Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Tea cups for Japanese tea enthusiasts

What particular criterion do you have for your tea cups?   It could be its usability, color, size, material or production region. 

I made three cups for my shop with my own design; sencha cup (65ml/2.3oz), small sencha cup (30ml/1.1oz) and gyokuro cup (15ml/0.5oz).  Their overall designs are extremely simple, but I was meticulous on some details, such as the bisque finish (non-glazed finish) and the engraved mark at the bottom.  Among them, the greatest feature that I stick with was the slimness.   I made the rim so thin that you can even see through the silhouette of your fingers when placing it on bright background.

This slenderness creates a very refined look and atmosphere, which full-bodied daily cups can never have.  This is why these cups are for tea enthusiasts.  Imagine having your fine tea in a slime-wall cup, you will have a totally different impression from the tea setting.  The fine tea will look much classier for your private time or tea with your guests.  I didn’t want to make just an ordinary cup, and the thinness was my answer.

So, what is your preference on your cups?

Here are the three cups that I designed.  They are available for sale on our shop.  You can jump to our shop by clicking the picture of each product.

Wabi-Iki thin sencha cup (65ml/2.3oz)

Wabi-Iki thin small sencha cup (30ml/1.1oz)

Wabi-Iki thin gyokuro cup (15ml/0.5oz)

Friday, January 27, 2012

13 types of Japanese tea

How many types of Japanese tea have you tried?  Sencha, Gyokuro, Matcha
When I studied to become a Japanese Tea Adviser, I learned that there are 13 major types.  They are all made of tea plants.  Have you ever seen them all?  I actually collected all of them and photographed them in both leaf and brewed form.  Wanna see them? 

I created a Facebook page (FB) for my tea ware shop, “Everyone’s Tea”.  I would like to provide basic Japanese tea information for beginners at “Japanese Tea 101” on FB.  I also want people to share their delights in tea on our FB. 

Please post your memorable photos regarding Japanese tea.  I’d be happy to have our FB filled with pleasurable photos from all over the world!

I want to fascinate lives overseas with Japanese tea.  Would you help me get other people know our FB by clicking the “like” button?  Thanks!

If you want to see the photos and descriptions of the 13 types of tea, please visit Japanese Tea 101 and take a look at the page “Types of Japanese Tea”

Jump from here >>> Japanese Tea 101

Monday, January 23, 2012

I might be going to hate tea

12 tea samples arrived the other day!  I’m going to participate in a tea tasting contest next month.  So, I bought tea samples for the contest.

I immediately tried them for practice.  These are seven sencha with different breeds.  I can spot some differences, but it is pretty difficult to tell which one is which for the first try (^^;;  As I was repeatedly trying each of them; one here, one there, the teas were getting stronger and stronger.  That makes things more difficult.  What I tasted was nothing but bitterness.  My mouth was filled with bitterness.  Yuck!  I almost hated tea, hahaha.  I need more practice to tell quickly before they get so bitter.

My favorite breed among the seven was Sayamakaori.  But, based on my memo from past tea tasting, it seemed to me that Sayamakaori was strong and I didn’t like it.  The taste seem to differ according to region and production.  

I will definitely keep on practicing before the contest.  And for sure, I will be loving tea more than I do now.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The essentials: 5. Do things ahead of time

The ancient tea master, Rikyu once said “Do things ahead of time”.  This is one of the seven essentials of The Way of Tea, which I introduced on the previous entry.

If there is a party, what time would you like to get there?  Would you be there earlier than it starts, just on time, or after it started?  I guess that this custom may vary in different countries.  In Japan, people get together on time or slightly earlier than it starts.  Maybe because, it is often said that it is better to do things 5 minutes ahead.    I assume that this kind of practice is somehow related with Rikyu’s “Do things ahead of time”.

What is the essential idea behind “Do things ahead of time” in tea serving?  I have almost the same understanding as common opinions.  Leeway of time will make a leeway on your mind.  A relaxed mind allows you to treat your guests with composure.  Eventually, it helps for serving good tea. 

My interpretation of Rikyu’s “Do things ahead of time” is that
leeway on your mind is important.

As I was writing this entry, I remembered my own experience when I was a student.  One day, on my way home, I saw a familiar businessman parking his car on a street one block away from my house.  I asked my mother what he was doing there.  She said that he was probably waiting to adjust the time for our appointment.  Before this incident, I thought that being early is always good but I realized afterwards that it may not be appreciated at times.  The host may not be ready at the time and you might make him/her rush.  I was impressed with how professional the businessman was.  Not only because of the time consideration, but also because he waited at a place not visible from our house.   This behavior comes from the spirit of thinking of others.    If you have the chance to visit your friend in Japan, try to be just on time or slightly earlier than the appointment.   

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The essentials: 4. Make it seem warm in winter, and cool in summer

The ancient tea master, Rikyu once said “Make it seem warm in winter, and cool in summer”.  This is one of the seven essentials of The Way of Tea, which I introduced on the previous entry.

In tea ceremonies, the position of the heath is usually close to the guests in winter and far in summer.  I think this scenario could be one of the examples of the essential.  However, I also think this lesson is not only telling us about actual temperatures.   The coolness or warmth can be expressed with the design of utensils, confections or hanging scrolls. 

In summer, you can use a flat-type water container, which creates a large water surface.  The appearance of water can provide some kind of coolness.   Thick and narrow types of a tea bowls are often preferred in winter.  They actually keep the tea warmer, but also their atmosphere creates visual warmth.  I think that these thoughtful hospitalities of the host can help create a better comfort for his/her guests.  In other words, you’d better have a good sense of the season.

