Saturday, July 26, 2014

Fame and the 700 Year Old Tea Jar

The "Chigusa", Antique Tea Jar

How did this modest jar get bestowed a name and why is it so famous that it has its own exhibit at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C.?  Tea is the answer. 

On display at the Smithsonian’s Museums of Asian Art, is a 700 year old tea jar named the Chigusa.  I went to its exhibit, the “Chigusa and the Art of Tea,” which is showing in the Sackler Gallery of Art through July 2014.  This big brown ceramic jar (16.5 inches tall) with no extraordinary decorative design or etchings was created in China as a mere storage jar during the Southern Song or Yuan dynasty, 1260 -1368.  [1

The jar was shipped to Japan where tea masters used it to hold loose leaf tea.  In Japan, the Chigusa held precious Tencha (sweet or new leaf tea) used for making matcha during the Japanese Tea Ceremony. The tea ceremony in ancient times was reserved for royalty, high Samurai, visiting dignitaries, and influential tea merchants.  [2]  This humble tea jar rose to become one of the most revered objects of Japan’s chanoyu (art of tea) culture. 

We know this because not only did Japanese tea masters keep tea diaries detailing every aspect of their tea ceremonies, including centerpieces, flooring and the jars that held their tea, they named their tea pieces.  The first record of the Chigusa is in a 1586 diary.  Since then, records show that the Chigusa’s “surface has been admired and caressed by a who's who of Japan's cultural giants from the 16th century forward,” said James Ulak, deputy director of the Freer and Arthur M. Sackler galleries.  [3]  

By virtue of the tea fans who have used it, seen it and written about it over the centuries, the Chigusa has become in essence a celebrity tea jar.  If I name my own personal tea box and blog about it, will my box be as famous as the Chigusa in 700 years?  Here’s a photo of it…its name is Joey.

"Joey" the Tea Box


Thursday, July 10, 2014

Green Tea Ice Cream ... Sam I Am

Green Tea Ice Cream
It ain’t easy being green, if you’re ice cream in the U.S.  In most American supermarkets, you’ll find that ice cream doesn’t tend to be green.  I decided to do a little test – and ask a few Americans if they could name me just one green ice cream.  Silence for a long time usually occurred and people thought long and hard.  Then the only one they could name (if any at all) was chocolate chip mint ice cream.  But even that isn't completely green – it’s green and brown.  (I bet some seniors may think of pistachio ice cream, my grandma liked that one.)  

Posters in Scoop Shack. Edgartown, MA
Green tea ice cream is green in color and is made from matcha, the Japanese ceremonial
green tea powder.  While this flavor is extremely popular in Japan and other East Asian nations, the color green in an ice cream, however, does not appeal to everyone.  My husband, for example, when asked exclaimed “Yuck! That’s a crazy flavor.”  “But you’ve had green tea”, I replied, “and you liked it, why not green tea ice cream?  “No way! I don’t like green ice cream, Sam I am.”  Despite the lesson to be learned from Dr. Zeus’s Green Eggs and Ham, I am unable to get my husband to try green tea ice cream, neither here nor there, not anywhere.

Scoop Shack, Edgartown MA
Despite the color, I’ve noticed two indicators that green tea ice cream has made some head way in the U.S. market in recent years.  For one, as of 1996, one of the most popular ice cream companies – Haagen-Dazs – started selling green tea ice cream in the U.S..[1]  None of the other top U.S. ice cream sellers make green tea ice cream.[2]  

Secondly, I recently found home-made green tea ice cream selling in the Scoop Shack, a Mom and Pop ice cream shop in a small town in New England.  Mom and Pop shops tend to sell only the most popular flavors.

I’ve visited plenty of U.S. ice cream parlors, particularly in the summers, every year of my life and have never seen green tea ice cream sold in them before.  In Edgartown, Massachusetts, the Scoop Shack makes ice cream daily.  They currently make and sell green tea ice cream with mint and honey.  That sounded delicious to me and I bought a scoop and loved it.  My husband just doesn’t know what he is missing!


Friday, July 4, 2014

The Passing of a Master Tea Blender

I had just finished my tin of Harney & Sons' Earl Grey when I read the sad news that is making its way through the American tea industry.  John Harney, the founder of Harney & Sons, has passed away.  Mr. Harney was a master tea blender and businessman who began his company in 1983, a time when tea was much less popular in the American market than it is today.  His success is attributed to his appreciation of fine loose leaf teas and his efforts to teach the art of tea to restaurateurs and consumers. 
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