Monday, January 11, 2016

Selfless Tea: The Wu Wo Tea Ceremony at Discover Teas

Things I'd never done: proper tea ceremony.

Things to check off bucket list: proper tea ceremony.

To be specific, I really do want to learn to do the full Japanese tea ceremony. Why? No reason. I like to learn things. I want to be able to say I can. But also I really like tea a lot. You will learn this more the longer you hang out on any of my online venues.

I've started hanging out on the regular at Discover Teas, a local shop across two locations that is part tea shop, part quiet lounge -- buy a few bags to take home, or get a cup there and however many re-steeps you can get out of the bag (quite a few, depending on what you get). My friend Emily started working there last year, and I've since adopted the Newport News branch as my office-away-from-home.

Back in September, around the time I'd started coming in, Emily mentioned that on the following Sunday -- usually a day the shop is closed -- they'd be doing a Wu Wo tea ceremony and it was free to come in and participate or observe. Bring your favourite tea and teaware and they'd explain the rest.

My setup -- if you couldn't tell.
 Wu wo translates to 'without myself' or 'selfless.' The point of this particular brand of tea ceremony is sharing with a group. Everyone sits in a circle, and each makes tea at their own spot in their own way. There's no 'right' way to do it -- just however you do. Then you pour out samples a few at a time and share them around the circle. The silence eventually stops on its own once everyone's served everyone. (If you'd like a slightly less abridged explanation, check out last year's event page.)

In my case, I brought a Rose Earl Grey I'd gotten at the shop. It's not one they sell as a house blend, but I'd worked with Emily to get a reasonable approximation of one I'd bought in Covent Garden many years ago and not been able to re-find or replicate since. (Discover's Earl Grey has triple the bergamot of your usual EG so it's a winner.)

There was a wide variety of stuff there. Me doing a very basic mostly English teatime setup, Emily to my left with a slightly more personalized do... down the table was a full pu-erh setup, and directly across from me was a woman with containers of milk and sugar doing a strong builder's tea reminiscent of how I tend to get my tea overseas.

As advertised, the silence sort of petered out (or did discussion peter in?) over time, as we all got back to being chatty, asking about each other's tea of choice, wondering if there was any more pu-erh to be had, etc. It wasn't a high-end formal ceremony with rules and rituals, but that was sort of the point. Everyone did their own thing, everyone had something different, and the fun and experience were in the sharing. Even in silence, it was unexpectedly friendly and social, and that came out verbally afterwards.

Like I mentioned before, they only do this once a year -- so if you're in the Hampton Roads area next time it rolls around, consider giving it a look in. Or check your locally-owned tea shops to see if they do something similar.