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Home - Reading Tea Leaves Articles - Tea Leaves Symbols - All About Tea

fate




Matrons who toss the cup, and see
The grounds of Fate in grounds of tea.
--Churchill.



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 Japs 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 Japs 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 intrusted 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.

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--Ch? 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 Ch?-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 Ch?-banashi, meaning tea-stories, or Hiti-Kuch?--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 programme 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-k?-sh?ku-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 Japs, 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.

[Illustration of Japanese garden]





Next: tea-drinking In Other Lands

Previous: wit Wisdom And Humor Of Tea



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