Thursday, October 23, 2008

October Tea

The leaves are changing colors in our area now, a stunning visual reminder that the weather is getting colder and that soon, the trees will be bare and the snow will be falling.

In the tearoom, we’re also experiencing a transition. In October – and only in October –tea practitioners have the option of doing a style of tea called “Nakaoki.” Nakaoki literally means “placing in the middle,” which is a reference to the location of the furo, the brazier which holds the fire.

So let’s take a moment to review. In the wintertime, the fire is contained in a sunken pit in the middle of the floor called a ro. That way, the fire is close to the guests, and helps them to keep warm (very important in the days before central heating!). In the summertime, the fire is moved to a raised brazier called a furo and moved away from the guests to help them keep cool. (If you’re thinking, “What about the host?” the answer is, the host suffers. That’s his job.)

In Nakaoki, the furo finds a middle ground – directly in front of the host, closer to the guest but still not too close for a warm October day. That affects the position of all the other utensils, of course, but for the guest, the net effect is the same: the water is boiled, the tea whisked, and the wonderous beverage served.

There are little seasonal practices like this in almost every season, each designed in their own way to accommodate the weather conditions. But October is a particularly special month, not only because of the changing of the leaves (giving tea people an opportunity to do chabako, or picnic-style tea) but because it’s the transition from summer to winter season. November, when the sunken hearth is opened, is kind of like the “New Year” of tea ceremony (although we also celebrate the calendar New Year in January). It’s the time when the tea which was picked earlier this year is ground into powder and used for the first time.

But there will be time to think about that later. Right now, the mornings are crisp, the sun is radiant on the changing leaves, and tea people everywhere are enjoying a special taste of October. Come join us!

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