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Interview with Tea Master Yoshihiro Terazono

In creating the company Matcha Source, we’ve had the generous guidance of Tea Master Yoshihiro Terazono of the New York City Urasenke School, I recently sat down with him and asked him questions about studying Japanese Tea Ceremony. –Karen Dunlap

How do you study Japanese Tea Ceremony?
You can learn about tea ceremony through books, but not tea ceremony itself. You need an instructor for learning tea ceremony. To learn about Japanese culture, read books on 10th`to 14th century classical literature, especially collections of Ancient and Modern Japanese Poetry such as Kokinshu, Tale of Ise, Tale of Genji and Account of my hut. About tea ceremony, I will give you a list.

What do you learn with an instructor?
In the first year, you learn how to sit, stand and walk in the tea room, prepare and purify tea utensils. Tea ceremony is moving meditation. Every movement requires great attention. It’s like learning choreography with Zen awareness.

Students learn how to look at ceramics – to identify where they are from and what harmonizes with the tea ceremony setting. You need poetic talent. In the 6th year, you learn how to treat Chinese tea utensils brought to Japan in the Sung dynasty. After 10 to 15 years, we see where you are and take things from there. Tea ceremony is an everlasting journey.

How long have you been practicing? What insights have you found?
25 years. The more I practice, the more connections I find to Japanese Classical literature, Classical architecture, traditional performing art, Japanese and Chinese ink painting, Chinese poetry in the Tang period etc.

What should people know about drinking matcha?
Sweetness and bitterness – good tea has both. And yet they are very delicate. If your mind is too busy, you may not experience that subtle flavor.

It’s best to drink matcha in the first 10 to 15 seconds after its made. After that, the form goes away and it tastes bad. Have it right after it’s made, it will be delicate and sweet. Warm the bowl. The whisk should be wet before using – soak it in hot water for a moment. It becomes softer. This seals the bamboo, protecting it from the tea - and it’s easier to use and clean too - don’t whisk the tea for a long time, whisk quickly – that’s it. Use water heated to 165 F.

Yoshihiro Terazono’s recommended book list:
Tea in Japan: Essays on the History of Chanoyu by Paul Varley
The Book of Tea by Kakuzo Okakura
The Tea Ceremony by Seno Tanaka
Chado the Way of Tea: A Japanese Tea Master's Almanac by Sasaki Sanmi
The Japanese Way of Tea: From Its Origins in China to Sen Rikyu by Sen Soshitsu