Some skills are unique, and this month, OHLALA had the pleasure of uncovering Budoor Steele’s mastering of the art of Japanese tea.
OHLALA – Tell us more about Chawan Japanese Tea House. What is the story, and what exactly is the concept that you offer?
Budoor Steele – Chawan is a cultural hub bridging traditional Japanese culture and Bahrain. The concept is based on the art and philosophy of the 400-year-old tradition known as Sadō, ‘The Way of Tea’. The chashitsu (tearoom) is a place of peace where customers can step into a space of tranquillity, away from everyday life stress and enjoy an artisanal cup of tea. It also aims to elevate the tea culture and raise the standards for customers and the food and beverage (F&B) industry. At Chawan, customers learn the art of kimono dressing, how to brew tea, participate in a traditional tea ceremony or practice Japanese calligraphy. Besides the various tea experiences, tea-related workshops are offered to deepen guests’ knowledge. We also provide F&B training, menu pairing and supply tea directly from Japan.
OHLALA – How did this passion for Japanese tea flourish? Was it just a hobby at first, and then it became your professional vision?
Budoor – The path of tea was never a hobby. It all started in the tearoom in 2008 when I had my first bowl of matcha. The peacefulness the tearoom offered and the philosophy behind the practice sparked my interest. And since then, it became my Ikigai (purpose). Sadō has changed my life in more ways than one. I have become more aware of my surroundings, present in each moment and appreciate the little things often taken for granted. But above all, I have learned acceptance. This mindset and feeling was something I wanted to share with others.
OHLALA – What are the steps one needs to follow to become a tea master?
Budoor – Becoming a tea master is a lifelong journey. There is always more to learn and the more you understand, the less you feel you know. Mastering the Japanese tea ceremony requires 10 years of practice. Like most academic structures, Sadō has many levels of certification, ranging from beginner to advanced practitioner and additional categories from instructors to professors. Alongside the tea ceremony practice, I have also obtained an International Tea Mastery and Tea Sommelier licence from the ITEI (International Tea Education Institute), where I am currently part of the faculty.
OHLALA – What has been the response of the Bahraini community to Chawan?
Budoor – I believe that the people in Bahrain have a beautiful mindset and are eager to try and experience new things. Even though educating consumers and spreading awareness about tea and its culture takes time, the consumer palate quickly adapts to appreciate Japanese teas. I have not had a single negative encounter, and I believe that if high-quality tea is brewed correctly, it becomes a unique experience.
OHLALA – What do you like most about what you do?
Budoor – I enjoy the reactions of the consumers. When they have their first bowl of matcha or enjoy a professional tea experience, they leave with a sense of serenity, making it all worth it.
OHLALA – You are representing the Japanese culture outside Japan. Do you feel that this is a lot of responsibility? What are the values that you think are most important to highlight?
Budoor – Yes, it is a huge responsibility to represent the culture. Thus, one must have the proper education and knowledge. I hold a masters in Japanese humanities from Kyushu University – Japan, with a thesis based on the tea culture system. Apart from practising Sadō, I am also certified in Kimono dressing and the art of Japanese confectionery known as Wagashi.
OHLALA – What do you enjoy most about Bahrain?
Budoor – I enjoy the cosy atmosphere and the diversity of our little island, which reflects beautifully on the cuisine and the lifestyle we all enjoy.
OHLALA – What is something in our country that you believe everyone should experience?
Budoor – Traditional Bahraini cuisine and horse riding, both of which I dearly miss when away from home.