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A British cuppa poured the Japanese way

Tokyo, Aug. 24 (Reuters): When pouring the tea, always keep the arm straight and move the pot in a horizontal line from cup to cup. Never use vertical movements.

Fill the first cup a quarter full, the second a half and the third three quarters. Then move the pot back, horizontally of course, to top up, ensuring uniformity of colour and strength.

Just the kind of precision found in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony. Except this tea is Brooke Bond, the cups Royal Doulton and there’s milk and sugar in silver pots.

Four students are taking the third lesson of a four-part course on the art of making tea, British style, at Brooke Bond House in Tokyo’s posh Ginza shopping and eating district.

Having already studied British “tea culture” and history and learned about different types of tea, they will move on in the last lesson to the art of making cucumber sandwiches and holding a “British”-style tea party.

“Tea is a drink with a high class image, it’s calm, something to drink when relaxing,” explains Hisayoshi Takeda, manager of Brooke Bond House, a tea retailer and cafe that is part of the multinational Unilever group.

Observing one of the hour-and-a-half-long lessons in a room complete with a glass cabinet full of Wedgwood china and a large photograph of British stately home Woburn Abbey, reveals far more about the Japanese psyche than it does about the British and their tea.

There’s a heaped teaspoonful of Japan’s love of ritual, order and the proper way of doing things, a lump or two of feelings left over from a century ago when things European were deemed the height of civilisation, and finally a dash of the well-known Japanese ability to assimilate and localise foreign ideas.

Such thinking has seen 20,000 people pass through Brooke Bond house in the last eight years, many moving on to the advanced course on the way to earning an industry-recognised tea instructor qualification.

For many students, it’s an antidote to the fast pace of modern life where a hot drink often means a mechanical instant cappuccino at Starbucks.

“It’s the perfect drink for the coming times,” said Atsuko Yamada, a student in her 40s. “It’s like Slow Food,” she adds, referring to the movement that promotes an alternative eating style.

Her dream is to open a tea shop — “just a counter, really” — where people can while away the hours in conversation, sipping one of her brews.

But, this being Japan, that means serious study first. After all, the centuries-old Japanese “Way of Tea”, the chanoyu, is as much about spiritual and mental discipline as it is about the flavour of the drink.

Yamada and the others take careful notes as instructor Mika Tagawa moves on to how to make tea by putting a teabag in a cup, something familiar to most British people and definitely short on spiritual discipline.

Whether anyone in Britain would really warm the cup first and leave the teabag in for precisely 45 seconds — an egg-timer is part of the required equipment — with the saucer used as a lid is debatable. But that’s not really the point. It’s about doing things properly, with respect and care.

“During the boom in tea drinking from 1994 to 1999 there were only a few people who could make tea properly,” said Kazuko Nakao, herself a qualified tea instructor who oversees the courses at Brooke Bond House.

With the lesson nearing an end, it was time to cut loose as Tagawa served up in quick succession iced tea with grapefruit juice, iced tea with cream and mint and hot tea with orange, drawing gasps of delight from the class.

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