Charcoal for tea in Europe

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As a new kid on the block in Europe, I would like to start looking for a source of sumi (charcoal) suitable for chanoyu.

The sumi does not have to imitate what we are used to using in Japan for chanoyu. Simply sumi, no chemicals, no particular shape or size, no smoke.

If people would like to share their sources here, I would be most grateful.

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Dear Adam;

I have a friend in France who has a supplier, local charcoal maker, who makes all kinds of charcoal including that suitable for sumitemae. He tried but was unable to access this web site so he instructed me to give you his Email. jcrmaitre@free.fr [this is my friends address not the sumi maker]. He is eagerly awaiting your message. Any excuse to increase the network. You should contact him. At the moment he says he is out of stock and a new supply will not be ready until September. Jean-Claude tells me that when this happens he uses soft wood charcoal available locally. Please ask him for details. He also is interested in where you live with the hope of meeting for tea in the future. He has a nice garden and tea house that he has built on his property. I visited once. Good luck.
Sincerely;
JLL

  • Elmar
    Let me endorse what John said – Jean-Claude Maitre is a delightful person who has a really beautiful tea garden and sukiya (I’ve been there – it’s a 2 mat muko-giri ro setup).
  • Adam Sōmu
    Thank you very, very much John-Leon. Also thanks to Elmar. I’ll email Jean-Claude.
  • Adam Sōmu
    Dear all, thank you for your wonderful and enthusiastic replies. I contacted Jean-Claude and he was a top bloke! He put me in touch with TAVIOT, a company making charcoal à l’ancienne. \(^o^)/\(^o^)/\(^o^)/ http://www.taviot.fr/charbon.php I am yet to order, but his enthusiastic recommendation gives me full confidence this will be a good source. Case closed (^-^)/”\( ^-^ )
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That is a critical question all over the world, I think, Adam, and thank you for asking it. The best I have been able to find in the US is what is called “lump charcoal” and most definitely not anything with the word “briquettes” – run from those!  The chunks are obviously from real wood chunks – pieces of stump and pieces of branches, etc. –  and usable.  Not that this will help you in Europe, but here in the Eastern US, “Publix Greenwise 100% natural wood charcoal” brand fits the bill.  Wash the powder off selected pieces  and dry it, and with a starter fire, it will burn pretty hot and without either smell or sparks.  Hard to start though.

  • Elmar
  • Adam Sōmu
    Though not exactly what my selfish self was asking, my American students will be very happy to see this news, Elmar! Thank you very much. I think I could write a book on the tales of trying obtain sumi in Australia. And let me vent my frustration to Japan Post: the bloody cardboard box is more flammable than the sumi! And no biological material is living after a week in a furnace! “Dangerous goods”, indeed. But there’s alway good in bad, and I look forward to getting creative, and saving ¥.
  • Elmar
    You may have to do it the hard way, Adam – see http://www.nakedwhiz.com/makinglump.htm ; also http://www.wikihow.com/Make-Charcoal
  • Marius Frøisland
    Elmar could you put the links into the answer? You should be able to edit the answer. That way comments will help make the original answer better with out the need to go through all comments
  • Marius Frøisland
    Now I want to try to make sumi
  • Elmar
    done, Marius
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Adam,

In your school is there a special section for learning to ask funny questions?

Any supermarket has a section “SUMI for CHANOYU” always at 50% discount. Now seriously: sumi whether we want it or not is on a steep disappearing trail

My take: everyone things there must be a country in EU somewhere where they still make it the old way – build the mound cover it with soil and go for reduced oxygen burning.

Well, not that true – the technique has almost disappeared as industrial manufacturing has the upper end.

Japan  –  it seems you know well the difficulties to pay and transport sumi from Japan.

There was a place in Italy (maybe there still is) but it is controlled by a new age guy from the Belgium association who does not let anyone touch the maker. He resales it for the members of the Belgian association only. But you may be lucky to try.

I am going in tow weeks in Romania to see if there, in that savage eastern for ever primitive country there may be a chance to find someone.

