Tag Archives: Jar Tea

EXCLUSIVE: History in a Bowl of Tea: Tea in the Song Period, Part II

Dearly Beloved Readers of Scotttea,

A little over a month ago I led the tea talk and interactive workshop “History in a Bowl of Tea: Tea in the Song Period”. As part of an ongoing series of tea talks I’ve been leading for over a decade, and a sequel to a talk I gave several years ago, this time I dove even deeper into tea’s history to investigate tea and tea culture during the 宋 Sòng period (960-1279). Now, as many of us find ourselves sequestered in our homes, under self-quarantine against COVID-19, I want to offer up the video from this tea talk, filmed live at Floating Mountain Tea House in Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

Only two hours long, consider this video a crash course in ancient tea history as we discuss how tea developed from ancient medicine to lofty beverage, enjoyed by scholars, monks and emperors alike. Using ancient Sòng, as well as antique and contemporary reproductions of Sòng teawares, we’ll go into great detail of how tea during the Song period was prepared.

All 抹茶 mǒchá, unless stated otherwise, was hand-produced and hand-ground in the manner detailed in Sòng period texts, to approximate as closely the look, feel and flavor from this time. For reference, I have provided a list of what we tasted.

• First Tea: Hand-ground semi-wild 白茶 báichá from Fuding, Fujian, China.

• Second “Tea”: Powdered mugwort leaves grown and produced in South Korea.

• Third Tea: Hand-ground 碧螺春 Bì Luó Chūn grown in the Dongting mountains near Lake Tai, Suzhou, Jiangsu, China.

• Fourth Tea: Whole leaf 碧螺春 Bì Luó Chūn (brewed for comparative purposes).

• Fifth Tea: Fresh-ground 抹茶 matcha from Uji, Kyōto prefecture, Japan.

For additional insights on this topic, I have linked previous blog posts that discuss tea during the Sòng period:

“Everything for the First Time”

“A Large Whisk and a Long History: Evolution of the Tea Whisk”

“Celebrating Qīxī with Tea Made in the Song Style”

“EXCLUSIVE: History in a Bowl of Tea: Tea in the Song Period”

To view “History in a Bowl of Tea: Tea in the Song Period, Part II”, follow the link above.

For the first talk I delivered on tea in the Song period, please follow this link provided below:

If you are interested in attending or scheduling this tea talk or tea talks like this, please email me at scottttea888@gmail.com.

1 Comment

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

A bowl out of season. A Summer too soon.

In the practice of 茶の湯 chanoyu (Japanese tea ceremony), a strong emphasis is placed on realizing things as they come and existing in the “now” moment. For this reason, we use tea objects in accordance with the seasons. For Winter, a high-walled teabowl is employed, whereas in the heat of Summer, shallow 茶碗 chawan (teabowl) are used. To use a bowl out of season is quite peculiar, if not all together incorrect. However, sometimes we may use a teabowl for other reasons.

In chanoyu, there is a concept of 取り合わせ toriawase, roughly meaning the intentional bringing together of objects in a time and space that reflect a sentiment or feeling. Expressing oneself through toriawase can be quite specific and is often meant to bring the host and guest closer through the host’s acknowledgment of the guest’s own perspective (whether it is their life’s story, grasp of history, etc). This interplay of tea object, host and guest can be heightened if the they share a common reference point. In this way, sharing a bowl of tea can be akin to conversing in a shared or common language only known between friends.

Several weeks ago, a dear friend and fellow tea person died from a brief but intense battle with cancer. For my small cohort of friends who knew him, he was quite the bright light in our lives. A student and teacher of the Urasenke school, an artist, poet, and Zen practitioner, he often offered up his sprawling home-come-art installation to us as a practice space, a shared hermitage, and respite from our regularly busied lives. He lived in poverty but he lived richly.

Since his passing, I’ve felt a bit hollow. The small corner of my heart that his spirit once occupied had emptied. The gentle guidance he once offered seemed distant. I kept opening up the sliding door of my antique tea cabinet and would look upon the wooden box that held a teabowl he gave me when we first met. I wanted to use it but couldn’t bring myself to opening it up. The knot of silk seemed unable to come untied.

I talked with friends and lit incense. Recited sutras and meditated. I wrapped my mind around my thoughts but as much as I could, nothing seemed to come undone.

In the midst of this, I thought of offering my dead friend some tea; to memorialize his life and offer solace to his memory and to those who knew him. I opened the tea cabinet door. Pulled out the box. Undid the silk cord that held the lid on tight. Unearthed the shrouded bowl from the shallow box and unwrapped it from its crumpled cloth.

