The other day a reporter from the Philadelphia Inquirer e-mailed us wanting to do an article about tea ceremony. “Fantastic!” I thought. And then she said that she didn’t want to talk to any of our teachers or advanced students, but that what she was really looking for were “real people.”
So I pondered that for a bit, and I decided that it was probably just as well that I wasn’t a real person, because unreality is much more fun.
The reporter went on to explain that what she was looking for was a Westerner’s perspective on tea ceremony, and specifically someone from one of our beginner courses. No problem. I connected with her over the phone, and got her contact information for some of the people who went through our beginner’s course last year.
On Saturday, she came to Shofuso to observe our weekly lessons along with a photographer, who was Japanese (it turns out his father had studied tea ceremony, but he had no interest himself). The photographer was snapping away, and she sat in the corner, asking questions, but mostly just taking notes. She watched one of the students drink a bowl of tea, and then we offered one to her. She picked it up, sniffed it, took a sip, and said, “Well, it looks bad, smells awful, and tastes horrible. Why do people do this again?”
It was at this point that I started to become just a little bit afraid about the outcome of the article.
But we reassured her that there were, in fact, people who enjoyed drinking matcha in the world. We finished up the lesson and talked for a bit more about the practice of tea, and especially about the sweets, since she’s from the Food section.
The reporter did follow up with me later in the week to ask some questions about my tea experience. In situations like that I always feel inadequate. How do I convey what tea means to me in a way that makes sense to someone who’s never done it? I mean, I can talk until I’m blue in the face about inner tranquility and mental focus and liking the taste of tea, but it does really explain why I’ve spent nearly fifteen years of my life practicing tea ceremony?
The same question came up at a gathering of tea people a few years ago – why do we study tea? I struggled with the question for a bit, and finally the only answer I could come up with was, “Because it’s necessary.” They all understood.
The article for the Inquirer is scheduled to come out on March 26. That’s not guaranteed, of course, because editorial schedules change, but keep your eyes on the paper that day, just in case.