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Tea Making and Taking in Japan and China

Tea Making and Taking in Japan and China

The queen of teas in Japan is a fine straw-colored beverage, delicate and subtle in flavor, and as invigorating as a glass of champagne. It is real Japan tea, and seldom leaves its native heath for the reason that, while it is peculiarly adaptable to the Japanese constitution, it is too stimulating for the finely-tuned and over-sensitive Americans, who, by the way, are said to be the largest customers for Japan teas of other grades in the
world.

This particular tea, which looks as harmless as our own importations of the leaf, is a very insidious beverage, as an American lady soon found out after taking some of it late at night. She declared, after drinking a small cup before retiring, she did not close her eyes in sleep for a week. We do not know the name of the brand of tea, and are glad of it; for we live in a section where the women are especially curious.

But the drink of the people at large in Japan is green tea, although powdered tea is also used, but reserved for special functions and ceremonial occasions. Tea, over there, is not made by infusing the leaves with boiling water, as is the case with us; but the boiling water is first carefully cooled in another vessel to 176 degrees Fahrenheit. The leaves are also renewed for every infusion. It would be crime against his August Majesty, the
Palate, to use the same leaves more than once–in Japan. The preparation of good tea is regarded by the Japanese as the height of social art, and for that reason it is an important element in the domestic, diplomatic, political, and general life of the country.

Tea is the beverage–the masterpiece–of every meal, even if it be nothing but boiled rice. Every artisan and laborer, going to work, carries with him his rice-box of lacquered wood, a kettle, a tea-caddy, a tea-pot, a cup, and his chop-sticks. Milk and sugar are generally eschewed. The Tea Making and Taking in Japan and China and the Chinese never indulge in either of these ingredients in tea; the use of which, they claim, spoils the
delicate aroma.

From the highest court circles down to the lowliest and poorest of the Emperor’s subjects, it is the custom in both Japan and China to offer tea to every visitor upon his arrival. Not to do this would be an unpardonable breach of national manners. Even in the shops, the customer is regaled with a soothing cup before the goods are displayed to him. This does not, however, impose any obligation on the prospective purchaser, but it is,
nevertheless, a good stimulant to part with his money. This appears to be a very ancient tradition in China and Japan so ancient that it is continued by the powers that be in Paradise and Hades, according to a translation called “Strange Stories from My Small Library,” a classical Chinese work published in 1679.

The old domestic etiquette of Japan never entrusted to a servant the making of tea for a guest. It was made by the master of the house himself; the custom probably growing out of the innate politeness and courtesy of a people who believe that an honored visitor is entitled to the best entertainment possible to give him.

As soon as a guest is seated upon his mat, a small tray is set before the master of the house. Upon this tray is a tiny tea-pot with a handle at right angles to the spout. Other parts of this outfit include a highly artistic tea-kettle filled with hot water, and a requisite number of small cups, set in metal or bamboo trays. These trays are used for handing the cups around, but the guest is not expected to take one. The cups being without
handles, and not easy to hold, the visitor must therefore be careful lest he let one slip through his untutored fingers.

The tea-pot is drenched with hot water before the tea is put in; then more hot water is poured over the leaves, and soon poured off into the cups. This is repeated several times, but the hot water is never allowed to stand on the grounds over a minute.

The Japanese all adhere to the general household custom of the country in keeping the necessary tea apparatus in readiness. In the living-room of every house is contained a brazier with live coals, a kettle to boil water, a tray with tea-pot, cups, and a tea-caddy.

Chinese Tea

Their neighbors, the Chinese, are just as alert; for no matter what hour of the day it may be, they always keep a kettle of boiling water over the hot coals, ready to make and serve the beverage at a moment’s notice. No visitor is allowed to leave without being offered a cup of their tea, and they themselves are glad to share in their own hospitality.

The Chinese use boiling water, and pour it upon the dry tea in each cup. Among the better social element is used a cup shaped like a small bowl, with a saucer a little less in diameter than the top of the bowl. This saucer also serves another purpose, and is often used for a cover when the tea is making. After the boiling water is poured upon the tea, it is covered for a couple of minutes, until the leaves have separated and fallen to the bottom of the cup. This process renders the tea clear, delightfully fragrant, and appetizing.

A variety of other cups are also used; the most prominent being without handles, one or two sizes larger than the Japanese. They are made of the finest china, set in silver trays beautifully wrought, ornate in treatment and design.

