The Art Of The Japanese Tea Ceremony

Matcha is a stone-ground powdered green tea used in traditional Japanese tea ceremonies. According to 8th century Zen Buddhist Eisai matcha is the ultimate mental and medical remedy and has the ability to make ones life more full and complete. The tea ceremony is the ultimate in Japanese hospitality. There’s so much more to it than simply stirring a teapot; it’s Zen Buddhism in a cup. Intrigued? Here’s everything you need to know about “the way of tea”.

What is it all about?

japanese tea ceremony
Source: Scientific Naturopathy

Sadō or Chadō (The Way of Tea”) refers to the teachings related to organising the tea ceremony in which matcha(“powdered green tea”) is served to guests in the traditional style. Matcha consists of a finely ground powder of the first tea leaves of the year. It has a bitter, refreshing flavour.

The Japanese “way of the tea” is a lot more than just enjoying drinking matcha. It is closely linked to Japanese cultural and religious rituals grounded in philosophy. Chadō taught manners, hospitality and the way of living. Rooted in Chinese Zen philosophy, the tea ceremony is a spiritual process, in which the participants remove themselves from the mundane world, seeking harmony and inner peace.

The utensils created through traditional craft arts, the space in the tearooms and the gardens, the dishes used in the tea-ceremony and the Japanese confectionery are all essential elements of the ceremony. Having a profound influence on Japanese culture, sadō has developed into a composite art which represents an ideal of Japanese lifestyle.  There are countless types of ceremonies; a full-length formal event lasts about 4 hours and includes a meal and two servings of tea.

It takes decades for the host to master the art of serving tea, through study of philosophy, aesthetics, art and calligraphy, as well as learning the meticulous preparations. Everything is done for the wellbeing and enjoyment of the guests. All movements and gestures are choreographed to show respect and friendship. Beautiful ceramics with seasonal motifs are hand-picked to match the character of individual guests. Even the utensils are laid out at an angle best admired from the viewpoint of the attendees. It’s important that each tea gathering is a unique experience, so the combination of objects is never used twice.

What are the main steps of a typical tea ceremony?

the japanese tea ceremony guide

Step 1: The actual ritual starts way before ceremony. The host sends formal invitations to the guests keeping them simple and beautiful. He learns about the guests and chooses the utensils for the ceremony in a way that they stand out reflecting each individual guest. Until the day of the ceremony the host prepares to focus only on being in harmony with her/his soul.

Step 2: On the day of the tea ceremony, the host rises very early in the morning to start preparations; he/she cleans the room, places a Tatami (Japanese carpet) on the floor and before guests enter the room, the host announces that he/she is ready to receive the guests.

Step 3: In Japanese tea ceremony, the guests need to prepare too. They need to spiritually prepare themselves before taking part in the Chanoyu. When guests arrive, they are led through the garden, then wash their hands to cleanse themselves symbolically of the dust of the outside world. They have to step through a small door, which ensures the guests bow in respect. The door is also a barrier to the outside world, helping to create a sense of sanctuary.

Step 4: Kneeling on a cushion, the host cleans his or her tools with graceful movements. Purified water is boiled in an iron kettle on a stove sunk into the floor. It’s extremely important that the guests sit in a graceful posture throughout. No unnecessary movements or conversations are allowed in the ceremony and everything from cleaning to how the guests are treated has to be in harmony.

Step 5: A silk cloth (fukusa), representing the host’s spirit, is taken from their kimono sash. It’s symbolically inspected, folded and unfolded, before being used to handle the hot iron pot.

Step 6: 3 scoops of Matcha – green tea ground to a fine powder are mixed with a small amount of hot water. Then the host whisks the water and Matcha together to makes a thin paste and adds more hot water to the bowl to make the tea. Then, serve it to the guests.

Step 7: The bowl of matcha is handed to the first guest, who rotates the bowl 180º in two turns before taking a sip, so as to avoid drinking from the decorative front of the bowl. Each guest wipes the bowl before passing it on.

Step 8: Pretty wagashi sweets, sometimes made from azuki bean paste, are served to complement the bitterness of the tea.

Step 9: After all the guests have enjoyed the tea, it’s time to clean the bowl. Cleaning the bowl is always the host’s job. The host will clean and rinse the teaware; the bowl, the ladle and the whisk. It’s time for the guests to leave. They would bow one more time as a sign of respect to you before leaving. The ceremony is complete.

Have you ever attended such ceremony? If not, would you want to?