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Tea Culture: the Japanese Tea Ceremony

March 25th, 2016 by Eliot Jordan

Eliot Jordan tea-team

The Japanese tea ceremony dates back to Sen no Rikyu, a tea master who served General Oda Nobunaga and then with his successor Toyotomi Hideyoshi. He’s credited with his influence on the way of tea, also known as chado. The way of tea incorporated all of the major components of Japanese philosophy and aesthetics 500 years ago. Rikyu’s influence extended to introducing the concept of wabi-sabi – an appreciation for beauty that is imperfect and impermanent into the tea ceremony, a style known as wabi-cha. The classical Japanese art seen in calligraphy and ikebana, the Japanese style of flower arranging are brought into the tea ceremony along with the issue of harmony and balance, finding the universal in the immediate and simple thing in front of you.

A traditional Japanese tea ceremony lasts 4 hours. To do it right, you have a dedicated ceremonial room in the back of your garden with a low door. The low door symbolizes that whether you are a peasant or emperor, you have to bend down to get in, bringing each person into the same posture for the tea ceremony, among the stratified society. The tea ceremony is a place where everyone can be equal. The space where the ritual takes place is bare of adornment except for one flower arrangement and one piece of artwork hanging on the wall, usually a painting of nature or calligraphy. Typically, one to three guests take part at a time and they admire the painting and flower, commenting politely. Then, the tea-making begins. The coals are heated. The kettle is placed on them. The tea used in the ceremony should be high quality Matcha green tea. The pot and the chawan bowls should be expertly made but slightly imperfect, an element of zen Buddhism. When the tea is poured, the technique of the host is demonstrated as they use the chasen bamboo tea whisk to froth the Matcha. The host then drinks the tea first. He or she will then turn the bowl a quarter and pass the cup to the person on their right. This process is incredibly elaborate and stylized. These days even in Japan, the tea ceremony typically is abbreviated to only 45 minutes but still observes a relatively quiet, studied, meditative experience centered around the tea.

Joane Filler-Varty, our VP of hospitality shares her insights on how Japanese culture and the tea ceremony have influenced the tea programs she sets up for our four and five star hotels in Japan. “The aesthetic plays an important role—everything needs to look right and be in the right place. All the details are important. No one element sits by itself. Instead, it’s how the cup, teapot, and tea all combine together.”

Speaking of tea, the history of Matcha starts off in China where it was super-finely ground and found popularity there. Originally developed in China, in the 1300’s Matcha made its way to Japan. Matcha’s popularity died out in China after several hundred years, but flourished in its new home. Japan’s history has selected certain aspects of Chinese culture over the years and made them their own. So much extra work and care goes into making Matcha, and this green tea became uniquely Japanese. Matcha is typically reserved for use in the tea ceremony where its required focus and preparation come to life, but even in Japan it is now often consumed in smoothies, lattes, and the like.

British Tea Ceremony

January 22nd, 2016 by Eliot Jordan

Eliot Jordan tea-team

Britain’s relationship with tea has everything to do with the British empire. The demand for tea made the empire happen. Without the demand for tea, I don’t think it would have gotten as big as it did.* Morning is one part of the ritual as the traditional cuppa breakfast tea is drunk first thing, usually prepared with black loose tea. The ritual of tea continues into the afternoon tea. High tea derived its name from tea set on high tables for maids, cooks, and butlers of the big houses where they had a cup of tea and snacks at around 4 p.m., standing around a high table because there was no time to sit down. Low tea was the name for the tea service presented upstairs to the estate owners at low tables, and among finery.

The tea set and food make up a big part of the British tea ceremony. Upstairs you would find silver or porcelain tea sets, whereas downstairs you would find brown betty teapots. In a British tea service the cups have handles, saucers, and are typically part of a matching set with a pitcher for cream and a server for sugar. Whereas Japan and China use plain cups in their tea rituals, the British love flourish whether that includes floral prints or gold rimmed cups. The teapots used in Great Britain are quite large at 24 – 36 ounces in size and involve a tea strainer set over the tea cup to strain out the tea leaves in the pot. The British diet is heavy and dairy-based, so tea is served with milk and sugar. Scones, clotted cream, jam, crumpets, and finger sandwiches make up an array of afternoon tea foods, which is really a meal. I think this is still true that at 4 p.m. the country comes to a halt for a national teatime.

British tea leans toward black tea all the way, typically teas from India, Sri Lanka or Kenya. Their appreciation for strong tea runs deep. This includes brewing the tea strong by adding a lot of tea to the pot and also selecting dark-liquoring, pungent teas.

Setting up tea programs for our four and five star hotel clients with our distributor in Great Britain, VP of Hospitality, Joane Filler-Varty, adds: “Simpler teas are desired with an emphasis on black teas, a few green teas are added for the health conscious and a few herbal infusions too. Great variation exists between contemporary and traditional set-up, but the British tend to be traditional and the type of teaware used tends to be more formal. Some higher end hotels use loose tea for room service, while others use whole leaf tea pouches for in-room dining.”

While the British tea ritual might be vastly different than the Chinese tea ceremony or the Japanese tea ceremony, there are nuances that articulate how particular details come together in this tea practice that is passed down. Details exist specific to the British tea service such as “backing the pot.” This refers to pulling the teapot back prior to serving guests tea as a way to circulate the liquid before serving it.

