More from the Book of Tea

In case you wondered, as I did, who Niuka was, here is Kakuzo's account:

The Taoists relate that at the great beginning of the No-Beginning, Spirit and Matter met in mortal combat. At last the Yellow Emperor, the Sun of Heaven, triumphed over Shuhyung, the demon of darkness and earth. The Titan, in his death agony, struck his head against the solar vault and shivered the blue dome of jade into fragments. The stars lost their nests, the moon wandered aimlessly among the wild chasms of the night. In despair the Yellow Emperor sought far and wide for the repairer of the Heavens. He had not to search in vain. Out of the Eastern sea rose a queen, the divine Niuka, horn-crowned and dragon-tailed, resplendent in her armour of fire. She welded the five-coloured rainbow in her magic cauldron and rebuilt the Chinese sky. But it is also told that Niuka forgot to fill two tiny crevices in the blue firmament. Thus began the dualism of love - two souls rolling through space and never at rest until they join together to complete the universe. Everyone has to build anew his sky of hope and peace.

The Book of Tea

Last week Benny was sick poor soul and his only solace was pots and pots of green tea. Jasmine, hyson, sencha; green with lap sang sou chong, green with peppermint.  It made our house beautifully fragrant, and prompted me to dust off one of my favourite possessions: Okakura Kakuzo's 1906 treatise The Book of Tea.

Kakuzo was born in Japan but lived (aptly) in Boston, and wrote this book as a way of introducing Americans to the exquisite lineage and lore of tea. The book, elegiac and reflective, is phrased with the perfection and precision of a tea ceremony.

Here are some lovely bits, not all of them about tea:

There is a subtle charm in the taste of tea which makes it irresistible and capable of idealisation...It has not the arrogance of wine, the self-consciousness of coffee, nor the simpering innocence of cocoa.

Meanwhile, let us have a sip of tea. The afternoon glow is brightening the bamboos, the fountains are bubbling with delight, the soughing of the pines is heard in our kettle. Let us dream of evanescence and linger in the beautiful foolishness of things.

The heaven of modern humanity is indeed 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 practised 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 need a Niuka again to repair the grand devastation; we await the great Avatar.