Posts Tagged ‘tea and zen’

46. Chazen ichimi


Hohryu Kyusu

For at least eight centuries the practice of Zen has been closely linked to the consumption of green tea. In 1191 the Zen monk Eisai returned to Kyoto from his studies in China, bringing a bag of tea seeds, which he planted in the temple garden. In 1211 he wrote Kissa Yojoki (The Book of Tea), Japan’s first tea book, extolling the healthfulness of green tea. Ever since, Zen practitioners have used green tea to nurture their bodies, soothe their minds, and keep themselves awake during their long hours of sitting. “Chazen ichimi,” declared the sixteenth-century tea master Sen Sotan:  “Zen and the taste of tea are one and the same”.*

Over the past two decades, health-conscious Americans have also brought green tea into their daily lives, but where taste is concerned, the reviews have been decidedly mixed.  “Would you drink green tea,” a skeptical friend once asked, “if you didn’t know it was good for you?” And another, whose taste in beverages runs to single-malt Scotch and a good Merlot, reported that he tried green tea and it tasted like pasteboard. If that is the taste of Zen, so much the worse for Zen.

If you too have tried green tea and found it not to your liking, that may be the end of the matter. However, if you already drink green tea but would like to enjoy it more, you can do so by making a small investment in equipment and by following a few time-honored instructions. With patience, care, and a little practice, you might find yourself enjoying a delicious, authentic cup of Japanese green tea.

First of all, you will need fresh tea. What is available in the supermarket or even in specialty tea shops is often anything but fresh. It may have been languishing in a tea bag or bin for a very long time. I order tea directly from Hibiki-an (www.hibiki-an.com), a  family-owned firm in Kyoto, and it arrives in a few days, sealed in a foil-lined bag. When I open the bag, the aroma of the unbrewed tea is itself enticing.

Second, you will need a kyusu, an earthenware teapot designed expressly for brewing green tea. For the price of a coffeemaker you can buy a kyusu online, and it’s well worth the expense. The distinguishing features of the kyusu include its hollow side handle and its interior mesh filter, which covers the opening of the spout. In contrast to the familiar infuser, the latter feature allows the tea leaves to open and to float freely in the water, releasing their flavor.

Third, you will need the softest, purest water you can find. Hibiki-an recommends Evian, Rocky Mountain, and other bottled waters. Here in Western New York, I use Chemung Spring Water, and it has proved equal to the task.

Fourth, you will need to pay attention to the temperature and the brewing time. On most mornings I drink a refreshing Sencha tea, which is brewed at 176 degrees Fahrenheit for sixty to eighty seconds. Other teas require other temperatures and brewing times. At first, you will need to use a thermometer and to watch the time very carefully. Later on, you can dispense with the thermometer, and you can adjust the prescribed time to suit your taste.

To prepare two cups of Sencha tea, you will need a kyusu and three small teacups. To brew the tea, please follow these instructions:

–Boil the water, let it cool for a minute, and pour it into the kyusu.  When the water has cooled for another minute, pour it into two of the three cups. Drain any remaining water from the kyusu.

–Next, pour the water back and forth among the three cups. This process heats the cups and further cools the water. It also allows the water to oxygenate, which improves the flavor of the tea.

–Check the temperature. When it is around 176 degrees, add a tablespoon of loose Sencha tea to the heated kyusu and pour in just enough water to cover the leaves. Replace the lid, and wait for twenty seconds, letting the leaves absorb the water. Then add the rest of the water, and brew for a minute or slightly longer.

–Now pour the tea alternately into two of the cups, and offer one to your guest. Lifting your own cup with both hands, take time to inhale the aroma of the tea. Contemplate its provenance, its impermanence, and its beneficial influence on your mind and body. Then drink it slowly, with full attention, and enjoy the taste of Zen.


*For further information, see Barry Briggs’ weblog  Go Drink Tea at http://www.godrinktea.com/. See also D.T. Suzuki, Zen and Japanese Culture (Princeton, 1993), pp. 269-314; Soshitsu Sen, Tea Life, Tea Mind (Weatherhill, 1979); and Kakuzo Okakura, The Book of Tea (Stone Bridge Press, 2007).

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