Over the years, I have been solely concentrating on drinking Chinese tea. Perhaps it is the myth of lengthy ceremony on other tea cultures? Maybe it is my laziness to learn different traditions and their complicated preparation.... or the blind intimidation of doing something not respectful to the host, which, of course, they will never tell what I did wrong.... That being said, there is nothing better than a good old Chinese style cup of tea: the honesty of do-whatever-suite-your-style kind of tea, until before my travel to Korea and Japan recently. I bet you all know how down to earth I was, drinking tea in the mountain. No rules, no extra fancy techniques required. Just pure focus of how the tea reacts with my body and how it makes me feel. Tasting the nutty gritty does not interest me anymore... Where my nectar orchid or my 15 year-aged citrus blossom are really do not do much anymore.... in other words, the surface is too shallow if it can not awaken.... Moreover, tea is not just to quench your thirst, and let people start a war on each others selection, but to relax and smooth ones mind.
My trip to Japan this time lead me not to the cosmopolitan, but to the country side, 2 hrs. south from Tokyo. Izu Peninsula was my destination. Staying at 2 different Onsens in the western and the eastern coast of the peninsula, I was immersed into the tradition of hundred-year-old ryokans.
The first welcome treat was Sencha and a steamed red bean-filled bun. I didn't really taste the tea, but the combination of the treat and the tea react with my body. The tea makes your body tranquil and settle down, sitting in the Noguchi styled tea room, feeling the present of the ocean and its breeze, you slowly find your center of peace. The whole time after I entered the place, I did not have a moment of rush or impatient. It's all the elements that the place zen you.
When I first encountered the tea sets in my ryokan room, I was over joy and started experimenting. The 2 sets consisted of a tea tray, tea pot, tea cups and coaster, tea towel, waste water deposit and of course tea, green and roasted. Heaven! Too busy to play around, I was pouring water everywhere until my butler showed me how it should be done: 2 tsp of tea and 5 mins brew gives nice and clean lively green liquor. It felt soothing to my throat, clean and refreshing to my body. It just tasted like it is really good for you.
Over the 5 day-trip, I had over 4 kinds of new Sencha harvested only weeks ago. The osmanthus tree, the bamboo forest, the camphor forest all surrounding the onsen. The tea brings your body to a warm comfortable level, listening to birds and ocean and at night the scents of the osmanthus flower gently relaxes the mind. From this experience, the taste of the tea is no longer a priority, but the sensation of the energy which it radiants out and let you appreciate the surrounding.
Before, I was always judging the tea. Trying to categorize them, challenging them and being authoritative on what I hope it should be.... How ignorant! I was missing the real meaning to tea enjoyment. If my DC is missing its rare orchid or is not from the highest mountain a tree could exist, I would think less of it. "This is not the top, where is my long finish... this seems short on the taste. It's not what I expected..." I also let my host understand that his second best tea will be too distant to satisfy me 100%. If I did carry on this path, I am sure one day I will be truly disappointed about myself and my collection....