Tag Archives: Green Tea

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

A container for tea. An ox to herd.

Last night’s meditation over tea continues to linger on in my mind today. To commemorate the New Moon, I used a vintage Japanese ceramic tea caddy (茶入 chaire) for the first time, employing it to make a single, solemn bowl of 濃茶 koicha (“thick tea”) for the guests.

Still enjoying this memory, I decide to make tea again, taking out the same tea container to prepare a bowl of tea for myself. Before I can make tea, however, I must fill the little ceramic vessel with matcha powder. In doing so, this act, too, becomes part of the tea-making process.

First, I methodically begin to untie the silk cord that fastens the fine brocade 仕服 shifuku pouch that contains the chaire.

With each pull of the cord, each unfolding of the pouch, the small tea container reveals itself.

Completely free from its vestment, the chaire sits alone, bare and exposed. At this briefest of moment I give pause to admire the subtle shades present on the mottled surface of this object.

How there is a slight glass-like quality to the light green and brown glaze. A fine piece of 京焼 Kyō-yaki pottery by the famed ceramicist 笹田仁史 Sasada Hitoshi.

The pouch, too, offers a moment to appreciate its refined qualities. Its glowing threads of woven silk. Its muted and elegant tone.

Lifting the small ivory lid of the chaire, the hollow void of its interior becomes apparent, save only for a minute before soft mounds of bright matcha powder are scooped and placed within.

Lid and vessel and pouch reunited, they are placed at the ready for another bowl of tea.

When one is walking upon a path, to see an ox and try to herd it, who is changed and how? When will that moment come when they meet again, and how might they interact then?

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

Things That Are Hidden Become Revealed

There is something mysterious about tea. Not that tea, itself, tries to obscure or rarify itself, nor is it “exotic” (in fact, it can be quite ordinary), but tea does not present itself wholly upon first view. To better know tea, one must become quite intimate with it.

In some cases, this means climbing a mountain to see where tea plants are grown. In other instances, it means working in the hot and sweaty processing stations where raw tea leaves are tossed, steamed and roasted to express the desired flavors. In other instances still, one must focus in very closely on the specific ways certain cultures present tea to truly understand it.

In 茶の湯 chanoyu (Japanese tea ceremony), 濃茶 koicha (“thick tea”) is kept within a small ceramic container called a 茶入 chaire. This small vessel is, in turn, enveloped in a cloth sleeve (雌伏 shifuku), tied together with a piece of cord.

In the case of this specific chaire I have chosen today for a koicha gathering, it is a mid-20th century 瀬戸焼 Seto-yaki 肩衝茶入 katatsuki (“shouldered”) chaire.

Rather than fully reveal itself to those gathered, I (as the host) must first go through a methodical process of untying the cord and removing the little tea jar from the shifuku. The modest Seto-yaki chaire slowly appears from the soft folds of the glistening silk pouch. Its glossy brown glaze contrasts with rich blue, gold and purple thread.

Pulled from the shifuku, the chaire is purified with the purple silk cloth of the 袱紗 fukusa and then set down before tea is made.

For the briefest of moment, both host and guest are able to enjoy the shape of the chaire.

Prior to making tea, the chaire is placed next to the shifuku. Images of travelers on the Silk Road emblazoned on the silk seem to remind those who see it of tea’s ancient past.

With tea, time slows, revealing everything at a meditative pace. Slowly, the pouch is removed and set aside. Slowly, powdered tea is scooped and tumbled from the tea jar.

Slowly, small moments and vistas reveal themselves. Slowly, a mystery becomes understood. In time, tea, too, becomes ordinary.

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

Opening a Mystery

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In the middle of a thunderstorm my iron kettle begins to boil. In the dim light of the tearoom, I produce a wooden box from an antique tea cabinet. Tied-up in silk cord, the box contains a mystery.

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To the unknowing, it’s difficult to tell what this container holds. However, for a tea person like myself, the sight of a box like this produces a bubbling sense of joy and an eager sense of curiosity grows as I sit down for tea.

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Once opened, nothing is revealed, save for what appears to be a dark and endless void.

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From the folds of cloth emerge the form of a black 楽焼 Raku-yaki teabowl.

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With a thunderous boom, the sky alights with a bolt of lightning and the rain beats heavy on my window. Holding the bowl in my hands, it feels sturdy yet featherlight. It’s form is uneven, shaped by the hands of the master potter 佐々木松楽 Sasaki Shōraku III. As third generation of the Shōraku kiln, his hands have created a vessel whose history spans back centuries to the 1500s, in an era when the “tea ceremony” was in its formative years.

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It was during this period, one aptly named 戦国時代 Sengoku Jidai, “Age of Warring States”, the Japanese archipelago was undergoing tremendous upheaval and change. In this age marked by endless war, the practice of 茶の湯 chanoyu (tea ceremony, literally “hot water for tea”) emerged as an art form and way to cultivate the self.

