Jul 29, 2010

Tea house in Seattle

July 28, 2010
Recycled bottles pop up again, and this time they're a teahouse
Journal Staff Reporter

Architect Christopher Ezzell will spend next week in Occidental Park in a teahouse he fashioned from recycled plastic bottles.

The structure, created with the help of the Seattle branch of the Urasenke Foundation and others, will be made of 800 two-liter plastic bottles. Half of the bottles were previously used for a temporary art installation titled “waste not” in Pioneer Square's Nord Alley.

The cut-up bottles will be tied together with fishing line to make walls. The walls will hang off an aluminum hoop structure supported by aluminum poles, almost like a shower curtain.

“But hopefully it's going to look nicer than a shower curtain,” Ezzell said. The roof will be of Mylar previously used as a sail. Despite the effort at sustainability, some of the materials won't be green. “We couldn't be 100 percent LEED-certified,” quipped Ezzell, who heads a Vashon Island design firm called e workshop.

The project is equal parts architecture and performance installation. The idea is to build a three-dimensional structure where visitors can experience the intimate tea ceremony in which host and guest celebrate together.

“The experiment here is ‘can we have this experience in a busy urban setting and enjoy the values of (it)?'” said Ezzell, who is a student of tea at Urasenke. Inside the teahouse will be a platform made of reused cedar and cardboard, a flower arrangement and poem card that speaks to being in the moment. Ezzell and foundation members will demonstrate the tea ceremony Aug. 2 through Aug. 7, although the structure will be up through Aug. 8.

The teahouse is part of artSparks 2010, a program of King County's 4Culture and the city. The installations and performances — from street theater to temporary sculpture to music — will run through October in Occidental Park. The series began June 3 with “Build Here” by Room for Assembly, an artist collective that experiments with architecture.

Ezzell, who has a bachelor's in architecture from the Rhode Island School of Design, practiced architecture in New York City for 15 years before moving to Seattle. In 2004 he founded e workshop. The firm's work includes residential projects, Long Provincial restaurant and sidewalk cafe in downtown Seattle, the butter London shop at Sea-Tac, and the plaza and pedestal for the Alki Statue of Liberty in collaboration with Cast Architecture.

Copyright 2010 Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce

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?

Jul 24, 2010

Donation received

I would like to take the time to publicly acknowledge a donation to the blog I received last month.

Thank you Robert for your kind donation to help keep this blog going.

If you would like to make your own donation, please use the Paypal button in the left column.  It will be greatly appreciated.

Thank you all for reading,


Edited:  I'd like to acknowledge and thank Katie for her generous donation to the blog as well.  It is so good to know that people are reading and appreciate what I post.  Thank you.


Jul 23, 2010

Summer gomei

Summer is hot, so choosing gomei for your chashaku at class should make the guests feel cool.

Here are a few suggestions:

shimizu-- pure flowing water
koke shimizu - moss by the stream
natsugasumi - summer mist
kunpu - fragrant breeze
shigure -sudden shower
himuro - ice store room
suzu kaze - cool breeze
sei ryu - pure flow
haku un - white clouds
taki -waterfall
sei fu- pure breeze
ko un -floating clouds
niji -rainbow
ukiha - floating lotus leaves
yugao - moon flower or white gourd flower
hotaru - firefly
tombo - dtragonfly
kawa semi - kingfisher
semi shigure - cicada whose call sounds like falling rain

Please add your suggestions in the comments.  I'll be returning from Hawaii and live blog posts on the 24th.

Issoan summer intensive starts Monday July 26.  Contact me for details.

Jul 20, 2010

Zen cha ichimi

Zen and tea are one taste.  This is the philosphy that though Zen and the Way of Tea are different activities, the mental attitude and approach that constitute their basic nature are the same.  In the Zencharoku (Zen Tea Record) published in 1715, is says,

"The spirit of Tea is, namely, the spirit of Zen.  Accordingly, the spirit of Tea does not exist without the spirit of Zen.  One will not understand the taste of Tea without understanding the taste of Zen."

