to a close and the first heat of Summer approaches (in chanoyu, May 6th is observed as the beginning of Summer), I cannot help but preemptively begin to alter my practice to meet the new season. Opting to make tea outside on the cool, shaded concrete, I pair this setting with an antique Japanese hakame chawan (刷毛目茶碗, literally “brush-marked eye” teabowl), the light grey and white patterns of which both reference the texture of the brushed concrete and the dappled light of the warm mid-day. Hot water is carried in a hand-blown glass vessel, a contemporary piece by current students of the Bauhaus school in Dessau. Its open mouth allowing the water to slightly cool and its translucent walls offering an ice-like appearance. 
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The matcha is from Uji, freshly-ground at Setsugekka in Manhattan. Contained in a gold-flecked tea container, the hope is to strike a balance between the informality of the act of making tea on the rough-hewn concrete with the refinement and luxury of an object lacquered in gold (save for the fact that, in this case, the tea caddy is a mass-produced matcha tin). As is often the case when a tea person prepares tea for others in an outdoor setting, such as a nodate (野点, open-air tea ceremony) gathering, it is the challenge of the host to create a harmonious juxtaposition between the rustic and wild aspects of nature and the artistic cultivation of beautiful teaware as produced by master craftspeople. For this reason, in the same way when gathering a chashitsu (茶室, tea room) one employs aspects of nature to balance the otherwise man-made interior, the host may use elegant works of lacquer or finer silk to provide a subtle contrast to the exterior setting.
IMG_6568 Here, the chashaku (茶杓, tea scoop) aides in creating balance, its natural form with preserved bamboo node and naturally-occurring grooves establishing an almost rhythmic quality between the imperfection of the concrete surface and the crispness of the tea container.
IMG_6569 The hakame chawan, a form and style originating in 15th-16th century Korea, pairs easily with the concrete surface, lending to a more casual feeling for the tea gathering.
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The bright, electric green of the powdered matcha creates a striking contrast against a vignette that is otherwise rather mono-chromatic.
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As Summer approaches and temperatures rise, the chasen (茶筅, bamboo tea whisk) is placed over the small mound of matcha. As water is subsequently poured in to the chawan, it trickles delicately through the thin tines, wetting the chasen and producing a faint sound of water gurgling as if it were through reeds at a river’s edge. This, too, helps to lend a sense of refreshing coolness to the tea gathering.
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When whipped into a silky froth, the lingering foam is bright, almost snow-like within the wide circumference of the low-sitting chawan.
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Even the light cracking of the hakame chawan, which appears almost ice-like, aides in inferring coolness during the warmth of the day.
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With the tea served and enjoyed, one is left only to appreciate the time that has passed, the lingering flavor of the tea, and the joy of the changing seasons.
When Spring feels like Summer, the shallow teabowl is favored.
IG: @cutechajin

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Filed under Ceramics, Education, Green Tea, Japan, Korea, Tea, Uncategorized

Making tea in time of work


(IMAGE: Rather than distract from work, tea can be used to fortify one’s focus. How to do that is the challenge.)

Dear beloved blog readers,

I will admit, making tea isn’t always convenient. Sometimes bringing out the yixing teapot or gaiwan or ceramic chawan (茶碗, “tea bowl”) just isn’t practical when I’m in work “crunch mode”.

Lately I’ve been working on a variety of projects and , well, sometimes tea can get pushed to the bottom of my “to do” list. However, like anything in life, there is a gong fu to approaching tea in the time of work. In this entry, I’m going to share some of my insights into this, and, as always, I hope to hear some of yours as well.

Become part of the 99%

Tea people love their tea and love their teaware. Speaking from personal experience, when given the chance I will almost always use a teapot. The act of making tea in this manner is centering and can change my mental attitude. Studies have even shown that meditative acts like this can even alter one’s neurological state. That said, setting up the tea equipage can take time and has the potential of shifting focus away from a particular priority.

The “work around” for this tea in time for work is to make tea like most of the world (certainly most of Asia) makes their tea: the jar.

Taking just a handful of tea leaves and placing them into a jar and pouring hot-warm water over them can do wonders. The glass walls of a jar will quickly dissipate any excess heat, and the added transparency offers a view into the “progress” of the steep. Filtering the tea leaves is simple: your teeth and gravity is all that’s needed. For this point, I generally brew larger leaf teas for jar tea like Tai Ping Hou Kui 太平猴魁, Taiwanese high mountain oolongs 高山烏龍茶, and da ye (大葉, “big leaf”) puer.


