Meet Master Ceramicist Tom Decker

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It’s no secret that we–like many of you–adore really high-quality ceramics. We constantly keep our eyes and ears wide open for new ceramicists whose work stands out as exemplary for its beauty, utility, tactile delight, and, of course, suitability for matcha. They can be from anywhere, but we especially love meeting local ceramic artists and asking them to make very special works just for us, with matcha specifically as a focal point.

A few months ago I was interviewed by the wonderful folks from Tea People about matcha. As part of the same podcast they also interviewed Tom Decker, a Berkeley-based ceramicist, ceramics instructor, and tea lover, who said a lot of interesting and, to me, deeply true things about the nature of matcha and the shared experience of drinking it.

So I contacted Tom and asked if I could see some of his work. He graciously drove over to Marin from Berkeley and brought some of most beautiful bowls I’ve ever encountered. We immediately commissioned some bowls for Breakaway Matcha clients. But it was the story of the bowls, and how Tom makes them, that blew me away.

Tom has taught the clay arts and ceramics all over the world, but somehow one day realized that the ground underneath his house in Berkeley (where his family has lived for more than a century) was full of unbelievably rich clays. In the front yard was a loamy, ochre-colored clay almost ideal for stoneware vessels, but it was pretty hard to excavate — he needed a pick and a digging bar to break it apart. And in the back was an almost black, silty clay, easily obtained with just shovel, that he could turn into earthenware glazes. So he decided to start using both of them in his work.

Both clays first require soaking the hardened material in water. Once the clay has broken down in the water Tom then uses screens to remove any rocks, stick, roots, etc. The wetted clay is then dried and ground to a fine powder, using a huge stone mortar and an aluminum baseball bat (!) as his pestle. This powder is then screened again with a finer sieve. The powdered clay may then be rewetted and formed into a glaze. Tom likes to add some white, local (of course) stone he finds around the neighborhood and laboriously pulverizes it to make the glaze.

In each firing, in a tiny remarkably efficient kiln in his backyard, five tea bowls at a time are fired to mature the clay body and glaze at stoneware temperature (about 2200°F). The kiln is fueled with wood that Tom gathers from the neighborhood, which he then chops and seasons. It takes about three hours to reach temperature, after which it’s cooled for eight hours and then unloaded.

In Japan most ceramicists present their bowls in beautiful wooden boxes (typically paulownia). Tom, naturally, makes his own boxes from local wood (pine), and they’re almost as beautiful as the bowls. We wrap the bowls in turmeric-infused (used originally as an insect repellent in muggy Japan) thin cotton towels before placing them in these lovely handmade boxes.

We’re calling the bowls Rare Earth.

And we have an extremely limited quantity. We don’t know when we’ll see more again and we expect them to soon be gone. If you’d like one, you may want to get it quickly.

We couldn’t be happier with them, or with the entire experience of getting to know Tom and his gorgeous art.

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Profiles of Hardcore Matcha Drinkers–Dave “Yeah Dave” Romanelli

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It’s a complete pleasure to introduce the inimitable Dave Romanelli as a hardcore matcha drinker. Dave’s energy is utterly boundless and utterly contagious. He has helped thousands of people educate themselves on the wonders of yoga and the awakened life. He has no problem teaching classes with titles like, “Yoga and Chocolate,” and “Yoga and Wine.” We need more iconoclasts like him, and we couldn’t be happier about his mission to get everyday mortals to live more fully in the moment. We of course also love him for switching his obsessive coffee habit to an obsessive matcha habit. Dave is an original!

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I have to ask: why does everyone call you “yeah Dave?”

In college, I had a penchant for asking hypothetical questions that didn’t have answers (think Spicoli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High). My friends gave up on answering the questions and would just say “Yeah Dave.”

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I absolutely LOVE your mission to make meditation — dare I say inner peace? — accessible to everyone, especially young(ish) hip urban people. Give us your best tip on how to incorporate a simple meditation practice into our daily lives.

Once you get it, meditation is the most wonderful thing in the world. Until then, it can be painfully boring. So here’s a good way to start. instead of sitting with your eyes closed, set an alarm for 1:11pm. When it goes off, take a minute to chill out, to breathe, to push back from the computer and relax. Once we start to connect “meditation” to “feeling amazing,” we are more likely to try it. And once you make it a habit, everything changes. They say “meditation creates more time than it takes.”

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What does wellness mean to you? what simple things can an average person do to feel at her best?

Wellness is who you are in your natural state, when you relax, when you are savoring matcha, watching a sunset, indulging in the simple pleasures that form your most lasting memories. from that foundation of peace and joy, health can root down and blossom. But without that foundation, health will always be elusive.

An average person should start by taking at least one moment each day to really savor life. By that I mean, no worries, no work, just do something for yourself that you will remember when you put your head on the pillow at night. So many days go by where we don’t remember a single thing that happened and that is a global sociological epidemic. But the solution is simple. ENJOY YOUR JOURNEY

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How does matcha fit into your daily routine?

Matcha changes everything. It’s the way i start almost every day. Gives me energy, it’s a ritual, it’s supremely healthy, just a magical way to get started on the right foot.

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Why are you so damn happy all the time?

MATCHA MATCHA MATCHA

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