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Tea Guides

How to Host a Japanese Tea Ceremony

November 17, 2016

If you want to infuse a little history and a lot of tradition into your tea party, put a Japanese spin on it. Japan is famous for its long, choreographed tea ceremonies, the most serious of which can last four hours. Paradoxically, Japanese tea ceremonies are meant to encourage an unmaterialistic focus on the present, but were often practiced by members of the elite to show off impressive possessions and social status or reinforce social and political hierarchy. Mastering the ins and outs of a Japanese tea ceremony would take you years, but here are some basics that will give your next tea party a Japanese makeover:

Invite Your Guests:

Traditionally, tea ceremonies were a male affair. In the 1500s, as warlords fought for control over a divided Japan, tea ceremonies doubled as military negotiations for generals such as Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi. As Japan modernized, the tea ceremony became less important militaristically and more important as a platform for businessmen to interact. The art form became more female-driven as time went on, so now, no matter your gender, you can be a tea master or attend a tea ceremony. So break out your rolodex and invite whoever you please, political agenda optional.

Choose Your Hardware:

Traditionally, a host used his tea utensils to show off his wealth. Don’t have expensive artifacts from ancient Asia? Don’t worry. Bowls, cups, and teapots that aren’t perfectly crafted, symmetrical, or conventionally beautiful embody the Japanese concept of wabi, or, artless beauty and spontaneity. You should, however, be mindful about the hardware you choose. What kind of mood do they set? What kind of conversation and values do they encourage? Your hardware sets the tone, so be purposeful. Learn more about the various types of Japanese teapots here, and check out some old school hardware courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art here.

Sit on the floor:

A traditional Japanese tea ceremony will take place kneeling on a tatami mat. If you don’t have a tatami mat but you’re really committed to the theme, buy your own set of tatami mats here. Don’t want to spend the dough? Spread a nice blanket on the floor and encourage your guests to kick off their shoes. You can take things up a notch by arranging a series of blankets in the “auspicious” pattern in which tatami mats are typically arranged to bring good luck:

Prepare The Tea:

Surrounded by your guests, prepare green tea or matcha by whisking matcha and hot water in a bowl. Prepare a communal bowl of tea with a thick consistency. Pass the bowl around and have everyone take a sip, marking your bond as a unit.

Serve Something Sweet:

Balance the bitter matcha by serving dessert. Traditional Japanese sweets are called wagashi, and commonly use sweet aziuki bean paste as a base. Other main ingredients include rice, sesame, and chestnuts. Try making these mochi pancakes or follow Martha Stewart’s lead and make your own namagashi candy.

Prepare More Tea:

Treat your guests to individual cups of tea, this time with a thinner consistency. If you want to be authentic, keep conversation (and extraneous body movements) to a minimum. If not, sip and gab away.

Be Showered in Compliments:

Traditionally, the conversation at a Japanese tea ceremony was limited to lots of praise for the host and the hardware that he/she’s chose to show off. Feel free to tell your guests this is very important, and enjoy the ego boost.

Achieve Inner Peace (And Maybe World Peace, Too):

A Japanese Tea Party was meant to spread the values of wa, kei, sei, and jaku (harmony, respect, purity, and tranquility.) Kristin Surak, a professor of Japanese politics at the University of London and the author of Making Tea, Making Japan told NPR, “The claim is that everyone in the world can understand those things, and if everybody sat around and had a bowl of tea, we could create world peace.” Hopefully, by the end of your tea party, you’ve achieved wa, kei, sei, or jaku. And if we’re all lucky, you’ve eradicated war.

Tea History & Culture

Thanksgiving-Themed Teas to Honor the Holiday

November 8, 2016

In November 1621, English Pilgrims and Wampanoag Native Americans gathered for the first Thanksgiving feast at Plymouth. Almost 400 years later, we carry on the tradition, gathering with friends and family to eat great food and give thanks for the blessings in our lives. While turkey, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie tend to get all the attention on this holiday, we’re here to remind you not to forget about tea!  Whether you’re hosting a gathering or searching for something memorable to bring to a shindig, here are some Thanksgiving-themed tea ideas to diversify your holiday spread while honoring this day’s history:

1) Yaupon Tea

According to NPR, yaupon tea was a beverage consumed by Native Americans about a thousand years ago. Made from the caffeinated leaves of yaupon trees in the southeast by Native American tribes such as the Florida Ais and Timucua, it was used in important cultural ceremonies. Rich in antioxidants, this tea comes from the only native caffeinated plant in North America. We’re not sure if the Wampanoag and the Pilgrims drank this tea at Thanksgiving, but if you want to try something our Native American ancestors drank a thousand years ago, this is the tea for you.

Consider buying youpon tea from Cat Spring Tea or from the Yaupon Brothers American Tea Company.

2) Sassafras Tea

According to the New York Times, Native Americans made tea by brewing sassafrass around the time of the First Thanksgiving. In Louisiana, Native Americans also used it to make file, a thickening agent for soup, particularly gumbo. Sassafras has a number of exciting benefits. Per Livestrong, herbalists use it to treat poison oak and eczema, and to induce sweating out toxins when a patient’s feeling under the weather. Plus, it tastes like root beer (#yum). But sassafras has some health risks: when animals ingested large quantities of sassafrss in lab experiments, they exhibited confusion and difficulty walking. Small quantities—like those in a cup of tea—won’t do the same to you, but pregnant women should avoid it to be on the safe side.

Try buying sassafras tea bags from East India Tea or Old Honey Barn’s Kentucky Straight Sassafras concentrate.

3) Cranberry Tea

Native American tribes made wide use of the cranberry, using it to treat medical maladies like fever and constipation, as a clothing dye, and for nutrition. University of Kansas Professor and Choctaw Nation citizen Devon Mihesuah told National Geographic that Native Americans ate cranberries plain or dried and brewed tea from their leaves. Before Clif Bars, Native Americans also used cranberries to make an early energy bar called pemmican. The bars mashed deer meet and cranberries together and lasted for months, providing nutrition on-the-go for fur traders.

If pemmican sounds like your jam, try the Organic Grassfed Beef Mightly Bar featuring Cranberry & Sunflower Seeds from Organic Prairie.

If you’re not feeling quite that adventurous, stick with cranberry tea.  Consider trying your hand at this recipe for hot cranberry tea, or buying Cranberry Tea from Buddha Teas, Cranberry Blood Orange Black Tea from Republic of Tea, or Cranberry Apple Herbal Tea from Bigelow.

4) Pumpkin Tea

According to, the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag both ate pumpkins on the regular before the First Thanksgiving. But they didn’t have flour, butter, or an oven, so there was no pumpkin pie for dessert. So preparing a pumpkin seed dish or pumpkin tea for your gathering would more historically accurate.

Try this recipe for Honey and Tea-Spiced Pumpkin Seeds from Food & Wine.

Or treat yourself to a cup of pumpkin tea, such as the Sweet Harvest Pumpkin Tea from Celestial Seasonings, Pumpkin Spice Tea from Bigelow, or Organic Oolong Pumpkin Spice Tea from Capital Teas.

Happy Thanksgiving!