Monday, July 15, 2019

Chanoyu: What Have You Been Studying for So Long?

I have been studying Chanoyu, commonly referred to in English as the Japanese Tea Ceremony, for 7.5 years as of this writing. While my sensei considers me an intermediate student, in many ways I feel like a beginner. 

I'm almost universally met with a "Wow!" when I share that I've been studying for this long. And what most folks are too polite to ask is, "What's taking so long?" :-)  It's a fair question!

First, there isn't one "tea ceremony." There are many variations, based on numerous factors such as season, guests, occasion, utensils, location and much more. Also, the further into my studies I go, the more complicated and lengthy the procedures become.

Second, it's physically demanding! It's hard (at least for me) to sit on my knees for long periods. Add to that the need to walk in a specific manner, make each movement with deliberation, and rise gracefully from the kneeling position (with precious tea utensils in my hands). It takes practice, conditioning, and skill to make this all look effortless. There is much to be learned! 

Third, we learn about many Japanese art forms and much history as we go. This includes the art and craft of pottery, ceramics, iron, bamboo, calligraphy, lacquer, wood, incense, flowers and more. We learn and tell stories about the tea utensils and the people who have made them.

And finally, I've referred so far to Chanoyu, which means hot water for tea. The term Chado, or the way of tea, is another expression, one of great depth, used for tea ceremony. There are four grounding principles in the tea ceremony: Harmony, Respect, Purity and Tranquility. To me, Chado expresses the spirit one has when approaching tea ceremony with discipline, mindfulness and care, and when attempting to apply the four principles to life.

Like ballet or painting or writing, there are elements of both discipline and art that can be studied, practiced and honed over a lifetime. One of my favorite experiences of tea ceremony was when I was invited to a tea gathering in Nara, Japan a few years ago (as a guest of my sensei). We watched as women well into their 70s and 80s practiced tea, with their sensei being nearly 90. They moved fluidly through the steps of the ceremony and appeared to radiate with their love of tea. May I be so fortunate!

Monday, May 20, 2019

Lovejoy's Tea Room, Portland

Me, in a fabulous chair at Lovejoy's in Portland
Thank you @mitranite for the photo!

Portland has a new tea room, and I think (hope!) it’s here to stay!  Lovejoy's Tea Room on Killingsworth is a blend of traditional and cheeky, serious about the food and tea with the right blend of quirks and welcome to keep it interesting. 

The Queen's Tea ($29.95) comes with a scone and a crumpet

I've been here twice, and both times I enjoyed myself. The tea room attracts the traditional ladies who do tea, but also a young, diverse crowd. I think this could be the key to the tea room's sustained success. When I visited recently, a table entirely of young men sat just behind me. Owner Brendon Constans sets the tone for the environment, where one can be welcomed for who they are. All best wishes!

Brendon Constans, Owner

Tempting petit fours

Captain Picard watches over the tea room

Friday, March 22, 2019

Whisking Matcha for Enjoyment at Home

Matcha in tea caddy

Hello and happy Spring!  I'm going to be writing a series on the "Japanese Tea Ceremony" experience, known as Chanoyu or Chadō (the Way of Tea). But before we dive into that, I want to share how you can easily make and enjoy a bowl of matcha at home. 

And when I say bowl, I mean just that! In this style of drinking matcha, each person gets their own bowl of tea. I'll be making thin tea, called usucha. It's the frothy kind and it's amazing!

It's important to understand that there are many different schools of Chadō, and each has its own way of making tea. There are differences in how to whisk, the desired frothiness, etc. And yet each produces a beautiful and delicious bowl of tea. The school from Japan that I am associated with is Urasenke.  My local school is Issoan. Even though the instructions below are not for a tea ceremony, the style I've learned will show through.

In the picture above, you see a shaped "mountain" of matcha in a traditional tea caddy. Below are the typical implements: a bowl, whisk, scoop, tea caddy and a water ladle. You will not need all of these things.

