Saturday, April 25, 2015

Bonjour Paris!

Ahhh….Paris! One of my favourite cities on this planet. So beautiful, even in black and white photos taken on a rainy day. One day, I shall return. In the meantime, I experienced a bit of Paris right at home.

My good friend Carol, a fellow Tea Sommelier, hosted another one of her wonderful tea events held in yet another unique place. This time, guests were invited to an old bookstore called Acadia Art & Rare Books. The theme of this gathering was The Art of Conversation & Parisian Afternoon Tea. Books, tea, and interesting conversation? My favourite! They just seem to go together.

Macaron, oh my!

The talented Carol created a selection of lovely treats to go along with a raspberry flavoured iced-tea and a Sri Lankan black tea that was so delicate, it did not require any milk or sugar. The sweet offerings included:
  • French Macarons
  • Shortbread Cookies
  • Berry Trifle
  • Japanese Cake
  • Chocolate Truffles
  • Chocolate Cones with sugared flowers and sushi rice
It was a sugar hit and one definitely not for dieters! One of the guests even brought jars of her own locally made honey for sale. 

Truffle delish!

The talks going on were a learning experience for all. Opinions, ideas, and recipes of all sorts were easily being told and shared. There was even some chatter among a few about the possibility of working together and launching various tea businesses. 

Tea and books!

Carol’s events are always a delight and I look forward to attending them whenever they are being held. Do swing by her website, The Love of Tea, for other happenings and to purchase any of the teas she sells. Au revoir!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Steeped In History: Hey, what’s going on in there?

My last post provided an overview on what a Japanese Tea Ceremony is and a bit of its history. Now, let’s see what goes on behind the doors! 

Before the actual tea ceremony begins, arriving guests may stay in a waiting room called a machiai. Here, they may change into one of the obi robes provided to them and they may leave behind anything not required. The guests will begin their journey towards tea house by walking across the roji, clearing their minds of all negative thoughts and energies. They will move to a nearby stone basin called a tsukubai, where they will wash their hands and mouths in preparation for the tea ceremony. 

Sitty pretty!

After cleansing, the attendees will head to the tea house, removing their shoes prior to entrance. The host will greet each guest with a bow as they make their way by crouching through a door so small it practically forces them to bow. In the tea room, the guests seat themselves on the tatami floor mats usually in order of importance. The host will then appear and address the group, answering any questions they may have about their surroundings and items such as the scrolls, artwork, and chadōgu, making them feel at ease.

Sweet treats!

At a chaji, the guests are first served the main courses of their cha-kaiseki meal along with sake and wagashi. After consumption, a short break takes places where the guests will head off to a waiting area or take a stroll through the gardens, allowing the host to tidy up, make any decorative changes, and set-up the tea tools for the ceremony. The guests will re-enter the tea house at the sound of a gong. 

It's tea time!

The chanoyu begins with the host cleaning the chawan, chashaku, and chasen. Then, a bowl of Matcha is prepared to the correct consistency in order to achieve koicha. This single bowl is presented to one of the guests as they both exchange bows. The guest takes a moment to admire the bowl, then rotates it just before taking a drink. The guest will then wipe the rim of the bowl with a chakin before passing it to the next person who repeats the process. After everyone has had their turn, the bowl is returned to the host for proper cleaning. 

Time to shake things up!

The gathering becomes more laidback after the host momentarily excuses herself to retrieve some goodies. Guests are offered cushions for comfort and tabako-bon, which are smoking sets. Dry confections called higashi are also supplied. These delights will accompany the bowls of usucha the host will prepare next to be served individually to each guest. Lively chit chat, song and dance, and even drinking games may occur during this time of relaxation. The guests even have the opportunity to inspect the tea utensils used, handling them very carefully, and asking any further questions about them. After all the utensils are collected, the host will end the ceremony by exchanging bows with each guest as they make their way to exit the tea house. 

I’ve participated as a guest in a simplified version of a chakai. It was held on a patio of a local tea café so I did not get the full effect even for a chakai. Still, it’s quite something and you really feel yourself getting drawn in. I’d love to attend a chaji! 

Do read Memories of a Geisha. It is a beautiful book written about the life a geisha and will give you some insight on the Japanese Tea Ceremony and the role it played in Japanese aristocracy. Also, make sure to check out the many books written about this serious ceremony that go into far greater detail and of the many practices required to achieve the correct way of tea.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Steeped In History: The way of tea in Japanese!

