A heightened awareness of what is going on around the tea hut is part of tea. There may be rain drops falling on the roof, rustling leaves, bird song, falling dusk with the crickets starting up, or a cold, bright winter day.
It was chilly that afternoon in February though record high temperatures had kept the snow away. Sun was streaming in through the naked branches of overhead trees and the evergreens seemed to be drinking it in.
Modern houses block us off from nature. The tea hut does create an interior meditative world, but it is not cut off in the same way and in that sense brings us back to our roots.
Within the hut, natural light creates a restful mood as do the tatami mats and simple space. The kettle/hibachi waits on the host mat with steam just beginning to rise. I also directed a small space heater toward where guests would sit.
The light (and therefore the mood), varies by time of day, weather conditions and with the seasons. It also changes constantly during the course of a practice. It was particularly bright and mysterious that afternoon.
Tea provides a place to slow down – to appreciate ordinary things that are not so ordinary. Being awake in the moment also allows for a deep rapport between host and guests.
I stage the utensils in a corner of my one-room hut. A talented friend cut the clam-shell shelf to my specifications, using a board that once served as a desk. The basket holds a blanket that was useful on this occasion.
Although blueberries are not appropriate for a winter ceremony, I knew that my friend is particularly fond of them, so I made an exception.
At the beginning of the ceremony, guests come up to look more closely at the scroll and flowers. A guest might look down from above to see this view of the flowers that seem to be bursting with promise of the energy of spring.
The scroll I selected suggests the coming season as did the crocus that decided to bloom in a protected area of my front yard that day. I was told that this calligraphy is of a type that might have been made for sale by a monk at a Buddhist Temple.
My friend is holding the delicate water scoop. Later the kettle lid will be placed on the rest. Notice the contrasting weights and textures among the various utensils. I was taught that I should lift bamboo utensils as if they were the heavy ones.
Dense steam rises as the kettle water gets quite hot. The heat is especially welcome on a chilly winter afternoon. A modern summer ice tea variation uses a glass tea bowl.
I am using a cloth with a pattern and holding it out before starting to fold it. This is a centering and respectful gesture. The tea container is positioned so it may be easily lifted for purification. The cloth will be refolded before the tea scoop is gently wiped as well.
After mixing the tea into the water, the whisk, made from a single piece of bamboo, looks like this. Tea scoops come in many variations in size, and shape. There are also scoops made out of other materials such as ceramic.
While the whisk is often admired for its design, the bamboo tea scoop has understated elegance. After using one for a while, it becomes clear just how perfectly this small utensil fulfills its function.
You can see a lovely demonstration together with an explanation in this brief video.