Saturday Morning Tea

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As the full moon set on this frosty morning, I rose out of bed and wrapped myself in a big fluffy robe to greet the day. A perfect morning for something spicy to warm me up, I simmered some Chai in a pan on the stove while I made breakfast.

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Masala chai is a traditional Indian blend of black tea and spices – cardamon seed pods, cinnamon pieces, clove, ginger and black pepper. An Indian gentleman once told me that they would add the black tea leaves to the sweetened milk and then go to their spices and throw this and that in to simmer. So, each family had their own recipe and that could vary from day to day.

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I used Chai Spice blend and added a couple of spoonfuls to a cup of organic 2% milk. I simmered this mixture for 10 minutes and then added sweetener to taste. This results in a very spicy cup so it is one of the rare occasions where I will add sweetener to my tea. It smooths out the sharpness of the spices, especially my extra spicy version. Demerara sugar is unrefined with a high molasses content and works especially well.

Mmmmm, delicious!

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Japanese Tea Ceremony

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Last Sunday I had the honor, along with 3 of my work colleagues, of attending a Japanese Tea Ceremony at the Kaji Aso studio in Boston. Excitement was mounting all week as we eagerly looked forward to our visit. The studio is located right off of Huntington Ave. so it is very easy to find.

Jane, one of the tea apprentices, greeted us at the door as we arrived. She was beautifully dressed in a silk kimono and obi. We were graciously shown into the front room gallery of the brownstone, where the students display and sell their work. Rows of shelving on both sides of the room are filled with beautiful tea bowls, plates and ceramic vessels, created in their studio. After we looked around a little, we were led down a flight of stairs through the ceramics studio and out into the backyard. As we carefully stepped along the worn stone path, I felt my body and spirit relax and slip into that moment in time. I was already getting into “tea mind”.

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We entered the vestibule of the “House of Flower Wind” tea house by way of its beautiful garden, complete with koi pond and bamboo water fountains. We were instructed to remove our shoes before we entered the teahouse. A beautiful calligraphy scroll on the wall translates to “One moment, one life” or “One moment, full of friendship”. This principal of tea ceremony expresses the relationship of tea & Zen.

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One at a time, we entered the teahouse on our knees, bowed to the teamaster and sat down on the soft mat. We quietly watched as Kate made the tea – dip the bamboo ladle into the water kettle, pour, rinse and clean the tea bowl, spoon the powdered matcha with the bamboo scoop into the bowl, dip and pour the water, whisk the tea into a froth. Her movements were like a graceful dance, so mesmerizing and calming to watch. This first tea was prepared lightly with small sweets to enjoy before drinking the tea. The sweet is a nice balance to the pungency of the matcha. Before the stronger second tea, we had a pastry called “ohagi”, sweetened red beans over sweet rice sprinkled with soy powder. We also had a sweet rice rolled in ground black sesame. These delectable treats were served in 220 year old black lacquer covered bowls. Each tea was served in a tea bowl over 1000 years old. As each one of us in turn quietly drank from each bowl, we felt the ancient venerable energy infusing our tea experience. The tea tasted fresh, clean and delightfully pungent.

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Kate, Jane and Jennifer were delightful hosts, each taking a turn to make and serve the tea. We enjoyed chatting with them, during and after tea, learning about the tradition and history of the tea ceremony and about Mr. Aso and the studio he created. We are truly grateful for their kindness and hospitality. They created an amazing experience for us, one that we will never forget!

“I thought I saw you but then the moon hid behind the clouds and I lost you.” -Murasaki Shikibu