A complete tea outfit is a part of the outfitting of every Ju-bako– “picnic-box”–with which every Jap is provided when on a journey, making an excursion, or attending a picnic. The Japanese are very much given to these out-of-door affairs, which they call Hanami–“Looking at the flowers.” No wonder they are fond of these pleasures, for it is a land of lovely landscapes and heaven-sent airs, completely in harmony with the poetic and
artistic natures of this splendid people.

Tea-houses, Châ ya, which take the place of our cafes and bar rooms, but which, nevertheless, serve a far higher social purpose, are everywhere in evidence, on the high-roads and by-roads, tucked away in templed groves and public resorts of every nature.

Among the Japanese are a number of ceremonial, social, and literary tea-parties which reflect their courtly and chivalrous spirit, and keep alive the traditions of the people more, perhaps, than any other of their functions.

The most important of these tea-parties are exclusively for gentlemen, and their forms and ceremonies rank among the most refined usages of polite society. The customs of these gatherings are so peculiarly characteristic of the Japanese that few foreign observers have an opportunity of attending them. These are the tea-parties of a semi-literary or aesthetic character, and the ceremonious Châ-no-ya. In the first prevails the easy and unaffected tone of the well-bred gentleman. In the other are observed the strictest rules of etiquette both in speech and behavior. But the former entertainment is by far the most interesting. The Japanese love and taste for fine scenery is shown in the settings and surroundings. To this picturesque outlook, recitals of romance and impromptu poetry add intellectual charm to the tea-party.

For these occasions the host selects a tea-house located in well-laid-out grounds and commanding a fine view. In this he lays mats equal to the number of guests. By sliding the partition and removing the front wall the place is transformed into an open hall overlooking the landscape. The room is filled with choice flowers, and the art treasures of the host, which at other times are stored away in the fire-proof vault “go down” of his private residence, contribute artistic beauty and decoration to the scene. Folding screens and hanging pictures painted by celebrated artists, costly lacquer-ware, bronze, china, and other heirlooms are tastefully distributed about the room.

Stories told at these tea-parties are called by the Japanese names of Châ-banashi, meaning tea-stories, or Hiti-Kuchá “one mouth stories,” short stories told at one sitting. At times professional story-tellers are employed. Of these there are two kinds: Story-Tellers and “Cross-Road Tradition Narrators,” both of whom since olden times have been the faithful custodians and disseminators of native folk-lore and tales.

These professionals are divided into a number of classes, the most important being the Hanashi-Ka, members of a celebrated company under a well-known manager, who unites them into troops of never less than five or more than seven in number. Such companies are often advertised weeks before their arrival in a place by hoisting flags or streamers with the names of the performers thereon. Their program consists of war-stories, traditions, and recitals with musical accompaniment. During the intermission, feats of legerdemain or wrestling fill in the time and give variety to the entertainment.

These are the leading professional performers. The other classes, while not held in as high regard by the select, nevertheless have a definite place in Japanese amusement circles. One of the latter is the Tsuji-kô-shâku-ji. This word-swallower does not belong to any company, but is a “free-lance” entertainer. A sort of “has been,” he does not, however, rest on his past laurels, but continues to perform whenever he can obtain an audience–on the highways, to passers-by, in public resorts and thoroughfares.

Although the Chinese are not so neat in their public habits as the Japanese, still their tea-houses and similar resorts are just as numerous and popular as they are in the neighboring country. Perhaps the most interesting caterers in China, however, are the coolies, who sell hot water in the rural districts. These itinerants have an ingenious way of announcing their coming by a whistling kettle. This vessel contains a compartment for fire with a funnel going through the top. A coin with a hole is placed so that when the water is boiling a regular steam-whistle is heard.

Plentiful as tea is in China, however, the poor people there do not consume as good a quality of the leaf as the same class in our own country.

Especially is this the case in the northern part of China, where most of the inhabitants just live, and that is all. There they are obliged to use the last pickings of tea, commonly known as “brick tea,” which is very poor and coarse in quality. It is pressed into bricks about eight by twelve inches in size, and whenever a quantity of it is needed a piece is knocked off and pulverized in a kettle of boiling water. Other ingredients, consisting of suit, milk, butter, a little pepper, and vinegar, are added, and this combination constitutes the entire meal of the family.

Tea in China and Japan is the stand-by of every meal, the never-failing and ever-ready refreshment. Besides being the courteous offering to the visitor, it serves a high purpose in the home life of these peoples; uniting the family and friends in their domestic life and pleasures at all times and seasons. At home round the brazier and the lamp in winter evenings, at picnic parties and excursions to the shady glen during the fine season, tea is the social connecting medium, the intellectual stimulant and the universal drink of these far-and-away peoples.

Author | readingtealeaves Comments | 0 Date | 07/24/2016

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