Manama: Impeccably dressed in a kimono, sitting on a tatami (a Japanese mat made of straw), in a room decorated with Japanese art and whisking a green liquid in a china bowl, Budoor Steele looks like the stereotypical tea master in a quintessential tea house in Japan. The only difference is that this scene is set in Bahrain.
The 32-year-old petite Bahraini woman was one of the first people to introduce the kingdom to the traditional Japanese tea ceremony called ‘Chanoyu’ or ‘Chado’ when she opened her tea house ‘Chawan’ in Amwaj in 2008.
Budoor’s love affair with Japan and the Japanese tea ceremony began serendipitously while she was teaching English to some Japanese students in Japan.
One day, one of her Japanese students invited her home for tea. Her student’s mother, to Budoor’s delight, was a certified tea master who performed the tea ceremony for her. Fascinated, Budoor watched her student’s mother meticulously perform the tea ceremony. Afterwards, she knew that she had found her calling.
She studied under her student’s mother and became a certified tea master. She came back to Bahrain and set up ‘Chawan’.
The novelty of the brand made her tea house a roaring success.
But in 2011, just four years after setting up shop Budoor had to make a tough choice. She was offered a scholarship to do her Masters in Japanese Humanities in Tokyo and to do that she would have to close her tea house. Most entrepreneurs in her place would not have closed a successful business to further their education, but Budoor felt her education could not wait.
Also, moving to Japan would also give her an opportunity to restart her lessons with her tea master and become a certified instructor herself. “My time in Japan was very hectic, while studying full time at the university, taking lesson to be a tea instructor in another town on the weekends, I managed to squeeze in a Kimono tying class as well. My university professors thought I was crazy and that I would burn out. But the tea ceremony requires the tea master to be dressed in a kimono and I knew I needed to be able to learn how to do this.”
Wearing a kimono is very difficult and a generally two-person job. Kimono experts are expected to be able to tie the elaborate garment in under 20 minutes. Budoor became a certified expert by learning how to do it in 17 minutes and 50 seconds.
In August, Budoor will reopen ‘Chawan’ but at Al Frieh art gallery in Mahooz.
She also wants to open several other pop up locations so that all residents in Bahrain will be able to have the experience.
“At the art gallery, I will take the experience up a notch and people can book the full tea ceremony experience. I will also carry over some popular traditions like hosting special events like Japanese movie nights and the art of dressing up in a Kimono, Japanese calligraphy, etc,”, said Budoor.
The ‘Chado’ starts with Budoor offering the customer a traditional organic bean dessert. She then explains the significance of the ceremony before cleansing her bowls and whisking up Matcha, a powdered green tea from Japan.
The silence during the ceremony is therapeutic – it lets you be at peace with yourself and helps you leave your stress and worries behind.
Apart from her tea house, Budoor also sells Japanese teas online under her own ‘Chawan’ label.
Several tea and coffee shops in Bahrain are stocked with products as well.
S. Mehta is a freelance journalist based in Bahrain.