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Kyūsu Workshop at macha-macha

Long time no post! Shortly after I made my last entry here, my husband and I began to prepare for our move from Vancouver to Germany. There was a lot of spending time with friends and family we loved, bureaucracy, and giving away of almost everything we owned. We landed in Berlin with our dog and cat in early October, and again had a lot of paperwork and other details to sort out. Things are slowly beginning to wind down and settle, so it was the perfect time for me to attend a workshop on traditional Japanese teapots (kyūsu) this past weekend at a great Berlin tea shop called macha-macha.

The workshop was sponsored by the Japanese Tea Instructor Association, which means it was free for participants. It’s a great way to spread knowledge to those interested in Japanese tea culture, so I’m grateful for the opportunity to have participated! Yumi Tanabe of macha-macha led the workshop, and was friendly and very knowledgeable on the topic of kyūsu.

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We started with two small teacups, a spoon for transferring the dried tea to the pot, and a kyūsu. The kyūsu was very smooth to the touch and had a nice comfortable weight when handled. Yumi explained that teapots of this size could be used for the types of tea we drink everyday, whereas tinier kyūsu can be used for more expensive teas that require longer infusion times. We learned that there are even some kyūsu that don’t have handles, because they are meant for higher quality tea that require lower water temperatures, so the teapot can still be handled without burning one’s hands.

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Yumi-san shows how to properly pour tea from a kyūsu when serving guests

Yumi told us about the factors that can affect tea flavour when brewing: temperature, amount of water, amount of tea, and steeping time. She recommended we experiment with what we like best, but in general we especially need to keep an eye on water temperature (too hot can bring bitter flavours in green tea to the forefront), and steeping time. One thing I found interesting was that when Yumi brewed her tea, she steeped her first pot for 30 seconds, but subsequent steepings could be poured out immediately after water had been added to the pot. She explained that once the tea leaves were opened it wasn’t necessary to wait for the water to unfurl the leaves before pouring the tea. Seeing how beautifully green her tea looked as she poured her second steeping was enough to convince me!

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Genmaicha

We prepared genmaicha (or what many of my friends call ‘popcorn tea’ 😄) for our brewing practice during the workshop. The toasty flavour was a perfect choice for the cold, blustery day. We each placed two heaping spoonfuls of the tea into our pots. Yumi had given us water heated to a good temperature for genmaicha (I forgot to note exactly what temperature, but I believe it was between 80-90C), and we started by filling our small teacups up with the water and then transferring that to the teapot. This also helps warm the teacups to prepare for the tea. We timed 30 seconds, and then poured the tea into the cups. An important note was that when pouring tea from the pot into two or more cups, it is best to switch between the cups while pouring. This helps to disperse the flavour equally among the cups, and is so simple and yet something I’ve never considered before! I really enjoyed the balanced flavour in both cups of tea I tried after pouring this way.

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Casual pouring method

Yumi taught us a few different ways of pouring from a kyūsu. One can be seen in the picture of Yumi pouring her tea a few photos above, where she is holding the handle with her right hand and gently holding the lid in place with her left palm open flat and fingers together. I think this pouring method looks very elegant, and accordingly this is the polite way of pouring for guests. In the photo directly above, I’m demonstrating another more casual way of pouring that can be used when preparing tea for yourself at home.

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As the workshop concluded we were able to practice brewing and pouring tea while enjoying some delicious matcha chocolate made by Nazuna. I had a great time chatting with other participants, learning more about tea, and enjoying the relaxing space before going home. Thanks to Yumi-san and macha-macha for the fantastic workshop! I’m looking forward to going back next month for their Meditation & Tea event, and if any Berlin locals are interested in attending the Facebook link with ticket info can be found here.

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Drinking the Last Sip: An Expression of Appreciation

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My first koicha (“thick tea”) at Ippodo tea room, Kyoto. 

Michiko Osawa runs a relaxed matcha classroom in Yokohama, and also maintains an excellent blog that delves into the deeper enjoyment that participating in a tea ceremony can bring. Her other objective is to bring that enjoyment into our daily lives, thus bringing the special experience of a traditional tea ceremony to our regular kitchen table.

Showing respect to the host who made your tea is an important part of the tea ceremony, and Michiko talks about a small but important detail that we might easily overlook: what to do with those last few remaining drops in our tea bowl.

“Have you ever been bothered by the bottom of your tea bowl after you finish drinking matcha? When someone has prepared matcha for you, it is courteous to drink the tea without delay and while it is still fresh and delicious. One other point: drinking your matcha to the very last drop is an expression of appreciation toward the person who made it for you.

As people aren’t machines, there may be times when the matcha has not been well mixed and dissolved. But once you realize this, you can still slurp in the last sip with some force and completely finish the tea. If you do this, the act of finishing your matcha is beautiful.

If you don’t finish your matcha to the last drop, your tea bowl may end up looking like this: 

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One last point: When there is some thick matcha left on the bottom of the bowl, the problem may sometimes be due to the person preparing, and other times may be due to the guest drinking in a carefree way.

Without worrying about who is to blame, it would be nice to drink our matcha to the last drop.”

This was interesting to read, because in many cultures slurping the last drop of liquid from a glass or bowl is considered rude, and it’s important to know that (at least in Japanese culture) it’s seen as a sign of respect and appreciation. If someone is going through the trouble of making me a delicious bowl of tea, I want to enjoy it to the fullest! So let’s slurp away, fellow matcha fans 😀

The original article is here, and you can find many other excellent Japanese articles by Michiko at her blog, O-Matcha Happylife. Thanks for reading!