Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Way of Tea

I've written about drinking green tea, the art of Japanese incense, and playing the Japanese flute. Another Japanese tradition I enjoy is the tea ceremony, (chanoyu meaning "tea hot-water" or chado meaning "the way of tea"). For folks who visit my Harvard office, pictured here, I prepare a ceremonial powdered green tea called Matcha.

Matcha begins as a high grade tea leaf, grown in the shadows, just like my favorite Gyokuro Asahi green tea. Reduced light slows its growth, creates a deeper shade of green, and results in a higher concentration of amino acids, making the tea sweeter.

The leaves are harvested and laid out to dry. They are de-veined, de-stemmed, and stone grown, to produce a fine bright green power - matcha.

I store the tea in a tea container made of lacquered wood called a Natsume.

For the honored guests visiting my office, I place a small amount of matcha in my tea bowl (chawan) that was handmade in Kyoto. I use a deep bowl that keeps the tea warm. The bowl is irregular with several colors and imperfections. The most beautiful portion of the bowl is one of the emerald shaded irregularities.

To remove the tea from the Natsume, I use a lacquered bamboo scoop (chashaku). The amount of tea I add depends upon the style of tea I'm preparing.

Usucha, or thin tea, is prepared with half a teaspoon of matcha and 2.5 ounces of 170 degree hot water. Usucha creates a lighter and slightly more bitter tea.

Koicha, or thick tea, requires significantly more matcha, about 5 teaspoons, and 6 ounces of hot water. Koicha produces a sweeter tea.

To mix the tea, I use a tea whisk (chasen), which is carved from a single piece of bamboo. For thin tea, I briskly stir the tea and water together, creating a foam. For thick tea, I stir more slowly, without foam.

I serve the tea by presenting the most beautiful part of the bowl to my guest, who appreciates the bowl, turns it 180 degrees to show me the most beautiful portion of the bowl, then drinks a small amount of tea.

I typically serve the tea with a small sweet to refresh the palette.

You may ask, what ceremony do I use in the heat of the New England Summer? I recently visited a remarkable potter at his kiln in North Carolina, Mark Hewitt.

I asked him to create vessels for "Iced Tea Ceremony". This is truly a fusion of Southern traditions, New England practicality, and Japanese inspiration. Thanks Mark for great work.
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