December 11, 2018

Interview: Hannah Dupree and Adam Wojcinski

Event: Matchaggedon | Dates:  13-15 September 2013

V: Storm in a Tea Cup, Tea Shop & Bar

A: 48 Smith Street, Collingwood, Victoria, 3066.

FB: https://www.facebook.com/events/561124710612172/

Adam Wojcinski & Hannah Dupree

Adam Wojcinski & Hannah Dupree

Matchaggedon, a 3 day festival celebrating Matcha tea, is the collaborative creation of the talented Adam Wojcinski and respected tea entrepreneur Hannah Dupree.  Adam Wojcinski is an experienced Samurai Tea Master who operates the Australian branch of the Ueda Soko Ryu (a school that teaches the Japanese tea ceremony of the Samurai Class).  Renowned for his touch of punk meets tradition, Adam is sure to entertain you with his performances and teachings throughout the festival. 

Hannah Dupree is the owner of the trendy venue (think ‘stylised grunge’)  Storm in a Tea Cup, Tea Shop & BarStorm (as it is called by those in the know) offers tea lovers a wide range of specialty teas from all over the world.  Coupled with Hannah’s constant experimentation with tea infused food (both sweet and savoury), as well as her alcoholic tea infused drinks, Hannah’s store remains at the forefront of the tea revolution that is beginning to swell in the coffee dominated city of Melbourne.

It was with great pleasure that I interviewed both Hannah and Adam to talk about tea, Matcha and Samurais.  For all tea enthusiasts wanting to expand their minds and knowledge, don’t miss what Hannah and Adam have in store for those who attend Matchaggedon.  It’ll be sure to entertain you!

Hannah, can you give us just a brief history of how your fabulous tea store evolved?

Hannah:

I was working in the arts with a Degree in Fine Arts.  My parents are artists, my grandparents are artists, we have a long line of artistic people and I thought that was well and truly how my life was going and that was the path laid out to me and that’s what I was doing.  Then I got pregnant, I had a baby, and in the act of giving birth I realised life begins afresh any day you want it to.  It caused me to look at life and work out what actually makes me happy and what do I actually want to do.  I realised that making art actually doesn’t make me happy: It’s too emotional, too deep and meaningful, there’s just too much meaning attached to the art making practice; that it actually was more about suffering and displeasure than the joy of making something.

So I decided to not do that anymore and I looked at what else do I want to do in my life.  I realised that I have a baby and I have a family and that I’ve got to provide for these people because no longer is it just me travelling around doing what I want to do whenever I want to do it.  So, I decided to start a business.  And then in deciding to start a business, I wanted to start a business that was good for people, a business that was interesting and a business that was relatively new and not just the same as what is out there.  Tea was the obvious answer.

Storm in a Tea Cup, Tea Shop & Bar

Gorgeous boutique tea wares available at Storm in a Tea Cup, Tea Shop & Bar

So you have a love for tea?

Hannah:

I have a love for tea but the tea that I loved at that stage was mostly Herbal teas.  I know they’re not officially ‘teas’, they’re herbals.  On doing a market research into that, it was very clear that that market was well and truly saturated and there are plenty of amazing Herbal teas.  We don’t really need many more Herbal tea companies out there really, so I thought that I should find out a bit about Green tea because at that stage I knew that Green tea was different but I didn’t know that much about it.  That’s when I found out what Green tea was, and that’s when the world of tea just kaleidoscopically opened like a chasm.

Great! The way I see it, the 1st phase of your store was serving specialty tea and tea infused food goodies, right?

Hannah:

That’s right.

The 2nd phase was the introduction of alcohol?

Hannah:

Yep.

Do you think the next phase will be the introduction of Matcha tea?

Hannah:

It could be shaping up that way.

Do you think it [Matcha tea] is going to help shape and extend the boundaries of the everyday Aussie with tea drinking, their palates and their knowledge of tea?

Hannah:

I certainly think it is one more very important step along that way.  Matcha for me is the same as Puerh in that it is a world of tea that has its own definite set of boundaries: It’s like a set of boundaries that you really need to understand before you go too deep into that world.  So I have refrained from serving both Matcha tea and Puerh because I felt like I needed some more guidance, more learning and some more education on both of those things.  That’s why I was so happy to meet Adam [Wojcinski] and be able to train myself and train my staff.  Then through that  [process], get it out there to the broader public, for sure.

A TEAtini, one of the fabulous drinks you can enjoy at Storm in a Tea Cup, Tea Shop & Bar

A TEAtini, one of the fabulous drinks you can enjoy at Storm in a Tea Cup, Tea Shop & Bar

Why is Matcha tea so different to other teas?

Adam:

Matcha tea is different than the other teas in that you ingest the whole tealeaf: You get every single benefit you possibly can get from the tea plant.  It’s not just an infusion.  You actually ingest the whole leaf so you get all the benefits from that.  That’s the biggest difference.

