Friday, May 24, 2013
Japanese Tea - Free Style
Philadelphia's Urasenke school, performed a formal tea ceremony on the Institute's tatami mats.
The folding of the red cloth (fukusa) was done with grace and precision. Just that was quite a show and made me think of all the practice Mary must have had repeating all these steps so well. At first sight, it may seem that the Urasenke school is over doing it with this cloth: What connection is there between this complex, traditional folding and the quality of the tea? I see several important connections: first, it teaches you an attention to details, to being graceful and the importance of clean ustensils. The second point is that this folding ceremony before the tea ceremony helps to calm down and focus your mind, so that you are getting ready to perform and enjoy your tea. All these strict rules in the Japanese ceremony help and guide the tea student to pay more attention to his/her tea brewing.
This tea was done in a very traditional, ceremonial way. The only way this experience could have been more authentic is if Mary (and us) had worn a kimono!
An Omotesenke school practitioner, Mr. Koike (like Mary) brought us Japanese sweets to pair with the matcha. But he didn't want to move to the tatami. It was more convenient to use this table and the Cha Xi set up by Teaparker. Mr. Koike simply whisked one bowl after another and, very quickly, we all could enjoy a bowl of matcha.
This Omotesenke style matcha looks and tastes very different from the Urasenke matcha. We can see that Omotesenke doesn't produce much foam, but still manages to well mix the green tea powder with the hot water. Mr. Koike's tea had its intented character. He made the complex seem simple, almost casual. This kind of improvisation could only succeed because he is a master of the formal technique.
spring Oolongs. But before that, I surprised him with my Sung dynasty tea equipment.
Kim is a teacher in Germany for the Uedo Sôko tradition. This school was founded by a samurai who had learned from Sen no Rikyû.
For Kim, this way of preparing matcha is 'free style'. And outdoors ceremonies are the hardest to perform, because the environment is so distracting and uncontrollable. Nevertheless, like with Mr. Koike and Mary, I was impressed by his ability to seamlessly calm down and focus on the tea preparation.
We placed bamboo chasen in my zhuni teapot so that it would be blown away by the wind! And Kim folded a white tissue paper to serve as his fukusa to clean the bowl and hold the lid of the tetsubin.
Japanese matcha tea schools have the longest and strictest traditions. But we can see that their most experienced practitioners are able to go beyond and don't feel limited in what they can do. On the contrary, a good understanding of what's important in the technique helps them to adapt to various situations. It also gives them the means to be more creative with their Cha Xi arrangement.