Art of Tea

tea-cup-art

 

Tea began as a medicine, grew into a beverage, and eventually matured as an art. In China, during the eighth century, drinking tea was considered one of the “polite amusements”, a pursuit akin to poetry, and in Japan during the 15th century it was practiced as a ceremonial form of aestheticism, known as Teaism.

Tea is an herb of unparalleled importance to eastern cultures. In Tibet, there is actually a unit of measurement called a ‘cup of tea’ which Tibetans use  to describe the distance they can walk with a cup of hot tea in their hand before it cools down sufficiently to drink.

According the philosophy of Tea, preparing tea attentively provides both both virtue and delight. The Book of Tea commends its subject as far more than a means of subsistence or even an expression of sensuality; but rather as a “religion of the art of life…an excuse for the worship of purity and refinement, a sacred function.”

Tea culture focuses equally on tea’s preparation and appreciation with masters reminding teophytes that the art of tea is much less about discerning the taste, as it is about learning to taste discerningly. Over time, the attentive tea-taster will learn to descry a tea’s subtle “return flavor”, that rarefied essence which only becomes fully apparent a few moments after each sip as the more refined elements in the brew become perceptible to the palate.

Kakuzo Okakura, in his “The Book of Tea” writes: “Teaism is a cult founded on the adoration of the beautiful among the sordid facts of everyday existence. It inculcates purity and harmony, the mystery of mutual charity, the romanticism of the social order. It is essentially a worship of the imperfect, as it is a tender attempt to accomplish something possible in this impossible thing we know as life.

The Philosophy of Tea is not mere aestheticism in the ordinary acceptance of the term, for it expresses conjointly with ethics and religion our whole point of view about man and nature.  It is hygiene, for it enforces cleanliness; it is economics, for it shows comfort in simplicity rather than in the complex and costly; it is moral geometry, in as much as it defines our sense of proportion to the universe. It represents the true spirit of Eastern democracy by making all its votaries aristocrats in taste.

The heaven of modern humanity is shattered in the Cyclopean struggle for wealth and power. The world is groping in the shadow of egotism and vulgarity. Knowledge is bought through a bad conscience, benevolence practiced for the sake of utility. The East and West, like two dragons tossed in a sea of ferment, in vain strive to regain the jewel of life. We await the great Avatar. Meanwhile, let’s have a sip of tea.” 

Pumpkin Ice Cream

 

Cut a small pumpkin into large chunks and remove the strings and seeds. Steam the pumpkin on a steaming rack in a large pot over boiling water until the pulp is soft, (usually this takes about half an hour). Let the pumpkin cool slightly and scrape the pulp from the skin. Now blend the pulp until smooth and set aside.

In a double boiler heat 1 & 1/4 cups of heavy cream.

In a large bowl whisk 6 egg yolks, 2/3 cup coconut sugar, 1/3 cup maple syrup, 1 tsp. ground ginger, 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon, 1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg and a 1/4 teaspoon allspice.

Gradually pour 1/4 cup of the hot cream into the egg mixture, whisking constantly, then whisk the egg/cream mixture back into the remaining hot cream atop the double boiler.

Double boil for a few minutes whisking constantly with a small wire whisk while regularly scraping the sides of the pot with a heat-resistant spatula. Whisking is to add air to the mixture whilst spatulation helps remove the thickening mixture from the surface of the pot where the heat is highest.

Just keep on whisking and spatulating until the egg-cream melange is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Though this only takes about ten minutes or so it can feel like an eternity. Experience dictates that the best way to avoid custard frustration during this period is through constant tasting. You might also consider adding a pinch of ground cloves or nutmeg powder here or there in order to help to pass the time.

Finally, pour the custard through a sieve set over a clean bowl, adding 2/3 cup of pureed cooked pumpkin, (organic canned pumpkin is also fine) plus a teaspoon (or two) of vanilla extract (of course a scraped vanilla pod would be preferable) and another 1/4 cup of very cold cream.

Now whisk again and refrigerate the custard for an hour or two until quite cold. At that point you an transfer the chilled custard to an ice-cream maker or thick metal bowl for freezer-whisking until you have reached the desired consistency. Makes about a quart.