The bowl was a gift from Simon, my now-deceased friend. As a 沓形茶碗 kutsu-gata chawan (lit. “clog-shaped” teabowl), it is usually only used during the hottest days of Summer. Its low-slung walls and wide body help to dissipate the heat of the tea, allowing it to evoke a sense of coolness to the guest. Its nebulous shape and equally informal stylings as a kuro-Oribe (黒織部), “black Oribe”) teabowl are both arresting and relaxed. To use this bowl now would be intentionally unseasonable. However, as a memorial object, something to invoke the spirit of a friend, I feel it is only right.

Bringing the 風炉釜 furo-gama (“wind furnace” kettle) to a boil, I set my tea space for a somber session. A white flower in the alcove. The scent of temple incense. The dull glow of morning’s light.

As I sit down to prepare a bowl of tea, I purify each object. A white-glazed Korean porcelain tea jar.

A dark bamboo 茶杓 chashaku (tea scoop). A 茶筅 chasen (tea whisk).

I set the chashaku atop the tea jar. The dark ebony color of the bamboo in stark juxtaposition to the funerary white of the icy glaze.

These, set together, are tools for tea, implements for remembrance.

I pour a ladle’s-worth of hot water into the teabowl and wet the chasen, its thin tines relaxing and expanding as they warm.

Cleansing the irregularly-shapes teabowl, it appears to shine as if it were an imperfect ceramic roof tile that had been polished into a jewel.

Scooping-out bright 抹茶 matcha powder and placing it into the center “pool” of the chawan, the fragrant scent of fresh tea rises into the air. A sense of life returns to the melancholy space.

I draw water from the 水差 mizusashi (cold water jar) and mix it with the boiling water of the kettle. I draw water from the kettle and pour it into the chawan. As I lift the whisk and set it into the bowl, I relax my wrist and exhale, easing my shoulders and finding my center. As if settling-down to meditate, I focus my mind and whisk tea. What rises is a fine foam, lustrous and radiant.

As I sit alone to enjoy this moment with tea, I can’t help but to offer the bowl to others. As I will never again be able to enjoy tea with Simon, I offer this bowl of tea to those who knew him. To my friend Mikey who introduced me to Simon years ago and who, himself, learned about the Way of tea through him. To my friend Djefsky, whose world travels would at times cross through Simon’s hermitage in Healdsburg, California, and they would sit and laugh like two eccentrics. To others who may never know Simon, may this humble bowl reveal his sensibilities to them. May this object teach them his simple dharma.

As I sit with this bowl in hand, its dissipating warmth creeps into my palms. As I sip from its warped edge, the flavor of tea fills my body. As I finish the last of the dregs, no residual foam clings to its walls. A clean slate. A bonfire fully burned. Nothing remains.

I cleanse the bowl again and sit for a while before putting it away. Would I use it again this year? Would Summer come and I feel the need to hold it in my hands again?

I wrap it up once again and place it back into its wooden container. It stares up at me. From a funeral shroud, a hidden treasure.

I tie the silken cords across the wooden top. The artist’s mark among the shadows cast from my tearoom window.

Leave a comment

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

When the Old Sits with the New

Spring is a time when the world renews itself, when the green grass pushes through the soft soil, when the buds swell on the trees, caught at the moment right before they bloom. The air is fresh and a sober sense of life and exuberance begins to rouse the the once Winter-locked spirit. We cannot quite name this feeling, but can ascribe to it the many attributes that surround us at this time, evinced by the subtle changes in the natural world.

In tea, this return to Spring is evident, though not overplayed. Instead, tea in early Spring becomes simpler, cleaner, paired down. It is as if tea is just beginning to wake up for the year ahead and, as such, nothing is overwhelming. The 炉 ro (sunken hearth) is still in use, though the iron kettle begins to move higher off of the charcoal (sometimes through the employment of a hanging kettle/雲龍釜/unryūgama, literally “cloud dragon kettle”). As the world begins to warm, the tearoom begins to cool.

This balance is also found when introducing a new piece of teaware into my collection. Recently, I was offered a beautiful 茶杓 chashaku (teascoop) by two dear fellow tea friends in New York City. Unable to turn them down, I eagerly brought the piece home. The teascoop, a work by famed Nara-based tea crafts person 谷村丹後 Tanimura Tango, is made of smoked bamboo, with a small but notable bud emerging from the chashaku’s 節 fushi (center node). This gives the chashaku a playful, informal (草, ) quality to it.

