Tag Archives: Teaware

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

Sitting Without Sorrow

Almost a year has passed since I began my new life, set up a new tearoom, and began a new journey. During this time, I’ve criss-crossed the continent countless times, each time returning to New York City, each time realizing how much I feel “at home” here.

To commemorate this moment, I gifted my partner a Yixing teapot. Being her first, learning how to use the teapot came with its own set of challenges.

As a rather large (~250 ml) 四方壺 sìfānghú (“square pot”), it requires her to pack the tea more mindfully, pour water in and over it more precisely, and decant the brewed tea from it more delicately.

Setting the learning curve rather steep, however, can come with its own set of rewards.

Designating the teapot for traditionally-processed 鐵觀音烏龍茶 Tiěguānyīn wūlóngchá (Tieguanyin oolong tea) has proven to be an excellent choice.

The shape and height of the pot enables the rolled leaves of this particular tea to unfurl and expand upward.

While the teapot’s filter constitutes of only one large hole, this has not hindered its performance as the leaves of the chosen oolong are large enough to resist entering and blocking the flow of the pour.

Being hand-constructed with thick, lower-fired 紫砂 zǐshā (“purple sand” clay), the teapot retains the ideal level of heat when the tea is brewing. Over time, the oils from the Tieguanyin oolong will season the pot and the clay will deepen in color until it achieves an almost metallic glow, offset by the sprinkling of lighter-colored grains of 鍛泥 duàn ní (“fortified clay”).

Even after the teapot’s first use, the tea it produces is strong and the flavor is clean. With each subsequent use, the trace notes of minerality and raw clay from the new Yixing teapot will subside and the true flavor of the tea will emerge and shine.

For now, just to enjoy the subtle aspects of this new teapot’s use is enough for my partner and I to take in. From the way she first learns how to balance the pot in her hand to the way she must decide how long it will take to brew the tea, each becomes a moment to pause and contemplate one’s intention, an opportunity to hone one’s practice. And as she fully decants the teapot, the action reveals a wonderful surprise: a poem recalling a sage in his (or her) hut, sitting without sorrow.

When there is tea, a moment to share is made. When one starts this path, it is always wonderful to be joined by a partner. On this path we walk together.

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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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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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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

Ripening Gourds in a Cold Field

October has come and nearly passed. The last day of the month always stands as a liminal period, a two-faced Janus looking to the future and to the past. What moments will the new month bring? What did we learn from the old month, now a not-so-distant memory? Walking through life on this blade cutting through time, one cannot help but to feel a rush.

Even in the quietude of the tearoom, this energy can be quite the stimulus to creation.

Selecting a small antique Japanese Meiji-period 古染付け ko-sometsuke (“old blue-and-white” porcelain ware) teapot modestly-adorned with a curling vine and gourd motif, I pair the little pot with a 紅茶 hóngchá (“red tea”) from Wuyishan. Opting to enjoy the warmth of an antique Japanese 茶釜 chagama (iron lidded kettle), I decide to use a water dipper fashioned from a lacquered gourd to pour boiling water into the tea vessel.

With the sound of a gentle wind outside my window and the soft gurgling of the kettle rising, I sit to brew tea. Waiting for the leaves to steep, I allow my eyes to drift and view the changing colors of the leaves outside.

A mild Autumn produces an array of hues. Dappled patterns on the tree tops outside and weathered markings on the surface of my old wooden tea table.

The color of tea when poured becomes the most brilliant tone to be seen. As red as a ripened gourd sitting in a field on a cold and foggy morning. How it captures the light of the sun.

Time captures moments like this as if it were a crystalline vessel. Tiny vignettes and faceted memories stored within. Tea, too, acts this way. Poems on a tea scoop recounting conversations between a traveler and a mountain hermit. Residue from past teas brewed clinging to bright white porcelain. Withered tea leaves hinting at the warmth of the Sun from a Spring years ago.

The gourd ladle tilted atop a hand-cut bamboo 蓋置き futa-oki (lid rest) dries after the tea has long-since brewed-out. The teapot sits partially open to cool. The scent of tea faint now when it was once readily present. A month comes softly to a close.

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