The other difference is that there is a history with Matcha, that it’s a very ceremonial tea that was used in Buddhist rituals first and foremost.

Right.  And it’s prepared differently?

Adam:

Well, it depends on the person [preparing the tea].  If you just want to do it rough and ready in the kitchen, that’s fine, but if you want to do the Japanese tea ceremony there is no option but to follow the prescribed steps anduse Matcha.

Adam Wojcinski performing GraffiTEA

Adam Wojcinski performing GraffiTEA

What is a Samurai Tea Master and how long have you been one for?

Adam:

Okay, a Samurai Class Tea Master is somebody that does the tea ceremony in a Samurai Class tradition.  The Samurai Class has always used tea as it had an incredibly high status.  But Sen no Rikyu was the person that perfected the Japanese tea ceremony – he was from the Merchant Class – and he taught Samurai warriors.  And these Samurai warriors had to adapt the way Rikyu did his tea to suit their class in society.  So they couldn’t just be down with Rikyu’s philosophy of ‘everyone is equal’ because no-one is equal in Samurai society: There’s a massive hierarchy going on so the stuff they did in the tea room had to be tailored to that hierarchy they had to live with everyday.

The way that they executed tea is different. There is lots of room changes, the equipment that you use has to appeal to people that are power hungry crazed Samurai warriors, not just this decrepit wabi stuff that you pick up off the street and use like an old bucket pale…You need to be able to jazz it up a bit and please the feudal lords or the power crazed Samurai that you are preparing tea for.  Of course, the philosophies and the values Samurai had, in their everyday life, came through in the way that they perform a tea ceremony.  Whereas, the merchant class styles were just very nice and soft and very humble…when you do this tea in Samurai style, you are pursuing a very elegant, very crisp, refined elegance that is what Samurai are about because they were the most refined class in society.

So a Samurai Tea Master is somebody that pursues more elegant beauty and more dignified beauty in their tea practice…somebody who pursues no waste in movement.  So your body reflects your mind.  And you have to be down with all the Samurai values and stuff in your learning of your tea practice.   It’s not just your stock standard way of tea.  It’s a ‘way of tea’ like the Bushido or ‘the way of the Samurai’,’ the way of the Warrior’, intertwined in the philosophy and the things that you do in tea.

And how long have you been one for?

Adam:

 Fourteen years.

Wow!  That’s amazing!  Explain to us why Matcha is an integral part of the ceremony, why?

 Adam:

The drinking of Matcha [originally] comes from China.  Now Matcha is only left in Japan and Korea because the cultural revolution or de-revolution in China sort of made Matcha go away and it’s not there anymore.  But originally it was from China and originally part of Zen monks’ practice: So in their daily life when they’re doing their loads of meditation, they are meditating for hours and hours and hours and of course you get the nods [sleepy].  If you drink Matcha more than any other tea, you get more of a stimulation because drinking the [actual] tea leaves [gives you] more caffeine. It’s got more caffeine than coffee.

Iced Matcha Tea, an Adam Wojcinski creation

Iced Matcha Tea, an Adam Wojcinski creation

We should have that first thing in the morning [instead of coffee]?

Adam:

First thing in the morning and it doesn’t make you crazy!  Coffee makes you go up and then down…Matcha just gives you a steady release all throughout the day.

They [the monks] found that out pretty quickly so they incorporated it into their monastic life.  And anything that happens in a Zen monastery always has a ‘way’ to do it because what they want to achieve is that stillness of mind…by doing something exactly the same way they keep their mind still.  So, for the  preparation of tea, they went through that process as well, and it gradually evolved from being prepared in a back room, to being prepared to a room full of people, and the tea ceremony was borne from there.

The Japanese tea ceremony you perform and teach is ancient and steeped in tradition.  Yet you’ve been really creative and infused the modern world into it, such as your GraffiTea.  What made you incorporate modernity into this ancient ritual?

Tea equipment for the Samurai Tea Ceremony

Tea equipment for the Samurai Tea Ceremony

 Adam:

At the start you had Rikyu and OribeOribe was the first Samurai tea master and then Oribe’s number one disciple which was Ueda  Soko.  So these 3 dudes were really hard core and they were constantly doing creative things with tea and wanted to do new stuff and incorporate new ways, new arts into the tea ceremony.  Oribe especially was profoundly influenced by Kabuki clans.  Kabuki now in Japan is a very refined dance, a very expressive dance in Japan.  It’s really refined now but back in the day Kabuki clans were like these gangs that used to go around performing arts, getting money for what they did, and they were associated with crime, drugs and sex and all of that kind of stuff.  So Oribe was influenced by the free art of these Kabuki clans.

