Thursday, July 16, 2009

have tea, will travel

Just got back from my summer vacation up in Lake Placid. I spent a wonderful, isolated week and a half at a friend's cabin on one of the islands in the middle of the lake. The rule had been to "pack light" since I was sharing a small car and limited trunk space with three others. The last leg of the trip ended in a tiny motor boat (with a maximum capacity of 5 people or 4 with luggage) ride across the lake to the cabin. Packing only the essentials, I had to leave all of my tea equipment behind. I spent the days sunning, swimming, making s'mores in a century old fireplace, and hiking Whiteface Mountain with friends. I also spent a lot of the time craving tea and wishing I had risked even a small gaiwan and some cups. I regretted not hijacking Michael's personal tea kit for traveling.

During my vacation, my thoughts often drifted towards that elegant, two-layer Ching dynasty basket containing the necessary basics for Gong Fu Cha outside the tearoom. Tall and slender, I could have easily shared my car seat with it. I'm posting some photos I took of the tea basket during a cultural event we participated in before I left. Now maybe I won't be the only one fantasizing about this beautiful antique turned tea kit during summer vacation.

This basket of brown laquered bamboo and cane dates back to the 1880's and was used primarily to transport food. A thin strip of metal sits over the lid, between the handles and is locked in place with a key. A nice solution to keep the contents from falling out if the basket is tipped over. When the cover is removed, a shallow tray sits above the first layer. This is where Michael keeps tea utensils and a strainer, folded into his tea towels.

I have to admire Michael's showmanship. Usually during an event, a crowd gathers to watch what he pulls from the basket. The setup becomes just as interesting as the actual tea ceremony. I can't think of a more stylish way to announce one's tea addiction while far from home. The first compartment has enough room for a small porcelain tea tray, a tea boat, a gaiwan wrapped in it's silk purse, some shallow dishes to displaying dried tea leaf, several tea samples, a funnel for the teapot and a rolled up mat to that goes under the tea tray.
The bottom layer holds some more tea towels ( they do double duty of protecting porcelains from knocking into each other during transport). A waste bowl cradles a wrapped teapot. There's also a fairness pitcher, some wooden tea coasters, teacups and even a shallow vessel for rinsing teacups.

Almost ready for tea...

I hope you can agree, it's a pretty nice setup for tea on the road. All one needs is a pure water source and a kettle. A teamaster on the premises would be nice too but not necessary. Maybe next time, I'll have the pleasure of a holiday with the comforts of tea .


Anonymous said...

For pure water in the wilderness you're looking at just using some activated charcoal. That's recommended even for those who aren't tea people out in nature where the water isn't exactly unspoiled. This whole setup reminds me of stories of the pioneers who first crossed America. Apparently one of the few necessities they took with them was an elegant tea service which was the hallmark of refined civilization on the frontier they refused to do without. --Jason

yumcha said...

I love to learn about these things. Thank you for sharing, Jason. I could imagine the comfort of a beautiful tea service while facing the wild unknown.

loose leaf tea lover said...

So unbelieveable how much culture goes into the art of making tea. The varities too are endless. I just was introduced to big red robe, a high quality oolong. The prep for this requires attention to detail. Although it breaks the budget, its my new guilty pleasure.