Monday, May 12, 2014

Things to ponder on when attending a tea ceremony

Learning from other’s behavior
We have a saying “人の振り見て我が振り直せ” or “Look at how other people behave, and then take a good look at yourself.” I always have a lot of things to learn when I attend a tea ceremony. The other day, I saw a middle-aged lady in a ceremony. She looked sophisticated wearing a white shirt with the collar turned up. She sits and bows nicely. I could tell that she is experienced and knows the manners of tea. It’s hard to criticize her. However, I sensed a slight oddness in her presence. I realized that there is something wrong with her sitting posture. She sat with her back straight and chin down. That is good, but she was too conscious to sit straight. I could see she was trying so hard with her posture‏. So, she didn’t look natural. Sitting straight is a good thing but being natural is more important. Lately, I care about my posture, but I try not to overdo it.

I didn’t know that there is such a nice tea hut in my neighborhood park. 

Narrow-minded me
At a festival in my town, tea ceremonies were held. Anybody could join them and enjoy matcha and sweets casually. I saw an elderly couple with two young kids at one of the ceremonies. They went into the tea room offhand even though there were some other people waiting since before they came. The kids were restless and sprawled in the middle of the small room. They were kind of blocking others from getting in. Finally, they were seated and the man among the elderly couple took the main guest's position‏. The main guest has important roles and how the ceremony goes can depend on the skills of the main guest. I was looking forward to see and learn those skills, but the old man didn’t seem to know anything about tea ceremony. I was disappointed and unhappy with the kids and the one who assumed the main guest’s position. However, I realized how narrow-minded I was. This is a causal ceremony that anyone can attend. It’s not only for the experienced. This is how it is. I’m ashamed of myself that I had a negative perspective even just for a moment. I should enjoy the time with these people. As I started to think that way, the kids relishing the sweets looked adorable. How I can enjoy the ceremony totally depended on my state of mind. I reflected.

Peaceful moment
The host asked the couple if he should prepare the tea light for the kids. They said yes. I was pleased with the host’s consideration. Moreover, four bowls of tea were served for the couple and the kids. They seemed to pay the admission only for two, and they were thinking to share the tea. But, with the special arrangement of the host, they got one bowl for each. How nice! Everybody in the room felt happy at that moment. I want to emulate that kind of grace.

I love the flower arrangement at the ceremony.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

I tried making koicha with different amounts of water.

My dilemma on making koicha, thick tea
The distinction on the way of making koicha is that you add water twice. A typical instruction is something like this;
Put three scoops of matcha into the bowl and add a little amount water.

Blend them by moving the whisk slowly to a make smooth paste of tea

Add appropriate doses of water and mix it well with whisk.

Koicha, thick tea

This is what I learned at my tea school and you will also find a similar instruction on many books. I think that it is very ambiguous for first-time learners. I'm still not sure how much the appropriate doses are. I wish if there was guide on how many grams of tea and how much milliliter of water should be used.

Informations that I collected from books
Not many books explain the way of preparing koicha with specific amounts. However, I found some informations in some books and I'll introduce them here;
Amount of tea
- 3.75g (Sen Soshitsu XV)
- 3.4g (Note on the instruction manual for a tea sifter)
Amount of water
- The same as usucha, thin tea, Three-and-a-half swallows (Sen Soshitsu XV, Tankosha)
- First water: 25ml (Tankosha)
- First water should be 30-40% of entire water. The amount of water should be enough to get the tea powder to float slightly. (Horiuchi Soshin)
Each author or publisher has their own way and there is no coherence among the above-mentioned information.

Weird result
To study for myself, I tried making koicha with different amount of water. I used 3.6g of matcha on each brewing.
 60ml - Too thin
 40ml - Too thin
 35ml - Good thickness
 38ml - Good thickness (slightly thin)
I didn't find a big difference in thickness between the 60 and 40 tea even though there was certain difference on the amount of water (20ml). On the other hand, the 38ml tea had a quite good thickness compared to the 40ml tea. Only 2ml made a big difference. I was very curious how it happened. In the beginning, I wanted to know the best amount allocation on the first and second water. I made some adjustments on each brewing in the amount of the first water. Maybe, the way of how I moved the whisk was not consistent either. These caused the weird result. The thickness can be affected by how you move the whisk and the proportion of the first and second water. I actually experienced and learned it.

Ten times of water
I will skirt around the issue of the water allocation and the way of whisking this time. I'm going to focus only on the entire amount of water. From the previous experiment, I made an educated guess that my ideal amount of water will be about 10 times of tea. I fixed the amounts of the first water at 18ml and the tea at 3.6g, and did the test again. I tried three different amounts;

My assumption was quite correct! I was satisfied with the thickness of all the three teas. The 9-time tea had good thickness and it still runs smoothly. The 11-time tea was light but I could still enjoy the significance of koicha. To conclude, I can say that my guide is about 10 times the amount of water against the tea.

Numbers are useless
You need to adjust the amounts depending on seasons and guests. Also, the numbers are useless once you are in the tea room. I think that is why there is no specified amount of ingredients on books or taught at schools. I believe that you have to learn it on your own by carefully watching the amount of tea on your scoop and the water poured into the bowl.