Jul 28, 2010

Charcoal heat vs. Electric Heat

There are pros and cons about using an electric burner while making tea. It's nice not having to worry about flying embers setting the tea room on fire, spilt water extinguishing your coals or carbon monoxide poisoning. It may be faster to adjust the temperature of the water with a twist of a nob. But in my humble opinion – in the age of the electric burner – tea practitioners are losing something unique to the experience of chado.

I say this because yesterday during class I made tea using live charcoal for the first time. I had no idea how different it was! The sound and behavior of the water in the kama is completely different. You have to be more attuned to the singing, like the particular pitch of the kama when the fire is dying down. This signals the guests that the chaji is almost completed. It's too bad it can be difficult to obtain and use charcoal outside of Japan. I think it really adds something to the overall aesthetic of the way of tea.

What differences have you observed in regards to charcoal heat vs. electric heat?


  1. Zuiun in kyoto used to sell 10kg boxes that one could have shipped two and two by ship. I do not remember the cost, but it would be yet another thing to add to the cost of the keiko-ba.

  2. Hello Marius,
    Thank you for your comment. We were so lucky to be able to do sumi every day at Midorikai, weren't we?

    Unfortunately, for people in the U.S. it is no longer legal to import charcoal.

  3. Asakichi in San Francisco is still able to get sumi. It comes by sea on a container ship. However, it takes awhile, so check your supply well in advance. Here at Boukakuan, we use sumi all the time (even though we have electric capability). When people book a tea ceremony, I think it's important that they see how charcoal has been used for centuries. All they know are briquets! I even offer our Philadelphia students the opportunity to come for haigata lessons during the Furo season.

  4. Drew,
    Good resource to know. I haven't tried to order sumi from Asakichi, but I'll check it out. We do use sumi for special events, but not for regular classes. We have done haigata for events, too. Your students are very lucky.

  5. Hi Margie,

    Wonderful site you have, and great content, which I will spend some time learning from.
    I know this is an old post, but as I was going back in time, I stopped here to say hi, and to tell you that even though I wasn't a Midorikai enrolled student, but had the pleasure of spending a week there, I was lucky to have a teacher who used sumi in her house in Tokyo, which was something rare.

    I loved sumi demae so much. To me, it felt an essential part of any gathering, and it sets the mood, which is also a very logical start for such experience. It is like using ink from a bottle for shodou, as opposed to rubbing a real sumi stick on the stone. The sumi prepares the mind and soul for the whole thing, as if you're cooking on low temperature. And of course the okou is a great treat, and burns much better with sumi.

    Keep posting your Chanoyu Diaries.

    All the best,


  6. Ahmad,
    Thank you for taking the time to look at the blog. Please feel free to comment on any of the posts.