Yesterday I had the joyful opportunity to be in a demonstration of a Wu-Wo tea ceremony at the Chinese Classical Garden in Portland. I've been part of a group that practices Wu-Wo for a little over a year. I've waited to blog about it because I wanted to do a good job. As a novice I didn't feel ready, and I still have so much to learn, yet my desire to share this beautiful experience with you outweighs my hesitance. After all, Wu-Wo was designed to be a tea ceremony for us all.
Thanks to my friend Mitra for taking the photos.
The Portland Chinese Classical Garden, our splendid setting for Wu-Wo
Here is the introduction from the program materials: "Wu-Wo Tea Ceremony is based on traditional Chinese Gong-Fu small pot brewing dating back to the Ming dynasty more than 300 years ago. Traditional practice was modified in Taiwan in 1989 to create a ceremony that allows many participants to brew and serve tea together. Wu-Wo translates as 'selfless' or 'void of self.' There is no ranking of participants by level of knowledge, nationality, religion or social status and there is no expectation of reward. This ceremony helps participants develop a tolerant attitude and cultivate cooperation and thoughtfulness toward others while sharing a cup of heartwarming tea."
My Wu-Wo mat and equipment
The larger white tea cup was used for the demonstration, to show the color of the tea liquor
The basic equipment includes a brewing vessel, a serving vessel, four cups, a thermos of hot water and a tray for serving. Since Wu-Wo is typically done outside, you also need a blanket or mat to sit on (or a small stool). A timing device is helpful, and coasters keep the tea cups brought to you well-balanced in the grass. My entire kit above packs into my backpack. That's one of the best parts - you can take this on a hike! One can use humble tea brewing vessels. Any tea is welcome, and this spirit of diversity and appreciation is central to the ceremony.
Pouring the first steep into our serving pots
The general flow of a Wu-Wo event is to arrive and set up your mat/brewing space. We use a unifying process of unpacking that keeps the experience orderly and tidy. After everyone is settled, we have time to socialize and admire each person's arrangement and equipment.
Next, we enter a period of silence and brew the first round of tea. Here is where careful observation of your own tea and of your community is important. We move as a group to serve one another, though we are not speaking. Typically, we sit in a circle and serve tea to three people on our left and ourselves.
Serving the tea
Dewey explains Wu-Wo to the guests
We often brew, serve and drink three rounds of tea. When I drink the tea from others, I try to focus on the tea: its aroma, flavor, temperature, aftertaste, etc. I try to notice the subtle changes between each steeping. I also offer a silent thanks to each person who has brewed, to the tea plant, and to all that has gone into making the tea. For me, this becomes a meditative component, and I love it. Sometimes my chattery mind wanders off to other matters entirely, but I try to guide it back to the tea.
We drink the tea
Reading a poem
At the end of the ceremony, someone may offer a poem or reading to bring the event to a close. Since we are outdoors, the birds and breeze often join us in this moment of appreciation.
Range of oolong teas brewed at this Wu-Wo event
Many people in our group love oolong tea, and so we often find ourselves drinking a splendid range from light to dark. Remember, though, that any tea is welcome and honored.