Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Travel/Office Set from American Gongfu

It's one of those small world things... a good friend of mine has another friend who happens to be starting a tea biz.  Old friend introduced us, and now I have the start of a new tea friendship.  I am happy to announce that American Gongfu (beta site) is launching with my new tea friend James at the helm. 

James sent me this "Joy of Tea" porcelain set for review. He framed it as great for travel or office use, and so I decided to field test it.  I've been using it in the office for a few weeks now. I like it's compact 3-part setup.  The bottom cup is thin and nice for drinking, while the inner brewing vessel is thick and sturdy.  The lid fits both - a plus to keep my tea warm once I'm done brewing.  Lid could also be used as a coaster. 

With built-in teeth in the brewing vessel, loose leaf is strained as I pour. (Some leaf will escape and I wouldn't use this with a fine herbal like rooibos - but that's not what it's designed for). It's like a hybrid between a gaiwan and a tasting set. 

A nice little side connection is that the set is by Taiwanese porcelain company Eilong. I have a few other pieces from this company, and it brings me happy memories of shopping the Yingge District of Taiwan.

My summary of this brewing set: I like the compactness and how it lets me brew loose leaf tea in conditions that may be less-than-ideal for that style. I like that the lid fits both vessels. I like the color options. It's not quite as smooth as pouring a traditional gaiwan (at least not for me), but I'm happy with the product's convenience and look.  You can find the product here.

Raising a cup to the small world of tea connections!

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Portland Japanese Garden Cultural Crossing

Architect Kengo Kuma in front of  the Jordan Schnitzer Japanese Arts Learning Center

It's an exciting and important weekend here in Portland! The Japanese Garden opens the Cultural Crossing expansion, to members today and to the public tomorrow. This $33.5M project began 10 years ago as part of a master site planning process. I had the good fortune to attend the media day, and I am eager to share what I learned. 

Umami Tea Cafe with beloved Yoshino cherry tree just about to bloom

First, there was a 2-year search to find the right architect. Internationally renowned Kengo Kuma rose to the top of those in consideration. But how to get someone of such stature to consider a project of (relatively) small scope?  After all, he is designing the 2020 Olympic Stadium in Tokyo. Garden CEO Stephen Bloom had a plan. He invited Kuma to visit Portland as a guest lecturer, and allowed the garden to work its magic. Kuma saw the potential and the importance of the project, and here we are today.

New entry to the garden - the Tanabe Welcome Center
Near the parking lot at the base of the hill

There were three main goals with this project: 
  1. Manage the growing attendance of the garden to respect its peace and quiet, and protect the fragile landscape. Attendance has grown rapidly in the past few years, from 120K in 2005 to 400K in 2016. The  new cultural crossing expands the garden's footprint to allow more space for the visitors to span.
  2. Provide more opportunity for cultural education. In fact, the Japanese Garden Training Center, the first of its kind in the US, will be established.  This program, taught in English, will provide courses for amateurs and professionals, and serve as way to develop a community of skilled caretakers for the ~250 Japanese gardens in the US.
  3. Address logistics issues, providing more accessible space for people with disabilities. In addition, create a safer and more pleasant environment for pedestrians as they enter the garden.

As you walk up the hill and cross the glass-sided bridge, notice how the tea cafe appears to float

CEO Stephen Bloom: "We are no longer just a garden. In fact, we are a center of culture and art for Japan."

Additional features include a larger gift shop, the Umami Cafe - a beautiful space to have a bowl or cup of tea, and the castle wall.

Shiro-zumi Castle Wall, function and beauty

This wall was built in the traditional manner of dry stacking rock. It serves as a design feature and a retaining wall for the steep slope behind. The project leader, Suminori Awata, is a 15th generation Japanese stone mason.

Sadafumi Uchiyama, Garden Curator
Diane Durston, Arlene Schnitzer Curator of Culture, Art & Education

Also quoting Stephen Bloom, "It takes a village to make a village."  Many dreamers and doers have been involved for the long span of this work. In addition to the leadership of Stephen Bloom, Sadafumi Uchiyama has worked tirelessly to bring the expansion to fruition in a way that maintains respect for the original garden and allows for new services. Sada-san was emotional as he told us about his journey over the past several years. Likewise, Diane Durston spoke about her excitement at the expanded educational and cultural programs the garden will now be able to offer. 

There's so much more to show and tell, and the best way to experience this is to visit. I recommend you allow yourself to go slowly, quietly. The Cultural Village and the gardens will speak for themselves.