Oxford is one of those places that everyone in the world knows about. And thanks to our friend James Thirlwall, founder of Chayou, we were lucky enough to hold two tea events at the Oriel – one of the oldest colleges at the University of Oxford.
Before the start of the events James met us for coffee to talk about tea, zen, and the future. Beautiful weather (they say we bring the sun with us;]) and fun company was perfect to get us in the mood for the events to start later.
While a little difficult to find the Harris seminar room in the Oriel College gave that academic flair that was perfect for tasting and talking about tea. So first we had a tea workshop with a lot of hands on experience: instead of listening about Japanese tea and how to make it, you get a kyusu and a few yunomi and free to go.
Matsu-san obviously explained the process and showed how to do it from the beginning to the end, but the key point was that you got to try it yourself, so that you know what to do when you get home with a bag of Japanese tea. The peak of it was Matsu-san’s demonstration of a tea ceremony with Matcha, that got everyone around in a cosy circle. Everyone from fresh Oxford students to Japanese people, who have been drinking Japanese tea for more than 50 year, were really engaged and we didn’t even notice how the event went for half an hour more than planned.
A short break with some cookies and freshly roasted tea (from the tea aroma candle – a new invention by Matsu-san) and we were ready for the next go. Evening event was focused a bit more on Japanese tea and culture it is found in. While we couldn’t have everyone make tea this time, Matsu-san was brewing it a cup after cup and sharing it with the guests. A little bit more serious talk about where the tea comes from and how it is made, invited difficult and challenging questions, which we love because we can learn together. For example how is organic tea different from conventional. The use of chemicals in farming, even if very small amounts, sounds intimidating and many people in Europe lean towards organic. But if you tasted two cups blindsided it would be really difficult to tell which is which. We share as much information as we can, and the choice is obviously yours.
Serious talk equalled serious faces, but only until Matsu-san’s yoga poses and contagious laughter. Everyone was also pleasantly surprised, that drinking is not the only thing you can do with tea, you can also eat the leaves after steeping to get all the remaining nutrients. And how tasty with a dash of soy sauce and a few sprinkles of roasted rice! The time flew by again and no one really wanted to leave, which we are always happy about.
After the event when all the cups and tea were safely packed back into the boxes, James and his friend Asifey gave us a quick sneak peek behind the scenes of the Oriel College – a magical place breathing history. Who knows, maybe a couple of years from now we will see a Japanese tea course being taught in Oxford;]