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By the late 1500s, the Way of tea (茶道; sadō or chadō) was being promulgated by a number of tea masters, the most notable being 千利休 Sen no Rikyū (1522 – April 21, 1591). Influenced by Buddhist notions of humility and directness of action, Rikyū’s approach to tea stressed simplicity. From the use of a one-and-a-half mat tearoom to the employment of pared-down tea utensils, Rikyū’s tea was, itself, a practice in austerity.

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As one who often adopted (and adapted) objects for tea, Rikyū commissioned a tile-maker named 長次郎 Chōjirō (1516-?1592) to produce hand-moulded teabowls to fit the wabi aesthetic of the tea ceremony. From this, Chōjirō, who was himself a son of a Korean emigrant, would produce what would become his signature style of teaware: an adorned and lustrous black teabowl, the color of which was derived from the very rocks pulled from the banks of the Kamo River in Kyoto.

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Recognized as a ceramics master in his own lifetime, in 1574 Chōjirō was presented a seal inscribed with the character “楽” raku (meaning “joy”) by the then leader of Japan, Toyotomi Hideyoshi 豊臣 秀吉. Since then, the Raku family and families affiliated with it have been producing beautiful and characteristically understated ceramics for use in tea.

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Pulled from the crucible of the kiln, this jet-black bowl now lights the way in the darkness of the Autumn storm. The scent of freshly-made matcha illuminating this moment, marking it forever in my mind.

As the downpour lingers on, so too does the flavor of tea, the first of many sips shared with this beautiful bowl.

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EXCLUSIVE: History in a Bowl of Tea: Tea in the Ming & Qing Period

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Beloved readers of Scotttea,

I’m excited to share the full video of Wednesday, July, 18th’s tea talk and interactive workshop “History in a Bowl of Tea: Tea in the Ming and Qing Period” (1368-1912). Held at Floating Mountain Tea House in Manhattan’s Upper West Side, this event is part three of an ongoing series covering the history of tea, from its development as a folk medicine over 6000 years ago into the beverage we love today.

In this event, we discussed how the loose leaf teas have their origins in the monumental shifts that marked the period of the Ming in Qing, from experimentation in oxidation and pan-frying to inventive brewing techniques and international trade. We explored the impact scholars, poets, emperors, and artisans had on tea art and the development of gong fu cha (literally the “skill and challenge of brewing tea”). And we examined antique teawares from the Ming and Qing period and learn about the evolution of tea brewing, from teabowl to gaiwan to Yixing teapot.

This event included tea tastings of China’s famous teas accompanied by step-by-step demonstrations of Ming and Qing period tea preparation. Below, as a supplement to the almost three-hour long video, I’ve provided a listing of the contents of the presentation (featured in the first half of the lecture), as well as a list of the teas brewed (and how they were prepared).

“History in a Bowl of Tea: Tea in the Ming & Qing Period”

Link to video

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Above is just a fraction of what is included in the 30+ slide presentation. Topics discussed were as follows:

  • China Before the Ming Period Tea in the Song & Yuan Period
  • China in the Ming Period
    • Tea in the Ming
    • Famous Kilns
    • Tea Technology: Gaiwan, Kettles, Braziers, Teapots
    • Tea and Globalization in the Ming
  • China in the Qing Period
    • Tea in the Qing
    • Tea Production Art & Craft of the Qing
    • Gong Fu Cha Tea Culture in the Qing and in the World

Teas tasted:

1st Tea: 2014 南糯山生普洱 Nán nuò shān shēng pǔ’ěr, Xishuangbanna, Yunnan, China (brewed in contemporary reproduction of Ming period Yixing gaiwan)

2nd Tea: 水仙 Shuǐxiān “Water Immortal” Wuyi Mountain yancha oolong, Wuyishan, Fujian, China (brewed in a early 2000s fang-gu-shape Yixing teapot)

3rd Tea: 八仙 Bāxiān “Eight Immortals” Phoenix Mountain dan cong oolong, Chaozhou, Guangdong, China (brewed in a 1990s shui ping hu-shape Yixing teapot)

4th Tea: 正山小種 Zhèng shān xiǎo zhǒng, Lapsang Souchong, Wuyishan, Fujian, China (brewed in a contemporary Jun-yao-glazed teapot)

5th Tea: Charcoal-roasted 鐵觀音 Tiě guānyīn “Iron Goddess of Mercy” Anxi-style oolong, Nantou, Taiwan (brewed in 19th century-early 20th century Si Ting Hu-shape Yixing teapot)

6th Tea: 野生大葉白茶 Yěshēng dàyè báichá Wild “Big Leaf” White Tea, Fuding, Fujian, China (brewed in contemporary Qing-shape Jingdezhen white porcelain gaiwan)

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Look out for more tea talks and workshops soon to be added to this blog. I regularly present and moderate at museums, universities, tea houses, cultural centers, etc. For speaking inquiries, feel free to reach out to scotttea888 (at) gmail.com.

 

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Filed under Ceramics, China, Education, Green Tea, History, Hongcha, Japan, Korea, Matcha, Oolong, Pu-erh, Sencha, Tea, Tea Tasting, Vietnam, White Tea, Yellow Tea