About a year ago, I wrote an overview of Afternoon Tea. This is a very English concept and one that most of us are familiar with. However, there is a tea ritual with entirely different roots. This is the Japanese Tea Ceremony. Also known as the "way of tea", it is referred to as chanoyu or chadō by its Japanese namesake.

Let's get this party started!

The Japanese Tea Ceremony has a long and rich history with strong ties to Zen Buddhism. The entire ritual is spiritual in nature. Eisai, you may recall, is the founder of Zen Buddhism and is credited with bringing the Chinese way of making tea — the mixing of water and powdered tea — to Japan, and adding a religious spin to it. Another influencer is Sen no Rikyū, who added the concepts of harmony, respect, purity, and tranquility to help shape the ceremony. These designers, along with the many different rulers over the changing eras in Japan helped to elevate tea to a whole new level, beyond that of just another drink or an herb used for medicinal purposes. Tea was a spiritual experience.

Traditionally, a chanoyu is held in a chashitsu which is a tea house specially built for this purpose. Nowadays however, the ceremonies can be held at any venue, inside or outside. The chashitsu can vary in design, style, and décor. They are usually surrounded by a garden called a roji which means "dewy ground". Attendees may stroll and admire these gardens during break time or until they are allowed entrance into the chashitsu by their hosts. The exterior landscape, the interior design, all artwork and scrolls, floral arrangements, and even the tea tools, are carefully selected and prepared to enhance the experience of the tea ceremony. Even the time of year or season has an impact on the ritual. 

Secret hideaway!

There are two types of chanoyu: chakai or chaji. A chakai, which means "tea gathering", is an informal gathering. It is a simple get together that includes a serving of some confections and 
usucha which is thin tea. A chaji on the other hand, which means "tea event", is a formal gathering. It is far more substantial and can last up to 4 hours. A cha-kaiseki is served, which is a full multi-course meal that includes sake, which is a Japanese alcoholic beverage, wagashi, which are confections, koicha, which is thick tea, and some usucha. A chaji may include lively discussions on various topics, the playing of musical instruments by the host, flower arranging demonstrations, poetry readings, and even sake drinking contests.

The performance of the host during the whole ceremony is quite mesmerizing. Each gesture is graceful, deliberate, subtle, and delicate. Each movement is called a temae, and there are many. It is an art in itself and one that takes many years of practice to fine tune.

The chadōgu, which is the tea equipment, may come in many different styles and designs as well. They are handled and cleaned with careful consideration. I described some of the wares in my Matcha post. 

Tools of the trade.

The essential tools required for a chanoyu include:

Chakin: Small linen or hemp cloth used for wiping the tea bowl.
Chawan: Tea bowl one drinks the prepared tea from.
Natsume: Tea caddy where the powdered tea is contained in.
Chashaku: Tea scoop used for picking up the powdered tea.
Chasen: Tea whisk used for mixing the powdered tea and water together.

Procedures for a chanoyu can vary from school of practice, season, and whether it is a formal or informal gathering. I’ll tell you what may go on in a tea house next time.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

My Cuppa: All cheer, because Easter is here!

The Easter Bunny’s in town, and he supplied me with a sample of tea he thought I would appreciate! The tea I sampled this time is from Greenfield, a company whose teas I've tried before and mentioned in various posts. It is one of their theme teas called Easter Cheer. The description on the packet stated that this is a “black tea from the best Indian estates”. It did not indicate which estate and there was no mention on their website. 

Rah, rah, rah!

Upon opening the packet, I was hit with a lovely fragrance of vanilla and citrus. I even detected hints of chocolate. It was intoxicating! I prepared the tea as the packet suggested for 5-7 minutes. I waited about 3 minutes after boiling the water before pouring it over the tea. The water slowly turned into a glorious reddish-orange colour, almost like Rooibos. The aroma was a light lemon. 

The 7 minute dunk.

I enjoyed my tea as is. It was very delicate and I felt it would be ruined with the addition of milk and sweeteners. I actually liked this tea. It had a light vanilla and lemon flavour much like the aroma. It didn't taste like a tea to me. It seemed more herbal. I thought this would make a great iced-tea to enjoy at a backyard garden party in the summertime.

Thank you Easter Bunny! Now where are my chocolate cream eggs?