Continued from Tuesdays With Norwood: In Japan – Part 7

The most eloquent explanation I’ve read of tea’s importance in life is to be found in The Book of Tea written in 1906 by Kakuzo Okakura, who was born a decade after Commodore Perry’s mission to Japan and was reared in the strict moral code of the samurai.

It is in the Japanese tea ceremony that we see the culmination of tea ideals. Our successful resistance to the Mongol invasion of 1281 had enabled us to carryon the [Song] movement so disastrously cut off in China itself though the nomadic inroad. Tea with us became more than an idealization of the form of drinking: It is a religion of the art of life. The beverage grew to be an excuse for the worship of purity and refinement, a sacred function….The tearoom was an oasis in the dreary waste of existence where weary travelers could meet to drink from the common spring of art appreciation. The ceremony was improvised drama whose plot was woven about the tea, the flowers, and the paintings. Not a color to disturb the tone of the room, not a sound to mar the rhythm of things, not a gesture to obtrude on the harmony, not a word to break the unity of the surroundings, all movements to be performed simply and naturally-such were the aims of the tea ceremony. And strangely enough it was often successful. A subtle philosophy lay behind it all. Teaism was Taoism in disguise.

The ceremony invariably employs powdered tea whipped into a froth, Song style. “The use of the steeped tea of the later China,” Okakura adds, “is comparatively recent among us, being only known since the middle of the seventeenth century.” He does not add the fact that Japan then developed a sencha ceremony for steeped tea! Dr. Patricia J. Graham’s original Tea of the Sages: The Art of Sencha shows how the Yamamoto family of Tokyo, probably the world’s oldest surviving tea business, popularized leaf tea, eventually developing gyokuro and genmaicha. Artists!

An excerpt from New Tea Lover’s Treasury, by James Norwood Pratt