Mighty Leaf News
Join Eliot Jordan on his tea tour of the Shizuoka province of Japan, from factories, to fields, to tea houses.
The Japanese tea ceremony dates back to Sen no Rikyu, a tea master who served General Oda Nobunaga and then with his successor Toyotomi Hideyoshi. He's credited with his influence on the way of tea, also known as chado. The way of tea incorporated all of the major components of Japanese philosophy and aesthetics 500 years ago. Rikyu's influence extended to introducing the concept of wabi-sabi — an appreciation for beauty that is imperfect and impermanent into the tea ceremony, a style known as wabi-cha. The classical Japanese art seen in calligraphy and ikebana, the Japanese style of flower arranging are brought into the tea ceremony along with the issue of harmony and balance, finding the universal in the immediate and simple thing in front of you.
New ingredients come in every year in the tea world. If you consider the herbal tea world, there are half a dozen bases for all herbal teas. These include chamomile, mint, hibiscus, and rosehips, which form the flavor foundation for many herbal teas. They're all many centuries old and used widely. But rooibos has only been a worldwide tea ingredient for 25 years.
China, Japan, Great Britain, and other cultures offer a tea ceremony that is uniquely theirs. In the United States, we are a nation of immigrants and an American tea culture reflects this. As the American traditional approach to food has revolved around producing and consuming large quantities, there is a shift at play, demanding higher quality. With tea, we had a strong cultural bias early on because so many British came and settled here. Paul Revere was a silversmith and made teapots. The New England area was a little England. American colonists emulated the British style of tea-making to a degree up until the American war of Independence. Then, tea went from being the beloved drink of the country to a symbol of oppression. We became a coffee-drinking nation at that point, encouraged by the British-rival French who had already begun coffee cultivation in Martinique. In the 21st century, we are now becoming more well-versed in tea. The cultures of tea around the world are becoming more known and popular here too.
Britain's relationship with tea has everything to do with the British empire. The demand for tea made the empire happen. Without the demand for tea, I don't think it would have gotten as big as it did.* Morning is one part of the ritual as the traditional cuppa breakfast tea is drunk first thing, usually prepared with black loose tea. The ritual of tea continues into the afternoon tea. High tea derived its name from tea set on high tables for maids, cooks, and butlers of the big houses where they had a cup of tea and snacks at around 4 p.m., standing around a high table because there was no time to sit down. Low tea was the name for the tea service presented upstairs to the estate owners at low tables, and among finery.
If you go to China and partake in a traditional Chinese tea ritual, you will find the Chinese tea ceremony celebrates the tea itself and puts a lot of emphasis on the style and skill of the person brewing it. The ceremony is social and can be very formal or informal. One person takes charge of the brewing and commands the tea. The practice uses a gongfu style of multiple infusions that is done using a wooden tray with a small teapot and cups. The vessel that actually steeps the tea can either be a typical teapot with handle and spout, or it can be a special lidded cup called a gaiwan. The gaiwan cups consist of three parts: the saucer, small cups without handles, and lid. The lid keeps the tea warm inside the cup and acts as a strainer when sipping. With a teapot, hot water gets poured over the pot and is also used to refresh the leaves. The teapot might be a yixing terracotta teapot that is dedicated to brewing just one type of tea, or one simply made of porcelain or glass.
When the average American thinks of chai, I would venture to say what they envision is what you can purchase at coffee shops or cafes and is expected to be a pretty milky, sweet, and spicy black tea concoction made at the espresso machine with steaming milk.