Friday, November 29, 2013

Hagiyaki – Beauty is in the Eye of the Tea Drinker

Hagi by Elovitz
During college, I lived for a year in Japan. I was given a special tea cup, a Hagiyaki. Hagiyaki is one of the most famous Japanese pottery types for the tea ceremony. There's an old saying in Japanese, "Ichi-Raku, Ni-Hagi, San-Karatsu (One-Raku, Two-Hagi, Three-Karatsu.)" which refers to the ranking of the ceramic tea wares made in Japan.[1] Hagiyaki is considered one of the best and it is nationally recognized as an art form. Just one tea cup can sell for approximately $400 (31,500 yen). A tea bowl by Hagi ceramist Miwa Kyusetsu can sell for $25,000.[2] 

But, beauty of the teaware is in the eye of the tea drinker, and my Western eye at the time was not ready to see the beauty in this traditional Japanese pottery.

License by: Kyle Donald
Oh! I wish that beautiful gift of Hagiyaki had not been wasted on my youthful ignorance. I tried to be polite when I accepted my Hagiyaki tea cup but what I was really thinking was, “this is the most awful cup I have ever seen!” It was a meld of melting colors and to my eye, crudely formed, like it needed to go back into the kiln after being reshaped properly. Back then, I could not understand why Hagiyaki was so prized. I have since learned that Hagiyaki is valued for “the roughness and asymmetries of form, texture and color.” Connoisseurs treasure “the accidents of color and texture resulting from changes in the clay and glazes during firing.”[3] The color of the Hagiyaki changes overtime with use, this is known as “the seven changes in Hagi.”[4] Hagiyaki is made of very porous clay which absorbs the tea and its tannins. The absorption changes the color and causes fine cracks in the glaze.  Hagiyaki enthusiasts enjoy watching and waiting for these changes to take place in their pieces.

The origins of Hagiyaki stem from Japan’s invasions of Korea in 1592 and 1597. Japanese Warrior-lords brought back skilled potters from Korea and established kilns. The Hagiyaki style flourished with the rise of the cult of the tea ceremony in Japan, developed during the 15th and 16th centuries.[5]

Just as my taste for tea has matured over the years, so has my appreciation of Hagiyaki - even though I foolishly lost my Hagiyaki tea cup within months of receiving it. Due to my love and exploration of all things tea, I now can better appreciate the beauty and artistry of Hagiyaki. I wish I still had my tea cup so I could enjoy watching the seven changes of Hagi.

[1]  Veteran of Hagi continues rediscovery,  January 22, 2000, Japan Times
[2]  The Where and Ware of Hagi, July 3, 1988, N.Y. Times,
[3]  Id.
[4] Hagiyaki, 2001, JAANUS,
[5] The Where and Ware of Hagi, July 3, 1988, N.Y. Times,

Monday, November 18, 2013

Tang, Song, or Ming - Prep Your Tea in Dynasty Style

The way we prepare a cup of tea has evolved over the centuries according to the style of the times.  Professor Tadahiko Tadahashi of Tokyo Gakugei University teaches that there are three distinct trends in the early development of Chinese tea preparation. Here’s what I learned from his lecture at the 2013 Ocha Zanmai Conference on Chanoyu and Tea Cultures held at San Francisco State University.

In the Tang dynasty (618-906 AD), the style was to boil tea. The Tang era is when tea came into its own as a cultural tradition in China and when Lu Yu wrote, circa 760 AD, the book “The Classic of Tea” , the first book ever about tea.  Yu detailed the Tang dynasty method of preparing tea. The style was to grind a dry tea cake into a powder and boil it in salted water.  The tea preparer carefully watched the size of the bubbles to know when to add the salt, when to stir, and when to add a reserve cup of cool water to bring down the temperature.  The preferred tea color was green, hence the teacups were made green to augment the liquid color.

Photo credit: Mason Bryant
In the Song dynasty (960-1279 AD), the style was to whip the tea.  The 1049 AD book “The Record of Tea” by Cai Xiang describes the technique.  Tea preparers ground a compressed tea brick into a fine powder, mixed the powder with hot water and then whipped it with a whisk to get a frothy consistency.  The ideal color of froth was white and they liked to serve it in dark teacups to bring out the contrast.  They created artistic patterns in the froth just like the lattes served in coffee shops today.  This frothy whipped drink was the precursor to the matcha tea so popular in Japan today.

Photo credit: Miya
In the Ming dynasty (1368–1644 AD), the style was to steep the tea and strain it.  In this period, the Chinese moved towards the use of the whole leaf tea as opposed to ground powder from compressed cakes.  The tea was prepared by pouring hot water over the leaves.  The Chinese took more pleasure in the variations in the color of the tea liquid than in the past. White teacups were used to better view the subtle color variations.  Towards the end of the Ming dynasty, Europeans discovered Chinese tea, adopted the Ming style of preparation and adapted it to their own pleasures.  Now you know why white colored porcelain cups are popular at British tea service!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Tennis Champion Serves Up Tea

When I was a teenager, I worked at an exclusive golf / tennis club. The tennis ladies always drank tea after their tennis games. They never guzzled it like a Gatorade power drink and ran back to the courts. Rather, they would relax, sip tea and socialize.

Author:  robbiesaurus , license:  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike
For tennis champion and tea lover Kimiko Date-Krumm of Japan, tea is more than a social drink. At 43 years old, Kimiko is the oldest player in the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA). The majority of her competitors are half her age, the second oldest WTA competitor being Venus Williams, who is 10 years younger than Kimiko.[1] After winning over 200 tournament matches, the Japan Open four times, and WTA ranking of number 4 in the world, Kimiko retired in 1996. She announced her comeback in 2008 and has since become the fifth-oldest player ever to win a Grand Slam singles match, the oldest player to beat a top-10 opponent and the second oldest to win a WTA Tour title.[2]

What is the secret behind Kimiko’s longevity? In regards to her diet, Kimiko says she drinks a lot of tea.[3] “I like Chinese tea. Sometimes Japanese tea. I drink a lot.” When asked about her tea consumption during an interview at the Wimbledon this year, she pulled a tea pot out of her bag and stated “always I carry it.” Laughing, she explained that she doesn’t carry the tea pot onto the court because it’s “too hot.”[4]
Author:  brez66, license:  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike

Can tea really help keep you in prime physical shape? Well, tea is reputed to have health benefits. The antioxidant polyphenols in tea have been linked with anti-cancer activity. Certain teas -- like green tea -- are also believed to have benefits for the heart. According to the Mayo Clinic, a renowned non-profit medical research group, modern science has confirmed potential health benefits of tea for fighting problems such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, Parkinson’s disease, and even cavities.[5] So whether it’s for health or pleasure, it’s always a good idea to serve tea.

  [1]Life Begins at 43 for Tennis Star, Mailonline, October 9, 2013,
[2]Tea Time for Golden Oldie …, Mailonline, June 15, 2013
[3]Tennis: Chinese Tea Fan … Global Post, June 25, 2013
[4]ASAP Sports Interview at Wimbledon, June 25, 2013
[5]Tea: Enjoy a Cup for Health and Pleasure, November 10, 2010, Mayo Clinic
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