Saturday, March 22, 2014

Japanese tea ceremony at the Detroit Institute of Arts, beautiful demonstration of rituals steeped in history

Hostess (in pink) serves guest of honor (in brown) and other attendee
Last weekend, the Japanese Women’s Club in association with the Japanese Consulate of Detroit demonstrated the rituals of the tea ceremony at the Detroit Institute of Arts as a part of the museum's current special exhibition, "Samurai: Beyond the Sword".  My daughter, Rachel, and I were in attendance of the demonstration, and, having experienced many an English afternoon tea as well as being guests at a Chinese tea ceremony, we were anxious to learn more about this very distinct way of tea.

Guests pay homage to wall hangings and tea preparation area
While the Chinese focus on the tea and the English afternoon tea centers on sumptuous treats and accessories, the Japanese tea ceremony's main emphasis is ritual. The hostess invites a guest of honor, and after that designation is bestowed, she can invite as many other attendees as she wishes. The guests enter the room, but before placing themselves at the station where they will be served, they first work their way around the perimeter paying respect to the wall hangings and tea preparation area.

Hostess wipes down tea accessories with napkin
Sunday's demonstration was a condensed version of a ceremony that, with the inclusion of a meal, can take over four hours. At the DIA stage in the Rivera Room, two guests and a hostess, dressed in beautiful traditional dress performed the ceremony in less than an hour. After giving all the accouterments a ceremonial cleaning with a dry napkin, the hostess prepared matcha, a powdery green tea that is whisked to a frothy consistency with a bamboo whisk.

The hostess serves the guest of honor first, who admires the bowl in which the tea is poured. She drinks quickly and appreciates the design of the bowl, making sure to point the most beautiful part of the pottery away from herself.
Guests may ask to examine tea boxes with carvings
After the other attendees are served, they may ask to see the hostess' tea canister. Guests will admire the lovely carved wooden box and after a respectable time of inspection, hand it back to the hostess. 

Hostess leaves the room with tea equipage
When the guests are done with the tea, the hostess will gather up her tea making equipage and depart. Attendees will retrace their earlier route of the room, again paying homage to the area where the tea was prepared as well as the wall hangings, placing an unopened fan before them to mark a respectable boundary between themselves and the hostess' belongings.

Guests again pay respect to tea area, placing an unopened fan as a boundary
There is very little talk during the ceremony as it is considered a meditative event. Unlike the English afternoon tea which Rachel and I are most familiar with, it is quiet, modest and entirely scripted. Beautiful and amazing to watch, we may not yet be masters at the Japanese tea ceremony, but we did bring back some Japanese green tea from the DIA gift shop and, that my dear friends, is a start.

Rachel looks at tea selection in gift shop

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Afternoon tea and chat with Lord Spencer

Interviewing Lord Spencer this week in Royal Oak
It's not often I get to sit down with British aristocracy, but last week I snagged that opportunity when Lord Spencer came to visit Michigan to promote the Althorp Living History collection at Royal Oak's Scott Shuptrine store.

Tall in stature, and in full possession of Patrician charm, Lord Spencer was engaging and accessible. He was surprisingly more handsome in person and unexpectedly humorous.

The Althorpe collection event was held last Wednesday in Scott Shuptrine's upscale furniture showroom and, along with a presentation from Lord Spencer, the retail store also offered afternoon tea fare and musical entertainment for those in attendance.

The "crested caddy" from the Althorp collection now part of  the Gulley collection

The collection is inspired by the Althorp estate, the childhood home of Lord Spencer and his sister, the late Princess Diana. Pieces from the collection include desks, chairs, sofas, beds and accessories, including tea trays and caddies.

The night of the event, the store had one Crested Caddy available, which, as the name suggests is embellished with the Spencer family crest. I scooped it up and Lord Spencer personalized the piece by signing it for me.

When I asked if they still use the tea caddies at Althorp, Lord Spencer said with a wry grin, "yes, but they don't always have tea in them".

Lord Spencer points to the family crest, which was theirs "before Harry Potter stole it".

He pointed to the family crest, noting the griffin below the five-pointed crown. "This was ours" said Lord Spencer, "long before Harry Potter stole it from us".

He told me his favorite tea is Japanese green and that his favorite room to have a cup is the home's library, not only because it's such a lovely space but because that's where the family tends to congregate.

The Althorp collection will strike a chord with Downton Abbey fans as the furniture represents generations of period pieces. I was surprised to learn however, that although Lord Spencer is a close friend of Julian Fellowes, the creator of Downton Abbey, he doesn't watch the show. He jokingly said that he's probably the only one who hasn't.

As part of the media covering the event, I was thrilled the public relations folks of both Scott Shuptrine and Lord Spencer made time for me to chat with Charles, the 9th Earl of Spencer.  For more details on  the Spencer family and the Althorp furniture and estate, check out my stories on The Examiner:

Real life Downton Abbey furnishings and tea with Lord Spencer of Althorp 

The Earl of Spencer and afternoon tea featured at Royal Oak's Scott Shuptrine