Friday, November 3, 2017

Tea Fest PDX 2017

Portland, Oregon's first ever tea festival, Tea Fest PDX, took place at the World Forestry Center on July 22nd.  

Early attendees received commemorative bags and tastings cups along with a copy of Tea Time Magazine and samples of loose leaf teas and kombucha.  Attendees were also granted free access to the adjacent Discovery Museum.

I overheard that the (600) bags ran out before noon and the (1,000) entry wristbands ran out sometime after noon.  Since similar festivals generally start out with a modest turn-out, the organizers were cautiously optimistic about attendance and were pleasantly overwhelmed by the enthusiastic response from both the local community and from out-of-town tea enthusiasts like myself.

The festival hosted 29 vendors offering tea, food, and wares as well as offering free samples of tea.

Booths were laid out in an open lane [pictured below] and in a narrower covered lane with booths on either side that some of us jokingly referred to as "the gauntlet".  Due to the hot weather and large crowd, the covered area had become unpleasant and nearly impassable by late morning.  The next festival will likely have a much better layout.

Gongfu and Wu-Wo tea sessions were held at booths and in Jasmine Dragon's mobile Tea Lounge.

My first stop was the tasting tent where people could drop in for gongfu sessions throughout the day.  At the time of my visit, Josie Fosdick was preparing a Spring 2013 Menghai raw puer from Fly Awake Tea House.  The tea table was made by Tea Fest PDX founder Jenn Brenner.

Musicians from Oregon Koto Kai performed nearby, adding to the already relaxing atmosphere of the tasting tent.

Tastings and workshops that required tickets for entry were held in Cheatham Hall.  Though tickets sold out quickly online, more were available at the ticket booth on the day of the festival.  Workshop spaces in the main room were divided into regions/themes:  China (and Taiwan), Japan, British Tea Traditions, India/Nepal/Sri Lanka, and Greater Tea World.  Round table tea tasting sessions were held in the lobby.

Chado with Jan Waldmann (Do Shin Tei)

Jan Waldmann began studying tea ceremony with the Urasenke school in Japan in 1971 and is a licensed tea instructor with over 45 years of experience in the study of chanoyu.

Jan described how matcha is made and how it was introduced to Japan by monks who had discovered the positive effects of caffeine on meditation.  She explained the concept of "Wakei Seijaku".  "Wa" is harmony, "Kei" is respect, "Sei" is purity (cleaning of tea utensils, cleansing the mouth before entering the tea room), and "Jaku" is tranquility (the hope of the host that the guest will leave with a sense of tranquility). 

For the tea ceremony demonstration, the teishu (host) was Jan Waldmann and the hantou (assistant) was Marjorie Yap.  Alongside other members of the audience, I had the honor of being kyaku (guest).  The scroll reads "Ichi go Ichie" (one time, one meeting).  The flowers (not visible in the photo) in the tea room are placed as they are in the field.  

Unlike this demonstration, a full four-hour tea ceremony would include the laying of charcoal in the brazier, kaiseki meals, koicha (thick tea), and usucha (thin tea) to close with rest breaks throughout to allow for the room to be prepared for the next event.

The demonstration closed with a Q&A session while the audience received usucha and a rakugan sweet made by Marjorie Yap.  It was interesting to learn that before sugar was introduced to Japan by the Portugese, tea was accompanied by a palate cleanser made of semi-reconstituted mushrooms.  

The sometimes subtle differences in practice between tea schools is intriguing.  In whisking, Urasenke prefers a full creamy froth and Omotesenke prefers a more austere tea with very little froth.  Now I know that there is a tea school where the matcha is whisked to create a crescent moon froth.  

Dong Ding Tasting with David Galli

David prepared Dong Ding from Nantou County in Taiwan while providing a general overview of tea and of gongfucha.  While Dong Ding is traditionally 30-50% oxidized, some modern variations are processed with lighter oxidation similar to a high mountain oolong.  Preparing tea through gongfu can reveal additional aspects and layers to the tea that would be missed with most western preparation methods.  It also encourages you to pay attention to attributes like how the tea warms the throat.

Enjoy the Famous Golden Buds of Joy, A Shou Pu-erh Tasting with Eric

Eric prepared a shou (ripe) puerh which had been pressed into a mushroom tuocha.  Between steepings he explained how the brewing vessel can change the energy of the tea and how it's important to select a vessel to meet your purpose.

What Makes A Good Matcha Bowl with Margie Yap (Issoan Tea School)

Marjorie Yap began studying tea ceremony in 1982 and became a licensed tea instructor in 2002.  Her studies included a year at the Urasenke Chanoyu Institute where students were expected to spend 6-10 hours per day, 6 days per week studying while wearing kimono.  She currently teaches at Issoan Tea School where the Introduction to Chado class includes tea bowl (chawan) study.  For this presentation, Marjorie shared a broad variety of tea bowls from her personal collection.

Tea bowls have been refined over 100 years to make good matcha.  They should be functional as well as interesting to guests for tea ceremony.  Potters in Japan consider tea bowls to be one of the hardest pieces to produce due to the challenges presented in meeting these needs.  Some western potters make tea bowls without knowledge of matcha that aren't good for tea.  Marjorie shared an example of a beautiful tea bowl that we all agreed would be unpleasant to use due to a sharp lip and awkwardly weighted base.

Following are some characteristics of a good tea bowl:
  • The bowl should be big enough to whisk 1/2 teaspoon of matcha into 1/3-1/2 cup of water.
  • The lip should not be too thin or too thick.
  • There should be an indentation or "well" at the bottom of the interior of the bowl where the last drops of tea will collect.
  • Low-fired porcelain retains heat, keeping the tea warm longer, and produces a low tone when tapped.  
  • Ceramics are fired at higher temperatures, transfer heat quickly, and produce a bell-like ring when tapped.
  • The bottom should be lightweight so the bowl is easier to turn over when emptying into the kensui. 
  • The signature of the potter is usually located on the bottom near the front of the bowl, though it may move during firing.  Out of respect to the artisan, drink from the back.
  • The foot should allow room for the hand to grasp. 
Workshop attendees received a useful diagram of various tea bowl shapes and foot styles.  For example, a wari-kodai foot will have an indent where the string came out during its making.  The indent remains out of convention

Following are some characteristics specific to certain types of tea bowls:
  • Hagi ware is porous.
  • Shino ware has bubbles in the glaze.
  • Tenomoku bowls have a narrow foot and may be presented with a stand to prevent tipping.
  • Raku bowls have no exposed clay and are fired individually. 
Raku was the family name given to Tanaka Chojiro by the daimyo Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1584.  Though "Raku" is often used to describe this style of pottery, only pieces produced by a member of the family are considered true Raku.  Work by Kichizaemon, 15th generation head of the Raku family, is worth thousands.

Some tea bowl care tips:
  • Because it is porous, soak Raku in water up to 24 hours and air dry before using for the first time.
  • New tea bowls can be soaked in rice gruel to absorb any lingering earthy aroma.
  • If the foot of a tea bowl is unglazed, it should be soaked in water for up to an hour before use to prevent stains caused by oils during handling.
We concluded the workshop by whisking matcha in the tea bowls.  Mine produced a really nice froth that had less to do with skillful whisking and more to do with the quality of the bowl. 

Thanks to all the presenters and to everyone who went the extra mile to make Portland's first tea festival a success!  I'm looking forward to Tea Fest PDX 2018!

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