Saturday Morning Tea

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The bronzed leaves are rattling across my backyard deck like dried bones as they welcome this last day of October, All Hallowed Eve. Pouring rain and wind this past week have swept clean most of the leaves from their trees to create an autumn carpet laid across the lawns and streets. As I drove home last night, glowing jack-o-lanterns brought memories of carving pumpkins, and I inhaled the woodsy smell of fallen leaves as I got out of my car and made my way up the path home. I love this autumn time of year, perfect for cozying up with a hot cup of tea.

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As promised last week, this morning’s tea is very special. Called Zhang Ping Shui Hsian (or Xian), its leaves are finely plucked, hand processed and compressed into small bricks. Each “brick” is then exquisitely packaged into a shiny red, black and gold vacuum sealed packet for freshness.

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This Chinese Oolong is grown in Fujian province and lightly oxidized to create a greener Oolong tea, similar to a Jade or Tung Ting. I gently broke some leaves off of the brick for steeping.

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Because the leaves are not as oxidized as a darker Oolong or a black tea, I decided to steep at a green tea temperature and time, 180 degrees F for 3 minutes.

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As the leaves steeped in my glass teapot, they swirled and floated downward, reminding me of the dance of the leaves outside.

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It might be fall outside but it was like a springtime garden in my kitchen. A sweet lilac fragrance drifted up from my teapot as I removed the infuser basket. Mmmmm…

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The tea liquor is a pale gold brown with very distinctive floral aroma and flavor notes. A sweetness fills my mouth and gently lingers after each sip.

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I am sipping my tea from a gorgeous coppery red teabowl, generously lent to me by a colleague/friend at work. Thanks Rebecca. She purchased it at Target. I’ll have to go check out the teaware at Tar-zjay.

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The bronze leaves compliment the darker glazing on the bowl. After the Color Workshop I attended last weekend, I notice color everywhere! And, after looking through my tea leaf pictures, I’m not surprised that I chose green and orange as the color palette for my collage in the workshop. My life is steeped in tea leaves…

Happy Halloween, everyone!

“Never jump into a pile of leaves with a wet sucker.”

~Linus from It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

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Saturday Morning Tea

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On this sunny, late July morning, I’m getting off the tea path and venturing onto the herbal path.

This dried flower has been used for thousands of years in Chinese medicine. Here in New England, we commonly see it blooming from August all the way up to the first frost in October.

Have you guessed what it is yet?

You’re absolutely right – it is the chrysanthemum flower. In this case, yellow chrysanthemum. In my research, I have discovered that the Chinese use both the white and the yellow flower for medicinal purposes.

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I steeped the flowers for about 8 minutes in boiling hot water, resulting in a luminous, pale yellow infusion.

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Called Ju Hua, it has a cooling affect on the upper body so it is mainly used in Chinese medicine to reduce or clear heat from the body, such as bringing down a fever or high blood pressure. I have read that it is also a digestive aid, especially for greasy foods and can help with head congestion.

What a beneficial herb! I like to drink it for its honeyed, floral taste with notes of sage and pepper.

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Yesterday I purchased this lovely teabowl. The fabulous texture makes it look like it’s dripping with icing. Mmmm…

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A path dips down into my new bowl and awakens my imagination.

Where will it take me?

“Not all those who wander are lost.”

~J.R.R. Tolkien

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