In tea lessons it is sometimes hard to grasp the aspects of Zen in Chado.  Gradually one learns things about breathing, for example, that are Zen reflected in Tea.  By studying Chado, students are studying Zen, though not in a formal way.   Learning to read scrolls and contemplating the meaning, sitting quietly waiting for sensei, and cleaning are other ways of absorbing Zen.

What other aspects of Chado do you see that reflect Zen?

Jul 17, 2010

Caring for your kama

Kama hitotsu areba chanoyu wa naru mono o kazu no dogu omotsu wa orokana.
Having one kettle you can make tea; it is foolish to possess many utensils.  ~ from Rikyu's hundred poems

If you have only one kettle or kama, you had better take good care of it.  Ordinarily you would fill the kama with cold water and put it over a charcoal fire to heat.  For class we fill it with hot water to save time. Never touch the outside of the kama with your bare hands.  The oils in your hands will leave permanent hand and finger prints on the cast iron.

First rinse the kettle with cold water. Then fill the kettle 1/3rd with cold water.  Don't pour boiling water directly into the kama.  Pour the water into a hishaku placed inside the mouth of the kama so that the water overflows and fills the kama.  Ladle out hot water and rinse the outside of the kama until the kettle is one cup below the top of the mouth.  Take one more scoop of hot water and put the lid on the kama and rinse the lid with the last scoop. 

Lift the kama with the kan (rings) and set it on a towel to blot the bottom of the kama.  You can now place it on the gotoku (trivet) in the tea room.  The kan always travel together.  Hold them properly side to side with the openings to the bottom.  Put them in the lugs of the kama by holding them in front of you and taking one in each hand.  Put the tail of each kan in the lugs and twist the left one towards you, the right away from you.  Turn them only a quarter turn so that the openings will not come out of the lugs.  Then rest the rings against the kama and pick them up from the top. 

A kama full of hot water is heavy and dangerous so be careful carrying it so no hot water spills out of it.  Carry it closer to your body to keep control of it.  It is best to sit down first before attempting to put the kama down. Once the kama is situated and level on the gotoku take the kan out of the lugs by twisting them the opposite way you put them in. Open the lid slightly to let the steam out. Put the rings together to carry them back to the mizuya.

To empty the kama after class, put the kan into the lugs and lift the kama off the fire.  Then stand and carry it to the mizuya.  Place the kama on it's wood stand in the sink. Take off the lid and dry the underside.  Ladle out hot water to rinse all around the outside.  Reserve a scoop or two of hot water and then take two towels and turn the kama upside down, emptying all the hot water out.  Use the hot water to rinse the bottom of the kama.  If you have a kama brush use it to lightly brush the bottom in a circle and rinse one more time.  Turn the kama over again (use towels) and gently blot the bottom inside.  Be careful not to touch the sides as they are very hot.  Put the kan in and pick up the empty kama, rest it on a towel to blot the bottom and return the kama to the gotoku to dry over the heat.  Make sure that there is no more steam coming from the kama (if my glasses don't get fogged, it is dry) then turn off the heat and let the kama cool before putting it away.

If you care for your kama, it will last you a lifetime, and you will only need one.

Jul 14, 2010

Filling the natsume

One of the most important tasks to prepare for tea is to fill the natsume with the powdered tea.   Depending on the shape of the container, the tea inside will have different shapes.  When you are using a Rikyu style natsume the tea will be scooped into the container with the chashaku.   A soft mound of tea like a hill is formed with the top of the hill coming approximately to the top of the open container and the bottom of the hill coming to the bottom of the line where the lid fits on.   I have been taught various ways of doing this, and you will have to choose the one that works for you. 

One way is to turn the natsume in your left hand as you scoop tea with the right, turning the natsume to get an even symmetrical hill.  You can scoop the tea in without turning the natsume (my preferred method).  With a full scoop of tea, gently lay it in the natsume and let it fall sideways off the tea scoop so that it stays soft and fluffy.

When you have a hira or flat natsume the hill of tea is shallower (see picture)  and if you have a nakatsugi (middle cut) you make a sharp cone with the tea.

