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Japanese Philosophy of Tea: Wabi-sabi

Matcha Whisk, Powder and Bowl
Matcha Whisk, Powder & Bowl

Formalized in the 16th century by practitioner Sen no Rikyū, the practice of the Japanese tea ceremony, called chadō (“the way of tea”), is one of the most famous aspects of Japanese tea culture. Key to chadō is the concept of wabi-sabi, an essential component of Zen Buddhist philosophy.

Wabi-sabi Defined

Wabi-sabi is based on the acceptance of the beautiful impermanence of the natural world, and of the virtues of simplicity and imperfect form. Through the lens of wabi-sabi, a rough clay cup or rustic iron teapot – ordinarily so mundane and easy to overlook – becomes beautiful, transcendent, and worthy of meditation.

Adapting to the principles of wabi-sabi is not easy, especially in our modern and hyperconnected world. This mindset requires patience, quiet, and separation from the hustle of the daily grind. The aim of chadō is to facilitate such a transition. Every part of the tea ceremony, from its setting and architecture to its precisely choreographed rituals and equipment, is designed to assist practitioners in releasing themselves from the cares of the material world and the egotism of the self.

Chado

Japanese Tea Room by Yuki Yaginuma CC-BY-ND 2.0

A space set up for chadō must possess elegant simplicity. Traditional tea ceremony rooms emphasize minimalism, decorated with no more than a calligraphy wall scroll and a delicate flower arrangement. But even these seemingly small details must be selected with care. The calligraphy scroll may contain famous axioms, or seasonally appropriate meditations to serve as the theme of the ceremony. The floral arrangement is done in chabana, a style of ikebana specifically for tea ceremonies. Japanese mats, known as tatami, cover the floor. Tatami not only provides a surface for kneeling, but also forces participants to slow down and walk carefully as they move through the room.

Utensils for chadō are known as chadōgu. To the master chadō practitioner, these highly prized tools must be carefully handled, as well as meticulously cleaned before and after each use. While many specific chadōgu vary according to occasion, school, and season, the most essential to the tea ceremony include: a chawan (tea bowl), chaki (a caddy for matcha powder), chashaku (bamboo scoop), and chasen (bamboo whisk). The ritual usage and specific movements associated with each tool are designed to promote a meditative and familiar experience for the practitioner.

But beyond setting, styling, and tools, the most important aspect of chadō is the tea itself. For this, chadō masters reach for ceremonial grade matcha. This highest-quality matcha has been hand-harvested and ground on granite stones. Its rich complexity and character pairs perfectly with the careful and deliberate pace of a chadō ceremony, with bright grassy flavors undergirded with a bold umami body and a sweet finish that is designed to be savored slowly. During the ceremony, the matcha is typically served in both koicha (thick) and usucha (thin), allowing participants to experience its wonderful variety of flavors in different presentations.

Tea Appreciation

From its overarching philosophy to the smallest details of aesthetics, the practice of chadō is rooted in the expression of wabi-sabi and Zen Buddhist contemplation. In all the hectic busyness of daily life, perhaps there are lessons we, too, can learn from the tranquil art of tea appreciation.

By: Jen Coate

Floral Tea: History of Brewing Flowers

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, we’ve been getting into the spirit by brewing up some of our favorite floral tea blends. From classics like Jasmine Green and Lotus Blossom to newer favorites like The Rose Garden, there are teas for lovers of almost every kind of flower you can imagine. And as it turns out, the practice of using flowers to flavor tea blends is nearly as old and widespread as the art of tea itself.

The Rose Garden Tea Dry Leaf and Brew
The Rose Garden Tea Dry Leaf and Brew

Some of the earliest records we have on the use of floral infusions come from Persia, during the Sasanian Empire (224-651 CE). Although Persian royalty had long been known for their love of beautiful gardens, it was during this era that methods of steaming petals to make rosewater were perfected. Rosewater was soon used in everything from perfumes to cosmetics to medicinal decoctions, and its popularity spread throughout Europe, northern Africa, and western Asia. Ancient Greeks and Romans associated the flower with Aphrodite (also known as Venus) and like the Persians made broad use of the flower in almost every application imaginable. Roses continued to be used worldwide in folk remedies over the centuries, and with the introduction of tea culture into Europe it was only inevitable that the two would be combined. Western recipe books and home journals begin suggesting the additions of rose petals to tea blends by the early Victorian era, gaining special popularity around the turn of the 20th century. Today, rose petals are one of the most popular additions to teas of all types, as well as tisanes.

