As I continue to flirt with starting real tea ceremony lessons in a city steeped in tea culture, I’ve nonetheless been enjoying lots and lots of tea. I am especially fond of the flavor of matcha, a powdered form of green tea picked and processed in such a way that it has a higher concentration of amino acids than its steeped counterparts, and since it is ingested instead of left in a tea bag, it delivers a greater antioxidant punch. That’s not to mention the taste–though it may be more fiercely bitter than other forms of green tea, it has a deeper and more complex flavor profile. As you can imagine, it is an aquired taste, but once acquired life gets that much more enjoyable.
Matcha’s partner in presentation is none other than wagashi, handmade Japanese confectionaries, which Matsue is a well-known producer of. Despite how much I like sweets, these were also an acquired taste for me, as I didn’t exactly grown up eating sweet bean paste. But now I’ve acquired that taste and can appreciate their wide variety of shapes, colors, and ingredients! Not to mention the combination of intense sweetness and bitterness when paired with matcha–it really wakes up the senses.
While I still can’t call myself a formal practitioner of wagashi or tea, I can still try. On a bit of an impulse a few weeks ago, I finally bought myself some matcha for personal use and the tools needed to keep and prepare it (and while I was at it I got a set of napkins and a utensil for eating wagashi so that I wouldn’t be caught without them again!). This was brought on by a brief wagashi-making workshop I participated in, and it also gave me a chance to use the dorei pottery I made in Izumo last fall!
My first homemade tea ceremony! Except that I was both the host and guest, so it wasn’t really a ceremony (not to mention all the tools and steps I skipped). It was simply nice to be able to combine the matcha and wagashi flavors at home.
First, this is the tea bowl I’d like to say I made myself when the other Shimane CIRs and I were having a training period last fall, but it was mostly me making a mess and the far more talented Sensei fixing it for me. The little carved design was my own doing, at least.
Furthermore, I made the wagashi myself! Well, the shape of it anyway–in the short class I took part in, the sweet red bean paste and soft colored fondant were already prepared by the people who know what they’re doing. There are longer classes available at the Karakoro Art Studio, which I’m sure I’ll try out at some point. This particular wagashi is modeled on a tsubaki (camellia), which is one of the flower symbols of Matsue.
Since I had a couple more wagashi to work with, the next morning I made it again with the cup I bought at the Watanabe open house late last fall.
It was also nice to already have matcha and a few tools on hand when someone gave me gave me a local brand of wagashi, known as 湖の雲, or “clouds above the lake,” a rather sweet interpretation of the famous sunset scenery at Lake Shinji.
Informal though this little tasting experience was, it was worth a haiku:
In warm hues and tastes
Daylight sweetly melts away,
Consumed in brief time.