(IMAGE: Making semi-wild Tai Ping Hou Kui 太平猴魁 green tea using the jar tea method produces a gorgeous liqueur and balanced flavor.)

When the tea becomes too strong, I add more water. From what I’ve observed, more robust and balanced steeping a come from this method rather than drinking all of the tea and then refilling the empty jar. Likewise, I find that as the tea cools after a long steeping the flavors become more pronounced and complex. Maybe this is why jar tea is so popular!

Mizuya cha: “kitchen matcha”

Another quick tea alternative is to go the matcha route sans the ceremony. In Japan this is called mizuya cha (水屋茶, みずやちゃ), or “water room tea”, referring to the small preparation room that is often attached to a Japanese tearoom/teahouse (茶室, chashitsu). In traditional tea ceremonies where there are often large numbers of guest, only one (or sometimes just a few) tea bowls of matcha are ceremoniously prepared. The remainder are prepared “off stage” and are offered to guests pre-made.

In modern day practice, mizuya cha typically translates to “kitchen tea”, or tea simply made in the comfort of one’s own kitchen, devoid of the “ceremony”. Making tea this way, with a bowl (either traditional chawan or even a basic rice bowl), a whisk, and hot water can be done within a matter of minutes and can offer a quick respite from work without breaking “the flow”.

(IMAGE: An antique Japanese Hagi chawan used for today’s mizuya cha has its historical origins in Korean rice bowls, which were treasured by the likes of 16th century tea master Sen no Rikyu for their functionality and informal nature.)

What’s great here too is that making tea in this manner is still very much part of the “tea mind” cultivated in Chanoyu (茶の湯, lit. “hot water for tea”, the practice of Japanese tea ceremony), stressing lack of formality and a humble manner of “just making tea”. So long as your mind and heart are still in it, this way of making tea can still be a meditative act.

(IMAGE: An antique Japanese Hagi chawan is paired with a contemporary negoro-nuri black-and-red lacquer chashaku teascoop balance the informality of making tea in the kitchen.)

Drinking from the teapot

My last “pro tip” for today is maybe my favorite guilty pleasure.

Again, I love teaware (especially yixing teapots), and when there is any excuse to use a finely-crafted piece I will. That said, having the whole “gong fu cha kit” at my desk or work table (or park bench) can quickly clutter the work space and mind. To avoid this, I pare everything down to their most elemental: just the teapot.

With just a teapot, one is left with really just one option: to drink directly from the teapot. While this might seem a bit ungainly (and for those opposed to public breastfeeding, a bit reminiscent and disturbing… for the record, I’m all for public breastfeeding, it’s natural, let people be free damn it!), it is very effective and has historical precedent.

While I am currently unable to cite historical documentation to back this up, I have had countless tea farmers, merchants, and masters tell me that they do this and that their parents, grandparents, and great grandparents have done this. Some have even gone so far as to say that this was the particular habit of the young, well-heeled scholarly/playboy brats of the late Qing/early Republic era. I, too, have done this on numerous occasions, sauntering down streets in San Francisco sipping from my small teapot and wandering into local establishments to get a “top-off” of warm water. (I have yet to do this in New York City, but hope to soon)

The results of brewing this way is quite remarkable, offering a level of control and intimacy with the tea not available through more “orthodox” means. Like brewing with a jar, one should use warm water, obviously so as not to scald one’s hand while holding the teapot, but also to achieve a smooth and balanced brew.


(IMAGE: For drinking directly from the teapot, I favor my 1980s duan ni Xi Shi hu (鍛泥西施壺). The shape of the pot feels good in the hand and the spout is easy to drink from.)

Also, by cradling the teapot in your hand and using your thumb to press and release the top hole of the teapot lid as a carburetor, you can adjust the flow of the tea from teapot to mouth. Speaking again from experience, I typically find more success drinking directly from the spout, rather than pouring the liquid into my mouth (however, this is completely up to you, though the aforementioned approach can get messy).

What works for you while working?

For sure this is a very basic “list” of approaches to making tea in time of work. As always, the environment is going to dictate what works best for you (and for the tea). This is where we as tea people can be creative.

So, what works for you? How do you make tea while working…and how do you strike that balance between quality of work and brew? As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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