June 3 was the Strawberry Full Moon and I found myself making a matcha latte. Sensei was particular about tea in the afternoons, but enjoyed a simple coffee in the morning. He’d scoop some instant Nescafe powder into a cup, pour in the boiled water, stir, then stir in plain Coffee Mate instant creamer powder. But when it came to tea and matcha, he knew the details. The big one he explained one day was the difference between Tea Powder and Powdered Tea. When you buy the green matcha you can get the cheap Tea powder which is collected from the debris of the tea processing or you can get the finer quality powdered tea where the tea leaves themselves are powdered intentionally. He also insisted that water heated almost to the boiling point tasted different than water boiled then cooled slightly as it should be.
When I think of Sensei and tea I remember taking him to visit Gerow at Jikoji in the Bay Area for a few days in late January 2004. We meditated all the time, walked around the hills, and a few other persons joined the three of us for some of the time. Then one day Sensei did a simple tea ceremony for us (with matcha) on the doorstep grassy area like a picnic. We headed into SF city for the day, and found a delightful Chinese tea house where you bring your bird in and hang the cage at your table while you order from maybe a hundred different teas. We walked around a bit and noticed the Mandarin Oranges given for luck in the Chinese New Year (a few days previous). Sensei explained he was a (Water) Monkey in Chinese Astrology and this year was the year of the (Wood) Monkey — auspiciously his year.
Later we met up with a friend who was a serious tea ceremony practitioner. I forget his name but I’m so grateful as this was my first and only true tea ceremony experience with the custom tea room and everything. Later we had Indian food and Sensei pointed out the difference between real Indian Chai (milk tea) and the American knock-off (tea with milk). A year later I made my way to India and understood what he meant. The milk is boiled and the chai seasoning is steeped in it; there’s no water involved. Well, after all that caffeine I found myself talking and unable to stop myself even after Sensei and Gerow pointed it out to me. It was hilarious, but I really don’t care to overdose on caffeine again. At the end of the trip we stayed in a Japanese style hotel downtown and were a little let down by the western bathtub in place of Japanese ofuro. I think he really enjoyed being in a Japanese place, and I really valued spending the few days at his side. With all the meditating and serious philosophical discussions, I was ready to sleep deeply in my futon on the floor beside his (caffeine really never keeps me awake). lights out. “oyasumi nasai” (good night). a minute silence. then Sensei starts chatting about the most common things (like the people we met, stores we visited, etc), taking me totally by surprise. A good time, indelibly indexed in my memory under Sensei and Tea.