“I say let the world go to hell, but I should always have my tea.” - Fyodor Dostoevsky
While India is arguably home to the world’s greatest tea lovers, Japan isn’t far behind. The Japanese tea ceremony is very formal and the rules originated with Buddhist monks and samurai. The first tea ceremonies took place in the 8th century and kept evolving until the 16th century according to Sen no Rikyū’s influence. Do you know exactly what happens in a tea ceremony? Here’s everything you need to know.
The Stages of a Japanese Tea Ceremony
The Japanese tea ceremony is a heavily codified part of Japanese culture. Some steps and rules need to followed including aspects of making tea, tea-drinking, the tea caddy, the powdered green tea used, and the ceramics from which the tea is consumed.
Preparing for a Japanese Tea Ceremony
The tea master can prepare for the ceremony weeks in advance. Spiritually, they need to prepare their soul and achieve balance and equilibrium within themselves. Don’t forget that the ceremony originated through Buddhist religious practices with cleansing in mind. On the practical side, the master of tea needs to choose the right equipment according to the season or time of day. They’ll also clean the entire tea room where the ceremony will take place. The utensils will also need to be cleaned and the tatami changed. The ceremony may also include a meal that the host will have to prepare in advance.
The Arrival of the Guests
Traditionally, the guests must also prepare themselves spiritually for the ceremony. They need to leave their problems at the door to make the most of the ceremony and ritual out of respect of each person in attendance. When they arrive at the tea room, they must wash their hands which also serves as a symbolic gesture to rid themselves of the “dust” from the outside world. The tea room is a sacred and pure place. The tea master will indicate when they may enter. Each guest will enter through a small door, forcing them to bow as a sign of respect for the host and the preparations they’ve made. The tea master will greet their guests by bowing whilst standing.
Cleaning the Tools
The host will clean the tools in front of their guests. There are rules for cleaning to utensils and equipment that will be used. While this may differ from ceremony to ceremony, it’s always very graceful and methodical. During this time, not a single guest nor the host should speak.
Preparing the Matcha
Traditionally, matcha from gyokuro tea is consumed. It’s an expensive tea that comes from a fine powder from the green gyokuro tea leaves. For the ceremony, the powder is often presented in balls. You don’t need to infuse this tea or put it in a bag; the fine powder will dissolve directly in water. The master of tea will take three scoops of matcha per guest and put it into the bowl. They’ll then add hot water (at around 80ºC) and whisk the mixture with a whisk and bamboo. A bit more hot water is then added to create a frothy blend.
Serving the Matcha
Generally, only a single bowl is passed around. The master will present the bowl to the first guest to admire. They’ll turn the bowl before drinking from it. These bowls often have engravings that are filled with gold powder. The guest takes two and a half sips from the bowl and wipes it off before offering it to the next guest who’ll do the same thing. Once the last guest has drunk from the bowl, they give it back to the host. The host may offer a cup for each guest. In this case, you always need to take two and a half sips before placing your drink down.
The End of the Tea Ceremony
At the end of the ceremony, the host will clean the utensils and present them to their guests. They can also present any decorative pieces in the room to the guests. The guests have to examine the utensils out of respect and admiration for their host. This is all done carefully with respect for the tea master. Learn more about attending a Japanese tea ceremony.
The Tools Used During a Tea Ceremony
The equipment used in a tea ceremony is known as dogu in Japanese. There’s a lot of equipment used in these ceremonies. This can vary according to the ceremony but there are several utensils common to every type of ritual.
The Tea Caddy
The cha’ire, as it’s known in Japanese, is a ceramic or porcelain tea caddy with a sometimes ivory lid. A golden lead is generally drawn onto the inside of the lid. This caddy is used to prepare the matcha. As a sign of respect, the principal guest is asked to admire the cha’ire.
The Tea Whisk
The chasen is a whisk made from a single piece of wood and bamboo. It’s used to mix the water and matcha. There are different types of chasen for different consistencies of matcha.
If the matcha isn’t in balls, the spoon, known as a chashaku, is used to serve the powder. It’s a single piece of bamboo and is hidden from the view of the guests during the ceremony. The shapes and colours depend on their use in the ceremony.
The Tea Bowl
This replaces the cups commonly used for infusions. Known as a chawan, it’s essential for any tea ceremony. There are different sizes and colours for use in different types of ceremonies and with different thicknesses of matcha. In winter, the bowls are deeper to retain more heat. Bowls with imperfections are considered more valuable than newer ones as they have a long history and are deserving of the guests’ respect.
The Silk Cloth
This is used for handling hot receptacles. It’s usually a plain silk square. It’s red or orange for women and purple for men.
The Iron Pot
For a tea ceremony, there’s no teapot or kettle, just a kama, an iron pot used for heating water. This is normally a pot that’s been passed down from generation to generation. The name will vary depending on the family that it belongs to. Discover the different types of tea in Japan.
The Different Types of Tea Ceremony in Japan
The tea ceremony is often done with matcha and not black tea, white tea, or iced tea. However, the ritual can vary from season to season. Here are the different types of tea ceremony in Japan.
- Hatsugama: The first boil! This is the first ceremony of the year in January. This is a tea ceremony in which the tea master guides their students.
- Akatsuki-no-chaji: literally the dawn tea ceremony in winter. It takes part early in the morning at the start of winter to enjoy the first sunlight coming into the tea room.
- Yuuzari-no-chaji: the early-evening tea ceremony. This tea ceremony takes place at sunset during the warm summer months.
- Kuchikiri-no-chaji: This takes place in November to celebrate the breaking of the seal on a new jar of tea. Green tea leaves are usually harvested in spring before being reduced to a powder. The tea is then stored in a closed jar. This ceremony is usually accompanied by a meal.
- Yobanashi: This is a candlelit ceremony that takes place in winter evenings.
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