On September 29th of 2013, I attended a Japanese Tea Ceremony in Squirrel Hill, Pennsylvania. The performance was organized by Margaret Harris, owner of Margaret’s Fine Imports and head organizer for the Pittsburgh Tea Club Meetup group. If you live in the Pittsburgh area, and are interested in joining the Pittsburgh Tea Club, which I also co-organize, please check out the Meetup page here. To visit Margaret’s website and view the many loose leaf teas, fresh roasted coffees, and other tea related and unrelated products, please click here.
The event started off with an introduction to Japanese Tea Ceremony by Margaret. Margaret then introduced the Tea Ceremony Master Yuko Eguchi (photo below). Master Eguchi provided a detailed introduction to Japanese Tea Ceremony, including the historical background of how it was developed in Japan. To summarize, in the times surrounding the creation and refinement of the Japanese Tea Ceremony, violence was a part of everyday life. The average person could have been targeted for murder for being viewed as an inconvenience to the political class, and other influential entities. Therefore, the Tea Ceremony was created and refined to provide people of all classes with a few moments to reflect on their gratitude for being alive, and having their loved ones alive as well. Four virtues were to be reflected upon in the moments leading up to, and during, the Tea Ceremony. Those four virtues were Harmony, Respect, Purity, and Tranquility. The Ceremony was practiced and viewed as a momentary retreat from the dangerous world. The phrase ichi-go ichi-e was treasured, for it is a short way of expressing that every moment should be appreciated, for it cannot be replicated.
Master Eguchi then concluded the introduction to Tea Ceremony. Being trained in Geisha dance also, Master Eguchi first performed a brief and fairly conservative Geisha dance. As she explained, many Geisha dances are more energetic, and not a proper lead in for a Tea Ceremony. Once the dance was completed, the Tea Ceremony began. Master Eguchi asked for three volunteers to serve as the “guests” of her Tea Ceremony. I overcame my shyness rather quickly, as I was not going to pass up the opportunity to have a front row seat and get to enjoy a matcha made by a Tea Master. It was quite serene and calming to observe Master Eguchi move with patient precision, slowly arranging, cleaning, and preparing each bowl of matcha using very specific movements and methods. A semi-sweet cookie is provided to each guest, which is eaten shortly before the matcha is served. This cookie is intended to balance the natural bitter taste of the matcha, and balance the taste it did. As I received my matcha bowl and took a sip, I was very surprised by the lack of bitterness on the tongue. The only taste that was noticeable was the sweet and vegetal notes of matcha. Finishing the bowl in the prescribed three and a half sips, I was quite satisfied with the tea. The Ceremony then concluded as peacefully as it started, and left me feeling as though I had just awaken from meditation.
After a brief Q&A session from the audience, I had the opportunity to speak with Master Eguchi, and take some photos. I have not had an opportunity to upload them from my camera yet, but once I do, I will post those photos here as well. I also had an opportunity to meet and speak with several local tea business owners, and other tea lovers. I had the opportunity to meet the proprietors of Gryphon’s Tea in Lawrenceville. Two excellent people with great knowledge of tea blending and tea business. Be sure to check out their tea shop by clicking here.
The Japanese Tea Ceremony was a very uplifting experience, and reinforced some of the Buddhist philosophies that drift in and out of my mind over time. I appreciate Margaret’s work in getting Master Eguchi to perform such a Ceremony, and I certainly hope to attend more formal ceremonies in the future. I also fully appreciate the time that Master Eguchi and her assistants took from their busy schedules to arrange and perform such an event. Thank you all for your efforts.
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