When April arrives and spring starts awaking from its winter slumber, I long for Japan. Some of my best memories happened in the spring as nature shrugged off her winter layers of white and gray in exchange for a rainbow of color. One of the rites of Japanese spring in the small prefecture where I lived was tea ceremonies under the cherry blossoms. In my small town, I learned to appreciate the sit down tea experience in addition to the traditional Japanese tea ceremony. It’s been two weeks since my last Friday Five, so kindly pull up a comfy chair and allow me to nerd out with you over a couple of cups of tea.
Q1: Do you have a favorite style of tea?
Hot. Cold. Sweet. Unsweetened. Milk or Cream? Sugar or Honey? Japanese. British. Irish. Chinese. I like all kinds!! I’m like the United Nations of Tea Appreciation. Have I perfected the perfect cup? Absolutely not, but I would truly love to explore the rich history and culture of tea one cup at a time. In A History of the World in Six Glasses, Thomas Standage talks at length about the rich and diverse origins of tea and it’s economic impact upon the world.
Like beer, wine, alcohol, and coffee, I want to learn more than just the surface knowledge and geographical trivia related to tea. I desire development of a refined palette, understanding of cultural and presentational service practices, and to truly know when I am being swindled.
Q2: What tea implements are you still on the hunt for?
For basic Japanese Tea Ceremony, I need high grade powdered matcha tea. I would like to do detailed research prior to committing to a tin as not all matcha powders are equal. Like craft beers and fine wines, you can tell when you have an unfortunate one. I know of some Japanese markets in New York, and there are several Asian supermarkets here in Orlando.
I also would like a proper lacquered natsume (matcha storage caddy), fukusa (serving cloths), and chashaku (bamboo measuring scoop) for starters and should I find a formal place to learn, additional implements such as a hishaku (bamboo water scoop), mizusashi (hot water discard basin), as well as attendee supplies such as serving papers and picks for the sweets. Locating proper Japanese tea ceremony sweets without breaking the bank will be a challenge, too. I bought a gorgeous handmade tea bowl and a chasen (bamboo whisk) at the Hoggetown Medieval Faire by SwampFires.
For Traditional Afternoon Tea, I would love to obtain a tea cozy and larger teapot. I also lack a matching service set for tea and sugar as well as tiered serving platters. I need to make a pilgrimage to The British Shoppe, and get some authentic goods for my tea party needs.
Q3: Is Japanese Tea Ceremony really as formal as I’ve seen in photos?
If you attend a proper ceremony, it can last for several hours depending on the number of attendees. It is not an affair that you can simply drop in and out of, however, I did attend less formal Japanese tea parties under the cherry blossom trees, too.
Many Japanese are aware that non-Japanese do have trouble sitting in seiza (on folded legs) for extended periods of time, so often they will extend the courtesy for Western guests to sit more comfortably. However, women should not sit cross-legged, but legs together and to the side like a mermaid. All feet should be covered by socks or stockings, and pointed away from the tea as often the bowls of tea and plates of snacks can be shared. Plus, one should try to keep their feet away from food regardless of culture.
There are many intricacies, so it isn’t uncommon to ask for help. The Japanese spoken is more formal, but the interaction is more about the sights (pattern and design of the bowl/serving dishes, flower arrangements, kimono appreciation), sounds (water pouring, whisking the matcha powder into hot tea), and smells of the tea room or venue (bamboo mats, flowers). I had the opportunity to attend several tea ceremonies of varying formality, and always deferred to the elders in the room. Many would make me their protege and take me under their wing, so I often selected seats near the middle. Although beer can be quite the social lubrication in Japan, the tea ceremony often fosters a deeper appreciation of life.
Q4: What are you favorite brands of tea?
When I was in undergrad, I lived on boxes Celestial Seasonings and bottomless pots of tea at Perkins. I am not playing up the poor college kid trope. I simply had no idea where to start when it came to tea. My tea consumption habits started by trial and error via sharing with girls on my floor, but so long as it was hot and kept me going through finals every semester. These days, I go by the recommendation of friends and cafe servers. So long as it doesn’t have mango, I’ll give it a try. I do not have a preference of loose tea versus bagged.
- American: Harney & Sons , Teavana
- English: Twinings Tea, Ahmad Tea
- Irish: Barry’s Tea, Lyons Tea, Bewley’s Tea on Grafton Street (Dublin, Ireland)
- Japanese: I prefer Japanese green tea, but I am curious about non-imported black teas.
- Local (Orlando, FL): Tea and Tea, Dandelion CommuniTea House
Part of the Bewley’s Cafe Christmas windows on Grafton Street in Dublin!
Q5: Where in the U.S. have you enjoyed formal tea?
- Japanese Tea Ceremony – The Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens (Boca Raton, FL)
- Afternoon Tea – Garden View Tea Room at the Disney Grand Floridian Resort (Lake Buena Vista, FL), The Ritz-Carlton Grande Lakes Lobby Lounge (Orlando, FL), The Ritz-Carlton Westchester Lounge (White Plains, NY)
- Nerdy Tea – Alice’s Tea Cup (Volumes I, II, & III; New York, NY)
I loved falling down the rabbit holes in Wonderland with Alice’s Tea Cup!
A personal goal I have is finding local resources for learning and investing in product because I want to support local businesses. I would rather pay a local premium (outside of EPCOT), knowing that it will in turn help a local shop owner. Time to put my think cap on and pull up the local review platforms and see what I can find!
Answer Me, These Questions Three
- What is your favorite style, blend, or flavor of tea?
- Where do you order/purchase your tea items?
- Where have you had your most memorable tea experience?
Stopping for an on a go brew in Edinburgh, Scotland!