 

 

*For more on this, check out the book, For All the Tea in China by Sarah Rose.

 

Chinese Tea Ritual

January 6th, 2016 by Eliot Jordan

Eliot-tea-team

If you go to China and partake in a traditional Chinese tea ritual, you will find the Chinese tea ceremony celebrates the tea itself and puts a lot of emphasis on the style and skill of the person brewing it. The ceremony is social and can be very formal or informal. One person takes charge of the brewing and commands the tea. The practice uses a gongfu style of multiple infusions that is done using a wooden tray with a small teapot and cups. The vessel that actually steeps the tea can either be a typical teapot with handle and spout, or it can be a special lidded cup called a gaiwan. The gaiwan cups consist of three parts: the saucer, small cups without handles, and lid. The lid keeps the tea warm inside the cup and acts as a strainer when sipping. With a teapot, hot water gets poured over the pot and is also used to refresh the leaves. The teapot might be a yixing terracotta teapot that is dedicated to brewing just one type of tea, or one simply made of porcelain or glass.

In a Chinese tea ceremony, they use their best teas. Most of the country drinks green tea such as Dragonwell. You might find oolong teas like Ti Kuan Yin and pu erh teas like Ancient Trees Pu Erh used in the Chinese tea ritual because those styles of tea can be manipulated in a small teapot to brew strong tea. Keep note of how the tea changes from infusion to infusion. Perhaps even keep tabs on how many infusions you can get out of one pot of tea. Oolong teas are great for brewing gongfu style.

I asked Joane Filler-Varty, our VP of hospitality to share her insights on how local tea rituals inform how she creates tea programs at four and five-star hotels around the world. Here’s what she had to say about setting up tea menus and service with our Chinese hotel clients:

“In hospitality, you have to consider two different dynamics: what the Chinese clientele want might be different from what the tourists desire and a hotel has to address both. Some properties want to bring in a contemporary universal teapot that is a cross between Chinese-style and British porcelain, while smaller yixing teapots or small glass or porcelain teapots might be used for a more specialty afternoon tea. The actual gongfu tea ceremony doesn’t occur in most hotels on a day-to-day basis. It’s offered at a specific time during afternoon tea. That interplay of style also works its way into the tea offerings themselves as Dragonwell and Ti Kuan Yin warm up to English Breakfast and Earl Grey on the tea menus.”

What strikes me about the Chinese tea ceremony that I love is that it’s not that ceremonial. It’s really about the tea and the social aspect, so it can be enjoyed among tea professionals and laymen. It’s okay to talk about tea and politics—it’s like Chinese culture—there’s a lot of room for interpretation.

 

Chill Out on National Iced Tea Day!

Mighty LeafJune 10th, 2014 by Mighty Leaf
National Iced Tea Day

With summer right around the corner it’s perfect timing for National Iced Tea Day. Start developing your daily chill out routine by choosing fresh-brewed, all natural and zero calorie iced tea that delivers ultimate refreshment. Go one step further and experiment with mixing up delicious and unique iced tea based beverages like an Earl Grey Arnold Palmer. Check out our simple recipe and enjoy! (more…)

Valentine’s Day Tea Tips: 5 Ways to Express Your Affection

February 7th, 2011 by admin

Valentine’s Day conjures up images of chocolate and flowers, but what about tea? Herbal potions, balms and other assorted plants and flowers have been used for centuries in connection with the pursuit of romance. So why not go old school and spice up your Valentine’s Day with some tea. Of course, you can always complement the gift with flowers and chocolate if necessary. We have 5 Valentine’s Day tips to share.

#1 Throw a Tea Party

Create your own tea party for two by pairing tea with fun and playful teaware. Our Matryoshka Tea Set for Two with stackable Russian doll tea cups is the perfect place to start. The teapot will put a smile on their face everytime they see it in the kitchen. If you make some sweets or sandwhiches to accompany the tea party, it will be an event to remember.

#2 Morning Tea in Bed

Start the special day off by preparing your loved one with morning tea in bed. Wake them up with our Organic Earl Grey, Vanilla Bean or Orange Dulce. Add some pastries, some sweets, fruit and, of course, lighting some candles can never hurt. Throw in the morning paper and the surprise is complete.

#3 Spa Treatment

Be good to someone you love and pamper them with a spa tea gift designed to soothe, restore and delight mind and body. Choose from our unique selection including our Matcha Clay Mask , a Spa Tea Book or our Oasia TeaFusion Spa Bath Pouches. For a unique twist, instead of using cucumbers on the eyes to reduce stress and tension, try using our tea pouches.

#4 Chocolate Truffle Tea

Satisfy their urge for chocolate with a healthy and flavorful chocolate truffle tea alternative. Made from the finest tea, chocolate, fruits and spices, our truffle teas make an indulgent and memorable gift.

#5 Tea Cocktails

Shake it up on Valentine’s Day with a new tea twist on cocktails. Serve up their favorite champagne, gin, vodka, sake or other spirits blended with our versatile tea infused Aperi-Tea mixers. Awaken and refresh with Chamomile Citrus Berry, Green Tea Tropical and Orange Jasmine Mango.

Of course, you can also make cocktails using our tea pouches or loose tea infusions as mixers for your favorite celebratory beverage. Check out this video on how to brew tea cocktails along with some tasty new recipes.

Happy Valentines Day All!