I also have a further interpretation more than the sense of the season.  For instance, even if the host serves you a perfect taste of tea, would you be able to enjoy the tea in a very noisy place or in an extremely cold place?  Probably you wouldn’t…  I believe the environment is as important as the taste of tea.   Creating a comfortable environment for your guests is essential.  I think that the comfortable air condition is only one of the examples. 

My interpretation of Rikyu’s “Make it seem warm in winter, and cool in summer” is that
environment of things are very important.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The essentials: 3. Arrange the flowers as if they were in the fields

The ancient tea master, Rikyu said “Arrange the flowers as if they were in the fields”.  This is one of the seven essentials of The Way of Tea, which I introduced on the previous entry.

In a tea ceremony, flowers are displayed at the tokonoma alcove in the tea room.  They are usually seasonal flowers and simply arranged, never gaudy.  Even if there are many flowers in the field, we never bring them all into the tea room, not even if it is said to arrange the flowers as if they were in the fields.  The arrangement is usually composed of a few flowers which are carefully selected by the host to match the theme of the ceremony.

Some people interpret Rikyu’s statement as to “See the essences and express simply”.  I understand it when you think of the basics of the tea flower arrangement.  But, the interpretation, “See the essences and express simply” has a big difference literally from “Arrange the flowers as if they were in the fields” for me.  I might need more training to understand better.

At the moment, I would simply interpret it as “Making things natural or being natural is important”.  Natural is the best.  I think it can be applied to the utensils, tea room and your behavior.  That could be why natural materials with minimum processing and without unnecessary decorations are preferred for the utensils and tea room.  And also, your behavior and movement in a ceremony should be natural.  Don’t put on airs.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Koma 小間, “small tea room”

At our hatsu-gama, after we had the meal and tea hosted by our master, we had a chance to practice our tea preparation.  I was very happy and excited with the lesson.  Can you guess why?

Our master has two tea rooms in her house.  One is six-tatami-mat room and the other one is three-tatami room, which is recognized as the koma, a small room.  We practice the ceremony in the bigger room at usual lessons.  I have never used the small one.  Our master offered us to use the small room for our practice at hatsu-gama!  Finally yes!!  I have been always curious about the room and wanted to use it.  We, disciples had a couple of sessions by taking turns being the host and guests. 

Me sitting as a guest in the small room
Do I look good in kimono?

My wife, Hiro hosting in the small room
The room was indeed excellent.  Soft light was coming through the paper screen, and the room was a little darker than the other room.  You can see a natural-wooden pole, soil wall and elaborately designed ceiling, and can sit on tatami.  You are surrounded by nature. 

There are no unnecessary spaces.  The room is just perfect size.  It is cozy.  I think that in human psychology, people feel more secured and comfortable when they are surrounded with something.  In a restaurant, you will probably feel comfortable at a table in a corner or by a wall, rather than at one in the center of the hall.  I guess the same kind of theory also works in the small tea room, so I felt very relaxed.  Not only the physical proximity, but I also felt closer when it comes to psychological distance among the participants.   The closeness creates something more and the ceremony more concentrated.  I experienced that The Way of Tea is not only about savoring tea, but also savoring the space and time with others.

I believe that it is very rare to have such small room in Western architectures.  If you have a chance to come to Japan, I’ll encourage you to experience tea in a small tea room.  It will definitely be extraordinary.

Hanging scroll and flower in the tokonoma alcove in the small room

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Hatsu-gama, the first tea ceremony of the year

It has been about a half year since we started learning from the current master.

The first tea ceremony of the year is called “hatsu-gama”.  Our master invited all of her disciples in it.  She requested us to wear kimonoHatsu-gama is different from the costmary lessons, which is a little more formal than usual. 

The two biggest differences from usual were that our master did the hosting, and meals were served. 

At usual lessons, we, disciples play a role of the host and serve tea to other students.  Our master sits next to us and just tells us what to do.  She sometimes shows examples of each action, but I have never seen her hosting an entire ceremony.  This was my first time to observe her serving.  I gazed ate her every single movement, because I wanted to learn something out of it.   I was especially impressed with her action for handling fukusa, silk cloth.  It was graceful and gentle.

We don’t have meals in our usual lessons, but meals are often served at some formal tea ceremonies.  At this hatsu-gama, a meal in a box was served for each guest.  I could tell that our master took a lot of time to prepare this meal, which was a traditional New Year dish.  Six guests enjoyed the meal over having some chitchast and talking about the meal.  I kind of experienced harmony and bonding in the tea room at noon of a fine winter Sunday.   I think it is probably the essence of The Way of Tea.

I truly enjoyed hatsu-gama.  I was happy celebrating the New Yare with our master and my peers in the special ceremony.  I realized again that experiences are important.

Friday, January 6, 2012

The essentials: 2. Place the charcoal appropriately to boil the water

An ancient tea master, Rikyu said “place the charcoal appropriately to boil the water”.  This is one of the seven essentials of The Way of Tea, which I introduced on the previous entry.  People have different interpretations for the essentials. 

In tea ceremonies, the host heats up the kettle ussing charcoals.  He uses different types of charcoals and each of them has specific shape and size.  There are proper procedures and manners for placing them in the hearth or brazier.  There are even certain positions for each charcoal in the hearth which can create stable heat during the ceremony. 

Does the said statement refer to preparing the heat fine only or is there more meaning to it?

Before guests come, you have to prepare a lot of things to boil the water.  If you don’t place the charcoal correctly, you won’t get enough heat to boil the water, or they will burn too fast and you won’t have enough heat left when you prepare the tea.  To serve good bowls of tea, proper placement the charcoals is very important.  It will affect the success of the ceremony.  I think that “placement the charcoals” refer to the preparations in general. 

My interpretation of Rikyu’s “Place the charcoal appropriately to boil the water” is that
preparations of things are very important.

This interpretation may vary in the future as I experience and understand The Way of Tea more.