In the ongoing battle of coffee versus tea, I have to confess, I drink both, with tea being my beverage of choice. And constant companion.
Coffee is my morning wake up. My preferred brew is Dunkin Donuts hazelnut, to which I add a generous spoon of cinnamon before brewing, no sugar, no cream.
Now my tea, I drink iced, also no sugar, and I basically drink it when I’m awake. I’ve joked for years my blood type is A-tea-positive…..
For my post today, I’m visiting tea customs and rituals from a few different cultures. The first one that came to mind was England, of course, because I love all things British. Second was Japan, because of reading about it in Memoirs of a Geisha.
What I read of Japanese tea ceremony alone could cover a whole blog post. (I’ll try to keep it brief.) Called matcha, there are two classes of tea ceremonies, both elaborate and precise in their execution. A formal ceremony is called chaji, and informal gatherings are chakai. The chakai might be compared with western idea of a tea party with light sweets and finger foods. Chaji, however, is a full-course meal, and can last for several hours.
Two aesthetics have evolved, expressed in both chaji and chakai. Wabi is the spiritual experience; sabi on the other hand, is the material surroundings. Not surprising, both wabi and sabi are characterized by natural elements and simplicity, asymmetry and imperfection, which points to enlightenment, or satori.
Specific tea equipment, called chadogu, must be implemented; some are centuries old, but all are handled with utmost care.
- Chawan – Tea is consumed from bowls, called chawan. Shallow bowls allow the tea to cool more rapidly, and are used in the summer. Irregularities and imperfections are prized, and are featured prominently on the front of the bowl. (see satori above)
- Chakin – a small rectangular white linen or hemp cloth used to wipe the tea bowl.
- Natsume – a small lidded container that holds the powdered tea.
- Chashaku – tea scoops, generally carved from a single piece of bamboo.
- Chasen – the tea whisk, also carved from a single piece of bamboo. Different whisks are used for different ceremonies.
A set sequence is followed in the Japanese tea ceremony. When guests arrive, they store unneeded items in an interior waiting room, then to an outdoor waiting bench. A purifying ritual follows a silent bow between host and guests, before proceeding on to the tea room. Footwear is left outside the tea room. The procedure of serving the meal of chaji or the chakai are intricate, and varied. Each action is performed in a very specific way, and has specific significance.
A few more key elements to note. For the meal portion of the ceremony, a hanging scroll is hung in a place of significance. Between the meal and the “dessert” portion, there is a break and guests leave the tea room. Upon returning, the scroll has been replaced with a chabana, or flower arrangement. The floor of the tea room is covered with tatami mats. The arrangement of the mats has varied significance. Many of the movements of the tea ceremony are specific to the kimono worn, intended to move the long sleeves out of the way, or for straightening the kimono.
Green tea was first imported from China in the 17th century. In 1657, the owner of a coffeehouse in London had to explain the new beverage to his customers. Hard to imagine! Called a “China drink,” tea was first consumed by the upper and merchant class. With the influx of sugar and milk imports, which were added to black tea in the early 1700’s, black tea became the preferred tea.
Tea in Britain is customarily brewed in a porcelain teapot. In 1743, a porcelain manufacturer at Chelsea, England produced the first successful imitation of the Chinese equipage.
While high tea in Britain is quite formal, it is not as involved as the Japanese ceremony. Mugs are not customarily used, but tea cups and saucers. The host of a semi-formal tea ritual would likely adhere to the following procedure:
- Boil the water in a kettle.
- Pour boiling water in the teapot and swirl it, the pour it out. This step warms the teapot. (I so the same with my coffee cup in the mornings, although I cheat and use the microwave. Don’t nobody want hot coffee in a cold mug!)
- Loose tea leaves (or bags) are placed in the teapot before adding boiling water.
- Then fresh boiling water is poured over the tea in the pot. It is allowed to brew for 2 – 5 minutes. A tea cozy is sometimes used to keep the teapot from cooling.
- If milk is preferred, it is added to the cup prior to pouring the tea. Same with sugar.
- Using a tea strainer (I have a diffuser that I use with my loose tea. Which, by the way, is my own blend, courtesy of Adagio Tea. I named it Tessa’s Tea. But that’s another post for another time. wink wink) Oh, back on point, using a tea strainer, pour the boiling water into the cup.
There has been some debate over when to add the milk and sugar: before the tea is poured, or after. I don’t use either, so it is moot to me. However, I have been following The Great Coffee-Tea Debate between two of my author friends, Pepper Basham and Amy Leigh Simpson. Pepper recently posted a video of proper tea preparation, I think as proof that tea is better. I had never heard that you’re to add the cream and sugar before the tea! Thanks Pepper for educating me!
As in Japan, tea is not merely a beverage, but refers to a meal. With the formal dinner served late, tea became a meal between luncheon and dinner, including biscuits (or in Americanese, cookies.) One tradition provides cream and jam on scones, known as cream tea.
I’m a tea drinker and a coffee drinker. And as much as I love a good cup of Irish Breakfast Tea, or my Tessa’s Tea, my preferred beverage is good ol’ Luzianne.
Note: all information was found on Wikipedia.
Prompt #1: So, on which side of the coffee vs tea battle do you stand? Do you drink it hot or cold? Sweet or un?
Prompt #2: You are the host of a tea ceremony. In the midst of your ritual, one of your guests suddenly… what?
“I once said I should write down all the story ideas in my head so someone could write them someday. I had no idea at the time that someone was me!
Ms. Mason has been writing since 1995, and began working in earnest on her debut novel, Tessa in 2013. She resides in the Upstate of South Carolina since 1988. She is currently working on Clara Bess, the sequel to Tessa, which will be released in November of this year.
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