If that someone exists, I will definitely inform you and we will see it from there

Stay good

Gabriel

  • Adam Sōmu
    Which supermarket do you shop at, Gabriel? Sounds like it’s better than Monoprix (ha! 笑) I don’t want to start a war with the Belgium association. I look forward to news from your Romania séjour _/\_
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You can choose to try to make charcoal for yourself just like you can choose to make ashes for yourself. At least for ashes, Tankosha publishes instructions on how to make them and equipment is not super expensive. Charcoal is a bit more expensive to set up in the size that you need, but not impossible. Basically, all you have to do is obtain pieces of tree branch in appropriate sizes from an appropriate tree. You then essentially cook the branches in a reducing atmosphere. I can send you links on how to make charcoal. The example is for making charcoal writing sticks so the equipment and raw material are smaller.

Unless you are interested in making charcoal for yourself or know someone who is interested, then you are stuck with importing charcoal from Japan. The particular shapes used by Urasenke are not particularly popular for barbecue. There is artisan charcoal which resembles pieces of tree commercially available outside of Japan. It would work, but it is the wrong shape for a sumi temae.

There are a few intrepid people importing tea dogu in the United States. There may be people marketing tea dogu in Europe as well. If not, I recommend shopping at rakuten.co.jp. You can find several dogu establishments and you can have your purchases shipped to you. The cost can be hideous. There is a shopping service which claims to deliver via EMS at half the normal price. They must make their money some way. I have not tried them. However, if you are interested in trying them out, they are http://media.buyee.jp They claim to be able to buy stuff from Rakuten. Rakuten is an online store which consolidates specialty shops all over Japan. They link to the online stores for a bunch of tea dogu stores.

  • Adam Sōmu
    Thank you very much for taking the time to give such detailed information, Barbara. I have made sumi before in Australia with the methods Elmar shared. I experimented with several wood varieties and all would either smell of smoke a little. I guess the Australian trees are as unforgiving as the wildlife. I am not interested in getting the exact sizes used in sumi-demae in Japan. I look forward to unique arrangements each time based on the sumi available. I imported sumi with an import permit before Japan Post, in their infinite wisdom, decided sumi was a dangerous good and dōgu shops I deal with stopped sending sumi overseas. But at any rate, it is a very expensive operation, especially considering I get bulk sumi when in Japan and cut it myself for a fraction of dōgu shop cost. I think Jean-Claude’s lead is looking promising. Thanks, again
  • Barbara Nostrand
    As I wrote, there are companies in North America which make charcoal which looks like pieces of dead tree. The pieces may be a bit smaller than what is expected, but they do work. Amazon (USA) appears to stock Fogo “All Natural Premium Hardwood Lump Charcoal”. They should work better then briquets which dominate the backyard barbecue. They also sell Kebroak, Original Natural Charcoal, Jealous Devil, and Mangrove. The keyword appears to be lump charcoal. Some manufacturers even appear to give you a selection of odors. Amazon even classifies brands by odor and size. Amazon does ship by a variety of methods, so you should be able to order from them unless there is an international shipping prohibition of some sort based either on the things being flammable or some sort of biological concern.
  • rhondarolf
    I read this post yesterday, and today on NPR, i heard about a Cuban Marabu charcoal just now being sold in the USA. The story:http://www.npr.org/2017/07/05/535578466/can-cuban-charcoal-turn-up-the-heat-on-u-s-cuba-relations The charcoal: https://www.fogocharcoal.com/products/fogo-cuban-marabu-hardwood-lump-charcoal-33-pound-bag
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You may have to do it the hard way, Adam – see http://www.nakedwhiz.com/makinglump.htm ; also http://www.wikihow.com/Make-Charcoal

 

  • Adam Sōmu
    Thanks, Elmar. I made sumi when I lived in Australia with varying success. Placing the wood in an airtight camper’s oven gave the best results. However the Australian woods are stubborn and either smell or smoke too much, or both. I learnt a lot, though.
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Dear all, thank you for your wonderful and enthusiastic replies.
I contacted Jean-Claude and he was a top bloke! He put me in touch with TAVIOT, a company making charcoal à l’ancienne.
\(^o^)/\(^o^)/\(^o^)/

http://www.taviot.fr/charbon.php

I am yet to order, but his enthusiastic recommendation gives me full confidence this will be a good source.
Case closed (^-^)/”\( ^-^ )

 

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