Jasmine flowers scenting green tea
Jasmine flowers scenting green tea

Across the world in China, tea merchants have been using jasmine flowers to scent and blend with green tea since the Song Dynasty (960-1279 CE). This era also saw the growing popularity of chrysanthemum teas and tisanes, as the lightly fragrant yellow blossom was prized not only for its medicinal properties but its sweet and delicate flavor. Chrysanthemum tea soon spread to Japan by the 5th century, and also to Korea, where it remains popular alongside other flower tisanes such as peach and plum blossom.

Two other flowers that are commonly seen in tea blends and tisanes are chamomile and lavender, both of which have long been thought to possess calming or sleep-inducing properties. Like roses, lavender and chamomile blossoms have been used for medicinal purposes since antiquity, with ancient physicians such as Dioscorides prescribing them for all sorts of ailments from indigestion to headaches. Preparing these blossoms for consumption by infusing them in boiling water was commonplace, and they were often paired with herbs like mint, sage, and rosemary for a more palatable and very fragrant tisane.

As all this history attests, flower petals and tea can make for delicious and beautiful combination. We especially love brewing floral tea in either a glass teapot or gaiwan to fully appreciate the appearance of the blossoms as they infuse. During a long and dreary winter, flower teas are just one small way to look forward to the coming days of spring.

By: Jen Coate

History of Green Tea: A Trip through Time

Tea plant

Of all the tea types, green tea has an extraordinarily long and complex history, far beyond what historical records can adequately cover. Tracing its development from what evidence we do have, however, gives us a fascinating cross-section of tradition and culture.

The discovery of tea in China is legendarily placed around 3000 BCE, by Shen Nong, the divine cultivator. Although the veracity of the date is impossible to confirm, written records indicate that tea was certainly being consumed for medicinal purposes by 59 BCE. Preparation would have been minimal compared to today’s processing, as tea leaves were simply plucked, ground, and then boiled with other herbs and spices into a thick and bitter concoction.

By the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE), tea consumption was commonplace throughout the empire, gaining popularity first in the imperial courts, then spreading across the countryside and among the nomadic peoples in the north and west. By this point, tea leaves were processed after plucking by being steamed to stop oxidation, and then pounded into compressed cakes. Pieces of these cakes would be broken off when needed, and ground into a fine powder, which was then whipped into hot water (much like Japanese matcha, which was developed from this tradition). It was during this era that Chinese scholar Lu Yu wrote his Classic of Tea, an extensive treatise on tea types, philosophy, cultivation, and preparation, which laid the foundation for Chinese tea culture as we know it. Some of China’s most famous teas are mentioned in this work, including Dragon Well (Longjing) and Liu An Gua Pian (Melon Seed Tea). Green tea drinking became a Chinese institution, and gradually spread to its neighboring countries of Japan and Korea, whose people would go on to develop their own tea cultivars and tea-drinking cultures.

Tea fields in Fuding, China. In the history of green tea, this is one of the oldest growing regions.

The Song Dynasty (960-1279 CE) saw the rise in popularity of loose-leaf green tea, sometimes blended with ingredients such as onion, pickle juice, ginger, or orange peel. Throughout the long eras of the Yuan and Ming Dynasties (1279-1644 CE), loose leaf green tea gradually began to dominate the Chinese market, and producers began to pan-fry leaves to stop oxidation instead of steaming them.

By the time tea was introduced to Western merchants in the 16th century, the green tea being produced by China was almost entirely the same as the beverage we know today – the process of many centuries of careful refinement and long tradition.

By: Jen Coate

Holiday Tea Cookies

Holiday Cookies with Tea: Green Tea Ginger Biscuits, Lapsang Souchong Maple Cookies, and Chai Chocolate Chip Cookies

Is there anything better than tea and cookies? How about cookies that are made with tea? Here are a few tasty treats that we’ve come up that use tea as a main ingredient. Just in time for the holidays!

Green Tea Ginger Biscuits

Green Tea Ginger Biscuits
3/4 cup (170 g) ginger biscuits green tea infused butter, at room temperature*
1/2 cup granulated sugar, plus 1/4 cup for coating
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
1 egg
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt

  1. In a medium bowl, whisk to combine flour, baking soda, spices, and salt. Set aside.
  2. Using either a hand mixer or stand mixer, cream together infused butter and sugars, mixing for about 2 minutes until mixture is pale, and fluffy. Add egg and honey, one at a time, beating on medium-low speed until combined. Add dry ingredients gradually, beating until evenly incorporated.
  3. Place dough in airtight container and chill for at least 2 hours.
  4. Once dough is completely chilled, preheat oven to 350°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Roll dough into 1-inch balls, then roll in sugar to coat before placing on prepared baking sheet.
  5. Bake for 8-10 minutes until cookies are puffed and slightly cracking on the top, and golden on the edges (they will flatten as they cool). Remove from oven, allow to cool for 4-5 minutes before placing on a wire rack.
  6. Decorate with your favorite festive glaze, frosting, or sprinkles (we drizzled ours with a matcha and white chocolate glaze).

