A brief guide to drinking tea.

The Yamaga Tea Party event at Fanime routinely ranks in my top ten moments that I've ever experienced at a con.

Of course, I'm an unrepentant Gainax fanboy, so what do I know? When I see Yamaga, I'm usually so awestruck that I'll do things like ask him about his hair color. (Last year it was blonde, and this year it was not. I was curious.) Still, though, it's been an amazing chance to see the Gainax staff in a more relaxed setting.

This year was different from last year's event. The room was the same, and we all sat at different tables and conversed, but this year Yamaga brewed the tea personally, tying into his wife's sado-themed manga.

So we all filed in, and watched as Yamaga sat seiza on the floor, tea-making apparatus arrayed about him. He used the long ladle, whisked powdered tea — it was all quite elegant.

And when it arrived, I was presented with a bowl of tea and a lecture on how to drink it. I didn't mind — I had no idea.

There are, as it develops, four steps. First one admires it visually. Examine the inexpensive plastic cup from Daiso. (Yes, this is a nice event, but it's still at a con, with all the constraints that implies.) Note its charming felt flower decoration. Rotate it. Gasp openmouthed at Yamaga's signature on the back.

Next, pick up the tea in the approved fashion. Take a sip, and appreciate the aroma. Take a larger drink, slurping as needed to cool the tea as it enters your mouth. Finally, quaff the cup, draining it completely. Taste the tea and the bitterness of the tea powder. There's a rhythm to it — this is life, and each step reflects something different. In the end, we must drink it to the lees, as Tennyson wrote.

Enjoy the tasty confection. Chat with your fellow otaku. Gainax staff included — after all, AKAI Takami is probably much more of an otaku than any dozen of your friends.

And at the end, Yamaga talked a little about why he chose to do a tea ceremony with us, saying that he wanted to popularize some of the aspects of Japanese culture that seem most foreign or unattainable to everyday people. He said that people thought of the tea ceremony as something ridiculously expensive and formal, when in reality, in its essence, you can make tea for a few friends and have a wonderful time.

Yamaga did talk a bit about anime, of course. We were especially interested in Aoki Uru, and he commented that he'd been working the past year mostly on funding. He went to Saudi Arabia, he said, but they wanted him to do less ambitious projects, things that were more likely to make money.

That was interesting, certainly, but it's not what I took away from the event. We drank tea with our friend Yamaga, and the particulars of what we talked about are much less important than the overall experience.