Traditional tools for making matcha

What you WILL need: 
  • A bowl with a wide enough bottom for the whisk to move freely. Something like a rice or cereal bowl.
  • A measuring cup
  • A mesh strainer
  • Teaspoon
  • Bamboo whisk 
  • Matcha 
I recommend two investments for home enjoyment of matcha: A bamboo whisk (chasen) and good matcha. A reputable source available in the US is Ippodo. Please be careful where you buy your matcha and do not use cooking grade. You are ingesting the ground-up leaf and the flavor is intensified. You want the good stuff for drinking. Expect to pay $25-30/canister for a decent matcha.  See this site for more options. Also, don't buy large quantities and store the canister of matcha in a plastic bag with the air pushed out, in the freezer. 

Utensils for making matcha at home

    Sifting matcha
To make your bowl of matcha:

1. Rinse your bowl with hot water, then dry it out.  This pre-warms the bowl and removes liquid that might cause the matcha to clump.

2. Place the mesh strainer over the bowl. Measure in a scant (less than full) teaspoon of matcha. Tap the strainer or use the back of a spoon to push the tea through. Straining the tea helps reduce lumps.

3.Now add between 1/4 and 1/3 cup of hot water, ~170 degrees Fahrenheit. Please do not use boiling water. When I remove my kettle from the heat source and take the lid off, it takes ~3.5 minutes to cool to the right temp.

4. Take your whisk and lightly press down any floating tea. Then move the whisk briskly in a straight up-and-down motion. (Other tea schools do this differently.)  See the video below. You do not need to press down hard on the whisk (that can break the tines). Placing your hand over the top of the bowl helps to steady it.

                                                                            5. Keep whisking until you see a thick foam forming.
                                                                            Keep going a wee bit longer.  Then move the whisk
                                                                            across the top lightly to pop any big bubbles.

                                                                            6. Set the whisk down and enjoy the tea! 
                                                                            Matcha is commonly enjoyed with a small sweet.
Notice how the foam gets thicker over time.  Keep going!

If your matcha froth isn't thick, try using a little more matcha, a little less water, or whisking a little longer.

Mmmm.. frothy, foamy matcha

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Mary Oliver

As you have likely heard, poet Mary Oliver recently died. I love her poetry, how it imbues the natural world with everyday magic, and inspires/invites/insists that we pay attention. I find that her poems pair exceedingly well with tea. They invite me to pause and to take notice of the place I inhabit.

Here is one of my favorite poems, from among many, many favorites:

It Was Early
~Mary Oliver, from Evidence, 2009 and published again in Devotions, 2017

It was early,
   which has always been my hour
        to begin looking
           at the world

and of course,
     even in the darkness,
        to begin
           listening into it,

     under the pines
        where the owl lives
           and sometimes calls out

as I walk by,
    as he did
        on this morning.
           So many gifts!

What do they mean?     
     In the marshes
        where the pink light 
           was just arriving

the mink
     with his bristle tail
       was stalking
           the soft-eared mice,

and in the pines
     the cones were heavy,
        each one
           ordained to open.

Sometimes I need
     only to stand
        wherever I am
           to be blessed.

Little mink, let me watch you.   
     Little mice, run and run.
        Dear pine cone, let me hold you
           as you open.

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Heathman Tea by Vitaly Paley

It's been open for awhile now, but I have not written about the re-envisioned afternoon tea at the Heathman Hotel in Portland, OR. Chef Vitaly Paley relied on his heritage (Belarusian) to inspire the experience. I had the opportunity to enjoy tea here recently, and am happy to share a few moments with you. 

The Tea: Paley collaborated with Steven Smith Teamaker to curate a small but mighty list. I chose the Georgian Caravan, served only at the Heathman. It's smoky but not overwhelming, bold but allows for the jam (do add!) to be distinct. Plus the tea is served in a pretty glass cup with fancy metal cutwork. 

The Setting: I was visiting alone, something I enjoy. I was given a lovely seat near the fire. The restaurant manager rearranged things to ensure my view was of the fire - I made note! It's a gift to have such care. 

The Food: Bolder than one normally finds at afternoon tea, but delicious and unique! Find the full menu here

Some of my favorites: The middle tier shown below, including a deviled egg, walnut-stuffed eggplant, blini with caviar and mushroom piroshki (stuffed potato bread). The khachapouri (Georgian cheese bread - not shown) was amazing, and I was touched by the steopka (sour cream and walnut cake), based on his grandmother's recipe.

If you're in Portland and love afternoon tea, I recommend this experience. Be sure to take in the lovely surroundings, too - the tall bookshelves and the interesting large-scale art.