Celebrate the sacred in a teacup

It would not be inaccurate to say Nat Boggs makes a business of throwing tea parties. But it would be misleading.

Boggs, owner of the Water, Earth & Light Tea Temple, leads tea ceremonies in his truck-turned-temple and on location at parties and parking lots.

The ceremonies are not the highly ritualized Japanese ceremonies but a relatively simple Chinese style. The tea itself – rare imported varieties – is important. But even more important, Boggs said, is the power of having tea to connect people to the present moment, to themselves and to others.

“I can start serving tea and say next to nothing other than, ‘Would you like some tea?’ ” he said. “The tea acts as a vehicle to accelerate connection and accelerate communication.

“There is something about the presence and the space that opens up over tea that seems magical.”

He discovered tea ceremonies through good friend Dr. Joseph Byus, who has studied the art of tea and introduced Boggs to tea master Paul Rosenberg of Portland, owner of Heavens Tea School.

When he attended his first ceremony with Rosenberg, Boggs was tremendously moved. “I spent most of the ceremony in tears,” he said. “I couldn’t tell if I had tea or snot or tears in my cup.”

Byus gave Boggs a tea set and told him to go to school, and Boggs began working with Rosenberg, who’s been studying the nuances of tea for 14 years. “Tea brings you into the moment,” Rosenberg said. “It takes you out of the daily world.”

Since September, Boggs has served tea from the tea temple (a converted truck, currently being repaired) at the Westside Olympia Food Co-op and outside Waves Studio on Division Street, and has performed ceremonies in homes and set up tea lounges for parties. He even does ceremonies for himself at home as a form of meditation.

“Sometimes, tea can be very meditative,” Rosenberg said. “Sometimes, it’s more like a party. Sometimes, it can be transcendent. It can be all those things if it’s done right.”

Boggs sets a space with china, glass, pottery and bamboo, with incense and candles. “I bring together things that are sacred and special to me,” he said. “Even though it’s very simple, it has a very profound weight.”

Brewing puer, which is compressed into small cakes and then aged, Boggs breaks pieces off a doughnut-shaped cake and combines them with water in a small vessel, then holds the vessel between his hands as the tea steeps.

The tea is strained into a tiny pitcher known as the tea ocean and poured into miniature cups.

“You use a high proportion of leaf to water,” Rosenberg said. “And you use very short steeping. Every pot tastes different, smells different and just evolves. You can sit for hours drinking these little cups of ever-changing tea.”

During a two-hour tea ceremony, seven to 12 varieties might be served, beginning with lighter varieties such as white or herbal teas and building to the intensely flavored puer, then ending again with a lighter choice, Boggs said.

Very few people work professionally with tea unless they are also merchants, Rosenberg said. “It’s very rare for people to do tea this way. I didn’t know anyone else besides me who did tea this way until Nat came along.

“I love the way Nat does tea,” he added. “He does it with love and respect, and that is what tea is all about.”

Indeed, even as he talks intently about the power of tea, Boggs never fails to notice and refill an empty or nearly empty cup.