Savour life at a slower pace with a Japanese tea ceremony and Chinese tea art.
The rhythm of life is closely related to our physical and mental health. Holding a cup of warm tea in the palm of your hand is conducive to your wellbeing, calming the mind and establishing a connection between us and nature. When brewing and drinking tea, one gets the peace of being amidst verdant mountains and forests.
Tea has a calming effect thanks to its unique tea polyphenols containing antioxidants, which can stabilise blood pressure. Unlike coffee, which gives us an instant lift in energy levels by stimulating the adrenal glands, tea has a low caffeine content and can stabilise mood and relieve stress.
The history of the Chinese tea culture traces back to its heyday in the Tang and Song dynasties, when it was an art form practised both by the imperial court and the common folks, along with floral art, history appreciation, and fragrance tasting.
The method of preparing tea evolved from the tea-making method of the Tang dynasty. In the Song dynasty, a popular tea- making method was to add water to the tea powder to make a paste. After Chinese tea art and tea ceremonies were introduced to Japan by monks in the Tang and Song dynasties, tea making formed the basis of and was developed into the Japanese tea ceremony as we know it today.
A once-in-a-life-time encounter
Ruminations often happen at seemingly trivial moments. At a tea ceremony, guests take the time to experience the beauty of silence.
The Japanese tea ceremony advocates experiencing the present to reach a state of tranquillity; it invites everyone to come together to celebrate enduring memories. Founded on such a philosophy, the Tealosophy Tea Bar in Central has since 2019 brought Chinese and Japanese tea products to Hong Kong.
Inside the store are many Buddhist books for customers to revel in. Its founder Justin Ng is one of the few Macau tea masters in Hong Kong to be awarded a certificate from Edosenke – a renowned Japanese tea ceremony school. Ten years ago, he met a tea ceremony teacher in Macau by chance, was inspired and headed to Japan to learn the craft. The tea ceremony certificate took him a total of seven years to obtain.
“A tea ceremony takes time to master. It’s not something that can be comprehended immediately,” said Ng, donning a kimono. “In the process of tea making, as long as you learn to slow down and focus on the present, you will definitely gain something.”
The Tealosophy Tea Bar has a wooden design with a simple three-fold tatami mat at the rear. Tea utensils are placed on the upper left; calligraphy, paintings and floral art on the upper right. Traditionally, the bedroom is the niche of a Japanese tea room, set up for placing Buddha statues, with elegant and delicate flowers and wagashi in the front.
Today, most of the Zen calligraphy and paintings, related to the season and the weather of the day, are hung inside the room; they are changed from time to time to remind tea tasters of the current weather and atmosphere.
For example, the calligraphy displayed on the day of the visit (in Chinese it writes “once in a lifetime”) is derived from the Japanese tea ceremony idiom, meaning the same people gather to enjoy tea at the same venue. It encourages people to cherish every single moment as it may appear only once in a lifetime.
“The tea ceremony aims for the state of meditation, so the number of people tasting tea is best not to exceed five people. The process of listening is a good practice. For example, by paying attention to each action of tea making, you can gradually distinguish the different rain sounds in spring and in summer,” Ng explained.
Though exquisite, the design of Japanese tea rooms isn’t static. The modern tea room usually adds individual elements on top of the traditional structure and the principle of simplicity and nature to meet the needs of different spaces. The bedroom in the Tealosophy Tea Bar, for example, is divided by a piece of wood to avoid blocking the view outside the window, enhancing the sense of transparency in the space.
To counter the fast beat of bustling city life, many metropolitans turn to yoga and sitting meditation to cultivate their minds. Still, it’s not easy to just kickback and relax when you have piling work to attend to. Focusing on the rituals of the Japanese tea ceremony helps people get rid of distracting thoughts and let go of mundane things for a while – tea and Zen are inseparable.
But Ng said that Hongkongers are accustomed to a fast-paced lifestyle – many of his tea customers are able to concentrate on each step, but can’t seem to recognise the importance of the pauses.
“For example, in the Japanese tea ceremony, after pouring the tea into a teacup, one must hold the hand in the air before placing down the teapot. The pause is often overlooked.”
The art of Chinese tea
Ironing a pot, placing tea, warming up a cup, scenting, smelling the fragrance, tasting tea, and making tea are daily exercises filled with ritual. Plantation by teakha in Sai Ying Pun is an elegant rarity in the buzzing city that allows guests to indulge in the joy of Chinese tea.
The craft tea company was launched by Taiwan-born Nana Chan, a former lawyer who decided to switch fields and pursue her passion of opening her own tea house.
“Metropolitans are too used to living in noisy environments. To concentrate on just one sensory mode is quite hard for them. The process of tea making uses the six senses to experience the details of tea, allowing the body and mind to reconnect.”
Pushing open the heavy wooden door of the tea house, you are immediately caught up by the well-organised tea bar. The shelf, wherein holds the tea set products, is made of vintage wooden door panels that give out a rustic flavour. The entire space is designed mainly in a white palette and wooden elements, with several tea tables arranged in a staggered manner while keeping a comfortable distance from each other.
“Each table has a kettle and a tea boat for placing tea utensils. Customers can try tea and learn about the anecdotes of tea through personal interaction with the tea masters,” Chan said in front of the tea cabinet.
She selected Bai Rui Xiang from Wuyi Mountain in Fujian for the photo shoot.
“The floral and fruity fragrance, mellow and sweet flavour of Bai Rui Xiang is reminiscent of autumn. Whether it’s making tea or tasting tea, associating it with our real- life experiences makes the process all the more interesting,” she explained.
As Chan prepared the tea boat, the sound of rolling water rang from the side. There were more than 20 ceramic teapots under the bar, each teapot only makes one kind of tea.
“Bai Rui Xiang is a semi-fermented tea. It needs to be brewed with hot water at 90 degrees. For high-speed brewing, you should gently pour the water into the teapot to allow the tea to fully absorb the water. At this time, the water should flow smoothly without any noise.”
Chan is accustomed to smelling the tea before and after the tea is soaked in water. The act of “dry smell” aims to judge the quality of tea in the preliminary stage, while “wet smell” takes in the aroma released by the tea after mixing with hot water. The brewing time of Bai Rui Xiang is about 40 seconds. Chan stared down at the teapot, waiting for the passage of time.
“Brewing tea is a very effective way to counter stress. You can also use a simple tea- making process to relax at home and improve concentration.”
Located at the rear of the store is a compact outdoor space. It is the perfect place to warm up a pot of tea during autumn and winter, meet friends over tea, and master the wisdom of a slow-paced life.