Some people then take a tissue or other tool and break up the clumps of tea on top, so that it is smooth.  I don't like to do this, I just scoop the tea in and if I have done it right, there won't be clumps of tea on top. If you have dropped tea around the outside or on the lip that holds the lid, carefully wipe it off with a tissue.  Try not to wipe the tissue inside the natsume.

It takes practice to fill the natsume correctly and beautifully.   Remember, when you put the natsume out for haiken, the guests will be looking at how well you mounded the tea and how carefully you scooped tea and left the hill intact.

Jul 13, 2010

Waste Not, Want Not

I read an interesting article in The Oregonian today regarding food waste. Here is some fascinating information from that article:

A new study from the National Institute of Health says that a whopping 40% of what farmers grow ends up in the garbage. That number has increased, too: in 1974, just 30% ended up as food waste. The food we throw out consumes 4% of US oil and more than 25% of our fresh water. It produces methane when it rots in our landfills. The marketing of this excess food helps drive the obesity epidemic. Are we producing too much food? The wrong kind of food? Or do we deliver it to the wrong places? Or is it all three?

The article struck a chord in me. We live in a society of excess that I think we, as tea people, struggle with all the time. Using this as an example, we fight waste in our own homes every day. We overfill our plates and scrape leftovers down the garbage disposal or food spoils in our refrigerators. We, as a society, throw away food at the farm, in retail outlets and in our homes. It wastes money and hurts the environment. The four “Rs” (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Repair) need to not only be applied to our paper, aluminum and glass but rather ALL of the materials we use in our households.

I challenge you to reduce the amount of food you are throwing away. Cook less, buy only what you and your family will eat or save leftovers for later. Use “normal waste” twice by turning it into yummy soup stock. Feed safe food to your pets or compost waste at home. In the study of tea, we are encouraged to not live life to excess. I encourage you to bring that mind-set into your kitchens.

Jul 11, 2010

Iced matcha

The summer months of July and August are the most challenging for tea people.  Asa chaji held in the early morning to beat the heat for this time of year is considerate of guests.  Images of water, waterfalls, rivers, streams and water dripping on moss project coolness.  A larger room with reeds instead of shoji to let in any cool breeze can be used.  Sunlight in the tea room is to be avoided, so a darker room will seem cooler. White flowers, unfinished wood utensils and images of water birds also add to the illusion of coolness.

I have also made iced matcha tea in the tea room at this time of year. When bringing in kensui, also bring in a chawan of ice cubes with a porcelain spoon.  Put the bowl of ice near the wall with your left hand. Make tea as usual but use a little less water.  Before putting out the teabowl for the guest, take the bowl of ice in your left hand and with your right hand scoop one or two ice cubes and gently float them in the matcha.  The hot water will melt the ice, and the tea will be cooled without disturbing the foam on the top.

I'll be in Hawaii for the next two weeks, family business and then I'll be attending the Midorikai reunion and the Hawaii Chado Seminar.  In the meantime, Karla will be posting and I have a few things that will  show up from time to time. When I get back I'll have a lot to blog about.

Contest Winners

Thank you to all who entered the contest.  We have two winners.   Sharku won the red raku bowl, and Karla won the book "Tea Here Now"   Please email your mailing address to my email in my profile and I'll send to you right away.

Jul 8, 2010

Chado in the real world

I love to enter the tea room, view the scroll and flowers and smell the incense.   The tea room is a safe place where the rules of etiquette ensure that everyone knows what is coming and how to conduct themselves. We are among people who share the ideals of wa, kei, sei and jaku.  This is the world of tea. 

And yet, there is this duality.   My life in tea, or my life when not doing tea.  Which is the real world?  Sometimes it feels like the tea room is more real than the rest of my life where I worry about finances, conflicts at work, my family, shopping and many other things.In the tea room, I am only concerned with making good tea, concern for my guests and doing my best. 