Excited to introduce this piece into rotation within my tea practice, I meditated for several days on how I might incorporate the teascoop into a 点前 temae (procedure for tea ceremony). After considering the season, an agreeable approach arose.

On a quiet morning I woke and set a kettle to boil. With the light of the day beginning to filter through the window of my tearoom, I sat to enjoy a bowl of tea. For a tea container, I opted for a small 文琳茶入 “Bunrin” chaire (“Bunrin” ceramic tea container). But rather than have the small ceramic caddy enrobed in its accompanying 仕服 shifuku (brocade silk pouch), I decided to leave the chaire exposed, partly as the color of its glaze resembled that of the chashaku, and partly as I had decided to make a bowl of 薄茶 usucha (thin tea). This practice of allowing for the use of a chaire without its shifuku is particular to the 宗徧流 Sōhen-ryū school of tea, something that I have come to appreciate.

For the teabowl, I felt that there was no better way to welcome something new than with something old. For this reason, I chose a 12th-14th century Vietnamese celadon 茶碗 chawan. It’s soft, olive green glaze sat in perfect harmonic contrast to the lustrous brown of the chashaku.

Cleansing each item and setting them together for the very first time, each seemed to compliment one another.

The antique chawan shone like a silvery mirror, slick with warm water that had purified it.

After the bowl had been dried with the 茶巾 chakin (white cloth for wiping wet tea objects) three scoops of freshly-ground 抹茶 matcha powder were placed gently into the center of the wide bowl, appearing luminous against the matte surface of the old celadon. A light tap of the chashaku against the inside of the bowl produced a soft ringing (in Sōhen-ryū, if using an antique chawan, we always gently tap the inside, rather than on the rim, as a sign of respect and to safeguard against potentially damaging the teabowl).

Half a ladle’s-worth of hot water was then poured into the chawan and whisked into a fine foam. The resulting bowl of tea seemed to glow in the morning light.

Set next to the other wares, everything felt refreshed, renewed by the act of making tea.

A moment passed as I sat and enjoyed the tea alone. Sitting with the warm bowl in hand, my gaze fell upon the new scoop, residual tea powder still clinging to its hand-hewn tip. What will this object see in its lifetime? Whose hands will it touch? How many countless bowls of tea will it enjoy, long after I am dead?

After I cleaned each object and returned them to their respective cupboards, I kept the chashaku out and prepared a solitary 拝見 haiken (viewing of teaware). Placed on a folded 古帛紗 kobukusa (silk cloth for holding tea objects), I welcomed the chashaku into this world. Heralded not by pomp or grandeur but by the simple act of making a humble bowl of tea, the scoop felt at ease with its new life.

Just as early Spring is not marked by the splendor of flowers but the appearance of minute buds, this teascoop carries with it a potential energy that has yet to unfurl. For this moment, the 名 mei (name given to a tea object) “木の芽” Ko no me (“leaf bud”, as well as a poetic name for tea) came to mind. A something new that sits with something old.


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

Unwrapping Presence

In the depth of Winter, the swirl of preparation for the New Year can pull one’s mind away from the moment. Planning for the near future is always fraught with expectations. How we can situate ourselves amidst all of this can be a challenge. As I’ve been practicing tea for almost two decades, remaining mindful in every moment is a constant test.

The act of making tea forces one to slow their pace. Nothing can be done too quickly. Water cannot come to a boil faster than the charcoal can make it do so. Even the act of preparing tea is a measured process.

Having stored-away a collection of vintage and antique 茶入 chaire (ceramic tea containers), I bring them out to decide which will be used for 濃茶 koicha (“thick tea”). This process of unwrapping and unboxing is, itself, part of the meditation that arises from tea.

Does the shape reflect the season? Might the 仕服 shifuku (silk brocaded pouch that holds the chaire) contain an image that relates to an attending guest? Will the glaze of the ceramic tea caddy harmonize well with the 茶碗 chawan (tea bowl)? In 茶の湯 chanoyu (Japanese tea ceremony), this is called 取り合わせ toriawase, a collection of items for tea, selected mindfully with intention.

As we bring friends and family together to celebrate the end of this year, observe how you sit in this moment. What do you bring to this moment? How do you let it unfold?

Leave a comment

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

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!

Leave a comment

Filed under Ceramics, Education, Green Tea, History, Japan, Oolong, Pu-erh, Tea, Tea Tasting