Interesting. When you say flower arrangement, what do you mean? When you refer to kettles, what characteristics do the kettles imbue?
I have plants in the tea room, but I find that the addition of a simple
flower arrangement to the tea table greatly enhances the beauty of the setting for myself and for a guest when pouring for another. Most Taiwanese chayi settings include a plant for its aesthetically enriching presence and for the presence of nature a simple arrangement brings to the table. For the tea table, I keep them generally smaller than 6 inches tall, this is also in line with my teacher's guidelines for the height and placement of a flower arrangement in a tea setting. Mainly, one doesn't want the flower arrangement to dominate the setting but to work harmoniously with the elements of the tea setting. Thus I keep the arrangements small. They are often created from our backyard garden and representative of the season or a mood and similar to many Japanese Ikebana presentations.
On kettles, kettles and water, combined with temp., as you know, have great influence on the outcome of tea. Some people prefer the effects of different kettles. Some people don't like the taste of any water that's been brewed in metal and use earthen, Chaozhou, Purion, or Yixing kettles to brew their water. Others prefer the effect of metal on water and will pay large sums of money to procure a well-seasoned tetsubin to influence their water. In the house I have two clay kettles, stove-safe glass kettles, tetsubin, copper, stainless steel, and silver kettles. Each has its effect on water. Pairing these kettles with the other elements of the pour (teapot, cups, etc.) and with a certain tea is its own process collaboration and yields many different outcomes, especially when combined with waters from different sources, of differing pH and minerality.
Here is one example from Hojo on the varying effects of certain tetsubin on water: http://hojotea.com/en/posts-61/
Is there ever anything that you look for in your teas. Are there specific traits which are universal?
This is a large question
. Simply said, yes there are elements I look for in my tea due to personal preference and expectation. I also remain open to where a tea can take me and view the practice of tea as a celebration of the gifts of change and impermanence. Thus, when a tea does not deliver something I am looking for, it still is occurring in that moment as it is...I find I am rather surprised, often, where a tea takes me. For instance, the other day I was preparing to brew a White Peony tea and my Bonavita kettle was set to 95 deg.C (from an wulong pour the day before). Many people brew this tea much cooler but I decided to see where the tea took me when I brewed it at 95 deg.C. It came out wonderful, with different elements than if brewed at 80 or 85 deg.C.
However, after study and drinking enough tea one begins to develop an awareness of what a specific tea "should" be able to deliver and I do return to specific teas hoping to reencounter what I've previously experienced with those teas (for example...the creamy butteriness
of a Jin Xuan cultivar, etc.). Certain teas do often have "universal" elements that tend occur in a specific cultivar, of a specific tea, from a specific region. However, I remain aware that each season, each harvest, each tea is its own reality and feel excited every time I open a new bag of unopened tea. Sometimes the most interesting part of a tea is in how
it delivers a well-known trait or quality commonly associated with it. Tea is a living entity, affected greatly by the whole succession of rich events from seedling to weather, to harvest and picking method, to processing method, to the hand of tea maker, etc. Some of the best moments for me are when a tea offers a surprise different than my expectation while still meeting and satiating a hoped for expectation with a given tea.