A Japanese Tea Master’s Almanac
In 729 A.D. when tea drinking was first introduced in Japan by Emperor Shomu to a group of Buddhist monks, it was a costly one-time treat that launched an industry and a philosophy. Originating in China, tea soon became so popular in Japan that growers began sprouting up around the country. The use of tea moved from the nobility and Buddhist monks to the samurai who ruled Japan during the “Age of Warriors” around 1300. By the 14th century teahouses were secular and boisterous losing much of their Zen-like quality first instilled by the monks. Now tea was the beverage of the masses, served in large dining halls, and often featured the excessive consumption of as many as 100 cups per person per session.
By the 15th century a Buddhist priest name Shuko suggested that a proper tea ceremony could bring more enlightenment than meditation. He also felt it should be held in a small, calming environment for one to three people. Since he was also an architect, he designed the perfect tearoom and detailed exactly what it should contain. It was the beginning of Chado.
Over the centuries Japanese tea masters have infused the tea ceremony with artistic and philosophical meanings until today it is said to be a “conduit for harmony between nature and human beings, human beings and things, things and things” according to Chado: The Way of Tea.
Through the centuries Japanese tea masters expanded on Chado handing down their teachings to the students who followed. One student who became a leading authority on the tea ceremony was Sasaki Sanmi. In 1960 he created a voluminous work that has been translated into English by Shaun McCabe and Iwasaki Satoko. It is an amazing resource detailing the many variations of the Japanese tea ceremony throughout the year. Its 742 pages are filled with information, haiku, menus, special memorial dates, food to serve each month, flowers to feature, ways of setting up the room, and more information than you ever thought you needed. But it is really quite fascinating.
Take Kigo (words for the month) for example. According to the authors December is “The twelfth month (called) Otogo no tuski (‘the last to be born’ month) as opposed to Tarô-zuki (‘the first to be born’ month) for January; hence the first day of December is called otogo no tsuitachi. It is believed that if you eat mochi on this day, it will save you from getting drowned.”
Clearly this is a book for those serious about understanding the Japanese tea ceremony, for learning more about Japanese culture, for finding the right foods to serve with tea at various times of the year, and for marveling at the amount of time and energy it took to produce such a treatise.
Chado: The Way of Tea – A Japanese Tea Master’s Almanac was published in 2002 by Tuttle Publishing. This soft cover book has a cover price of $40.
Learn more about the Japanese tea ceremony from a tea master who teaches the many nuances of this ritualistic way of making tea. Patricia Katagiri invites new students to attend a tea ceremony just to observe, then offers individual training for $15 per session. For information call her at 612-825-6834.
You’ll find the tea for this meditative ritual at TeaSource in St. Paul and St. Anthony. Talk with owner Bill Waddington or any of his very knowledgeable staff about matcha. This very fine powdered green tea is whisked into the tea bowl of perfectly heated water to produce a flavorful, relaxing “thick tea.” Matcha sells for $23.99 per tin. The matcha glazed bowl, wooden tea scoop, and whisk sell for $74.99. For store locations and hours call 612-788-4842 or 651-690-9822. You can also order by phone 1-877-768-7233 or through their website www.teasource.com.
Phyllis Louise Harris is a cookbook author, food writer and cooking teacher specializing in Asian foods. She is founder of the Asian Culinary Arts Institutes Ltd. dedicated to the preservation, understanding and enjoyment of the culinary arts of the Asia Pacific Rim. For information about ACAI’s programs call 612-813-1757 or visit the website at www.asianculinaryarts.com.