For many years, I had to drive across town after work to attend tea class.   Right in the middle of the most awful traffic is when I'd be on the freeway driving to sensei's house. Sometimes it took me more than two hours to get there and I dreaded making the trip.  By the time I got to class I was late, frustrated and distracted.  One night I noticed on my way home that every time I went to tea class, I was very happy driving home.  Most of the time, traffic was very light, but sometimes it was just as bad as when I went to class. It didn't matter, I was very happy driving home.  

Sensei says "Wa, kei, sei, jaku are easy in the tea room."  That is what she was training me in.  The hard part was taking wa, kei, sei, jaku with you when you left.  When we begin to take the way of tea seriously, something changes in our lives. We want to share the experience we have in the tea room with others.  I noticed in my own life how I began to clean up after myself, even though I had been rather a slob growing up.  I started to empty my house of things, talked softer and lost my temper less.   My husband said that tea had ceased to be a hobby with me and became a lifestyle.

The Urasenke Creed begins:

We are sincerely learning the essence of Chado and practice to put it into our daily lives. We continually reflect upon ourselves to attain this end.  In accepting a bowl of tea, we shall be grateful for the kindness of others and always mindful of mutual consideration.  We shall communicate the virtues of Chado through our own example:

  1. We shall consider others first.
  2. We are a family and Iemoto is our parent.  All who enter his gate to learn Chado are brothers.  As we are one in spirit, we shall respect all we meet.
  3. As we advance along the Way of Tea, we shall always keep the spirit of the the beginner.
  4. With a sincere and generous heart, we shall work together to cultivate ourselves to illuminate the world in which we live.

Jul 1, 2010

Prizes, prizes, prizes

This post will be the 300th post on the SweetPersimmon blog.  Thank you all for reading, following and commenting.   I love to hear from readers and I know there are many out there lurking.  So in honor of this milestone, I am running a contest --- With prizes!

Third prize is a CD of spoken word haiku "The Haiku Year," by yours truly.  A recording of haiku written over the course of a year, one every single day.  Yes, I'll include a written copy too.

Second prize is a copy of the book "Tea Here Now" by Donna Fellman and Lhasha Tizer.  Donna studied tea with me in Seattle and  is the director of Tea Education Alliance and owner of Bodhidarma Tea Company in Louisville, Colorado.

First prize is a red raku teabowl.  This bowl was made by Tad Kamiya, an American potter.  There is a kiln crack in the rim, but it was repaired with gold and is a lovely.pinkish color.  Measurements are 120mm wide by 85mm tall.(that is 4 3/4" wide by 3 1/2" tall for us Americans). See photos below.

And now the criteria for the contest.   It's easy. It's all about mistakes.We all make them.  We are all embarrassed by them. It's not about perfection.  Minako sensei said, "If you are going to make a mistake, make it beautifully."   In the comments section of this post tell me about the worst tea mistake you ever made.  The juicicer the better.  So entertain us.  Tell us how you made the most beautiful of mistakes. Making them in public gets you extra points.  Prizes will be awarded by me as sole judge.

The contest will remain open until July 10.  Winners will be announced on the blog.  If you are chosen, please contact me with your shipping information.  I do ship internationally.

So I will start off with one of my favorite mistakes:   I was at a chakai in Kyoto, one with hundreds of guests.  It was at Yasaka shrine in the Gion in a large room, about 100 tatami mats.  It was one of the first chakai I attended in Japan.  There were about 100 little old tea ladies all lined up around the perimeter of the room, and I spoke not a word of Japanese.  We were pretty far away from where they were making tea, but they started serving the sweets from the kitchen. It was one of my favorites-- melt in your mouth senbei with a very pretty design on it.  After I passed the sweets tray I picked up my kaishi and the sweet dropped off of it and rolled onto the tatami.  And rolled, and rolled and rolled.  It kept rolling until it reached nearly the middle of the huge room and then it made a circle and took forever to settle down.  There was total silence as everyone watched the path of the runaway sweet.  Of course everyone was craning their necks to see whose sweet was that in the middle of the room.  I also was looking this way and that pretending that it was not my sweet.  Luckily one of the ladies serving tea from the mizuya stopped and picked it up on her way back to the kitchen.