*when infusing tea into butter, your butter quantity will appear to decrease as it melts and re-solidify. To make certain your amount is correct, use a weight measurement. See our recipe for infusing butter with tea.

Lapsang Souchong Maple Cookies

Lapsang Souchong Maple Cookies
3/4 cup salted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/3 cup Lapsang Souchong infused maple syrup, plus 2 tablespoons to glaze
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 egg, at room temperature
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

  1. Using a stand or hand mixer, cream together butter and brown sugar. Add in Lapsang Souchong maple syrup and vanilla and beat until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add egg, mixing until combined. Add flour, baking soda, and salt, then beat until fully incorporated.
  2. Preheat oven to 350°F. Drop dough by the tablespoon onto a parchment or silicone lined baking sheet (if dough feels too wet to hold its shape, chill until firm). Bake for 12-14 minutes until cookies are a light golden brown.
  3. While cookies are still warm, brush tops lightly with remaining Lapsang Souchong infused maple syrup to glaze. Leave on baking tray for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Top with sprinkles or other decorations, if desired.

Chai Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chai Chocolate Chip Cookies
3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
5 teaspoons chocolate chai, ground into a fine powder and sifted
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 1/2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
12 ounces dark chocolate chips or chunks

  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and tea powder. Set aside.
  2. Using a hand or stand mixer, beat together melted butter and brown and white sugars until fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time until combined. Add vanilla extract and mix.
  3. Add flour mixture in a single batch, mixing gently at a low speed. Mix until mostly combined, then beat at medium-high until fully incorporated and no flour streaks remain. Add in chocolate and mix until evenly distributed. Transfer dough to airtight container and allow to chill for at least an hour and up to 2 days.
  4. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats. Using a cookie scoop or tablespoon, scoop dough out into balls on sheets, rolling slightly with hands to form. Space dough balls generously to allow for spread.
  5. Bake for 7-10 minutes, until golden brown. After removing from oven, optionally sprinkle with a pinch of flaky salt for added flavor.

Created by Jen Coate

Warm Cocktails for the Holiday Season

Move over, hot toddies! Tea has so much more to offer the world of cocktails than as a simple mix-in. Last year, we explored tea concentrates to make up a batch of festive holiday drinks; this year, we’ve taken our Lapsang Souchong maple syrup and come up with three cocktail recipes to showcase its bold smoke and rich sweet-savory flavors. Enjoy!

Mr. Fortune’s Old -Fashioned

Mr. Fortune’s Old-Fashioned

2 oz peated scotch
¼ oz Lapsang Souchong infused maple syrup
3-5 dashes black walnut bitters

In a mixing glass, add ingredients over ice and stir to combine. Strain over single large ice cube and garnish with orange peel or a cherry. For an extra flavor kick, smoke-rinse your glass with dry Lapsang Souchong tea leaves just before pouring. If you are wondering who Mr. Fortune is, you should read this blog post.

Typhoon Season

Typhoon Season

1 egg white
1 oz pineapple juice
1 oz Lapsang Souchong infused maple syrup
½ lime, juiced
1 oz Lapsang Souchong tea concentrate (steep 1 tbsp. tea in 1 cup water for 15 minutes)
2 oz mezcal

Combine ingredients in shaker and dry shake (no ice) vigorously for at least 30 seconds. Add ice to shaker, shake, and double strain into glass. Garnish with lime or your favorite tropical botanicals.

Mulled Maple Cider

8 oz apple cider
1 oz whiskey
2-3 tbsp Lapsang Souchong infused maple syrup, to taste
¼ tsp lemon juice
1 pinch cinnamon
1 pinch ground cloves

Combine all ingredients except whisky in saucepan on the stove; warm over medium heat until mixture is heated through and flavors have settled. Remove from heat, add whiskey, and pour into mug. This recipe is perfect for making in large batches; scale up ingredients as necessary. Can also be served sans whiskey for a tasty and alcohol-free autumn warmer.

By: Jen Coate