So these guys were doing this at the start of tea when tea was a happening thing and then because they were so influential there has been little exploration of the artistic side of tea for about 400 years after.  If there is any place we can be more creative in tea it’s probably Melbourne, because we’ve got all these cultures who are freely collaborative.  That’s why I made myself be influenced by the art that I love in Melbourne like street art and graffiti:  Like the Kabuki clans or Oribe, I’m being influenced by the ‘out there’ [and the] arts in Melbourne.

How did Matchagedden evolve and who thought of the idea?  Was it a collaborative thing or did one of you approach the other?

Hannah:

It was pretty collaborative.

Adam:

I think we just had the same ideas at the same time.

What is the philosophy behind it?

Adam:

I want to introduce Matcha to consumers in Melbourne.  Up until now the only place you can get good Matcha in Australia was through a tea master like me.  You have to be my student to get good Matcha or else you don’t get it.  Apologies to the shops that are selling Matcha now, but it doesn’t cut it for people who are doing a tea ceremony.   A lot of people want it and when they try and get it from those shops, it doesn’t cut the mustard.  So these people are put off it when they have their first experience at it. They say ‘what’s so good about Matcha?’ If they get the good stuff they’ll know straight away what’s good about Matcha…and it has to be introduced carefully because you have to prepare Matcha in a more careful way than you can just infuse tea…You need to know how to prepare it.  Matchageddon is a good way to introduce the preparation of Matcha and for me to share the knowledge about how to prepare it and to value it….rather than just plonk it [in front of someone] then go away.

Hannah:

I just want to make a big song and dance about it.  It’s something that I’m really excited about and have been looking forward to the day when it would happen here and I would love to put on a party.

I love a party and so what a great thing to have a party about: When you have a festival, it’s much more than for the sake of ‘we now serve this’.  It is about reaching a much broader audience, that’s the whole thing.

Hannah, pre-interview we were talking about extending the ordinary Aussie’s palate and vision about what teas are, as opposed to just a cuppa and an Anzac bickie.  It’s a lot more and beyond that.

Hannah:

We have a really, really sophisticated food and wine palate in Melbourne.  I cannot believe that tea hasn’t been made a fuss of to the point at which it could be.

Extensive range of tea at Storm in a Tea Cup

Extensive range of tea at Storm in a Tea Cup

Hannah, I think you are at the forefront of that which you really ought to be congratulated.

Hannah:

Well, it made me really nervous starting the business and thinking ‘why hasn’t anybody done this before?’  Like, ‘is there really something wrong here that it hasn’t [been done]?’  To be able to get Matcha out, I talk with baristas every day and they’re so excited about their craft and what they do and what they can get out of coffee and how they can push coffee and all that meticulous mindful nature that you talk about; [the potential] in Matcha is what they do every single day with their coffee.  So, to be able to introduce a completely different flavour profile, a completely different plant, but that still has many of the same things (and in some cases, a much deeper history) that’s really exciting and I think it has far reaching possibilities.

Great, so you’re going to serve Matcha in your store from there on in?

Hannah:

Yep.  It will take a little while, but I’m really excited about wholesaling it as well and actually getting out there to a much broader context [but] you need to have the sort of environment where, like wine bars and coffee roasters, where they already take great care with their products…more than just moving people through as quickly as they can.

What are you offering over the 3 day festival?

Hannah:

Matcha cocktails, sweet and savour foods that work with Matcha.  We already do a Matcha cheesecake, maybe a Matcha tiramisu, that sort of thing.  Then tastings and just little off-the-cuff classes, and that sort of stuff.  I want as many people as possible to buy a bowl and a whisk and some Matcha, take it home and do it at home.

Adam:

I’ll have Matcha kits, I’ve got a box especially made.  I designed the boxes myself and got people to make them in Japan for me.  Part of the set is a Matcha tea bowl which a potter friend in Japan has made, you get a whisk, you get a tea scoop, you get a tea caddy and you get 10 grams of Matcha and off you go.  If you do the [workshop] Green Beam Matcha 101 then I’ll show you how to do a 10 minute tea meditation and you can just sit that next to your kettle on your bench in your kitchen.  Every morning before you go out and face the world you just do your 10 minute tea meditation and then you go out and face the world and have a kick arse day.

Green Beam Matcha 101 for the party people is a full workshop on all the history behind Matcha, where it came from, how it got to Japan, I’ll go through the full thing: The people that like it will really like it.  I’m going to do GraffiTea so I’ll do the full ceremony in GraffiTea style which is tailored to Smith Street where we are here, one of those graffiti capitals in Melbourne.

Did I read that you are doing a special ceremony on the Saturday?

Adam:

On the Saturday night, I’m going to do something a bit wild!  I’m not going to say what I’m doing but it’s going to be a Butoh tea ceremony, ‘Japanese darkness dancing’,  so you’ll see me looking like you don’t see me, up on the table here in front of everyone.  I’ll do a performance, some scene in the history of Matcha that really appeals to me that I want to act out in a Butoh performance…and if people die it’s not my fault! [laughter].  If I die, then, well…because it’s Matchageddon!

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