Posted in Kafevend Blog
In last week's blog about the Japanese tea ceremony we learnt all about matcha, the powdered green tea most commonly used for the event. It seems a natural progression then to follow up with a look at some of the equipment used to prepare and serve it.
As we discovered last time, the whisk used to froth up the matcha is called a chasen and is carved from a single piece of bamboo. Some matcha drinkers in the west substitute an electric milk frother, but purists point out that in order to achieve the most genuine taste experience it's important to invest in a chasen. The tea scoop, known as a chashaku, is also carved from a single piece of bamboo and is used to measure out the correct amount of matcha; more scoops are required for koicha- thick tea, than for usucha- thin tea.
In the UK these days we generally drink our tea from a mug, although cups and saucers have enjoyed a resurgence in popularity as we experiment with an ever wider range of quality teas. What you may not realize though, is that when tea was first introduced to the British Isles during the second half of the 1600s, it would have been drunk from porcelain tea bowls imported from China alongside the shipments of tea. This is the way that tea is still drunk during the tea ceremony. The tea bowl, or chawan, might well be shallower in summer to allow the tea to cool faster, and deeper in the winter so that, by contrast, the tea stays hot for longer.
In addition to these smaller chawans from which the tea is sipped, a larger chawan is used to prepare the matcha. Hot water is scooped from the kama, a large iron pot like a kettle, with a hishaku (ladle) and poured into the chawan, ready to be whisked with the chasen. Depending on the time of year the water will be heated on either a furo or a ro. In the warmer months the kama is placed on a furo- a brazier, while during the colder months the ro comes into play. This is a sunken hearth which creates a cosier feel in the chilly weather.
These are but a few of the items needed to perform the tea ceremony and the way in which they're used is very ritualistic, with set moves originally designed to accommodate the long, wide sleeves of the kimono. Not everyone wears a kimono at a tea ceremony these days, but Chadō students are encouraged to wear one, at least some of the time, so that the movements they learn can be put in context. This goes for male students too, as the kimono is traditional dress for both sexes. In the same way that many Japanese folk choose to learn about the Way of Tea, there are also classes for learning how to wear a kimono and how to tie an obi- the belt that's worn around the middle.
It's testament to the value accorded to cultural tradition in Japan that not only can students learn how to perform the tea ceremony and wear national costume, but also that the equipment used today is the same as that used in centuries past. Perhaps our own renewed interest in teapots and vintage china demonstrates a desire to understand and celebrate our own tea heritage here in the UK. Whatever else you do today, make time for a good old fashioned cup of tea!