The Japanese Tea Ceremony
The Japanese Tea Ceremony is a culmination of history, culture, and self-reflection dating back centuries. The first tea room was created in Kyoto, Japan in the 15th century. As a matter of fact, the Japanese Tea Ceremony is also known as “The Way of Tea.” Participants worshiped purity, harmony, and mutual tolerance and designed the ceremony to represent these values.
“When you watch a tea ceremony, every single movement, every single gesture is very calculated. It’s very precise, and it’s all protocol. It’s all part of the system. And it’s almost like they’ve sacrificed every single thing to make that perfect.”
Now that you know a little bit about the Japanese Tea Ceremony, it is important to know that there are two kinds of ceremonies that can be practiced. The formal ceremony is known as the chaji and includes a kaiseki meal, confections, and other tea varieties for guests to consume. A kaiseki meal is a traditional multi-course Japanese dinner and often includes small portions and artful presentations. The informal ceremony is known as chakai or achakai. Basically, tea is served with confections like fruit, mochi, or anko, a sweet paste made from red beans.
Four Principles of 茶の湯
Cha-no-yu, or “The Way of Tea”
- 1. Wa – Complete harmony between guests, hosts, and surroundings.
- 2. Kei – A profound respect for all, regardless of rank or status.
- 3. Sei – To cleanse yourself and be of pure heart and mind.
- 4. Jaku – Inner peace that can only be discovered after obtaining the first three principles.
The day of the Japanese Tea Ceremony is focused on rituals, with early preparation and decoration done by the host.
When guests first arrive, they must walk through a garden leading to the tea room where the ceremony will commence. However, before they begin the ceremony, there are three things guests must do before entering. First, they must remove their footwear. Second, they must wash their hands in a stone basin. Third, they must rinse out their mouths. In brief, this practice symbolizes the participants cleansing themselves of the dust brought in from the outside world.
As soon as the guests walk through the small door, they bow to show humility and respect. In fact, the door serves as a barrier to the outside world, lending to the atmosphere of sanctuary inside the tea room.
Guests are seated in the tea room based on their rank. On the floor are tatami mats, a traditional Japanese floor covering typically made from straw. After everyone takes their place, they sit in the proper seiza position, with knees on the ground resting their hips onto their heels. This position represents a sign of respect for the decoration in the tea room.
On the occasion that a meal is part of the ceremony, it is typically served with sake and sweets before the tea is drunk. Once the meal is over, the host sweeps the room and sets flower arrangements in preparation for the tea ceremony. The host also cleans their tools while kneeling on a cushion with an intentional, graceful motion. Afterward, the guests must once again purify themselves before beginning the tea ceremony.
Next, purified water is placed into an iron kettle over a stove on the floor. While it boils, the host prepares a fukusa, which is a silken cloth representing the host’s spirit. The fukusa is taken from the host’s kimono sash, inspected, folded and unfolded before being used to handle the hot kettle.
After the water from the kettle is poured into a bowl, Matcha is combined and whisked into a thorough paste. Later, several other ladles of water are added to the tea. Now the tea is ready to drink.
The First Taste
In order to continue the ceremony, bows are exchanged once again. As the first guest is handed the bowl of tea, the bowl is rotated to avoid drinking from its decorative front. Each participant drinks from the same bowl, wiping the edges before passing it onto the next person. This continues until everyone has drank from the tea.
In addition to drinking the tea, guests are served wagashi, sweets made from fruit, mochi, or azuki, a red bean paste, to compliment the bitterness of the tea.
To conclude the ceremony, the bowl is inspected and its decoration admired. Afterwards, the bowl is handed back to the host who offers the guests another round of tea. Once the guests have finished the second round of tea, the host once again cleans their utensils and returns the equipment to its place.
Cha-no-yu, or The Way of Tea, is now a hobby practiced the world over, with many tea rooms here in the United States. Wherever cha-no-yu is practiced, it remains steeped in Japanese tradition and highly celebrated for its adherence to Japanese culture and ritual.
Get a taste of this sacred ceremony when you try Yum Matcha‘s ceremonial grade Matcha tea. It’s full of antioxidants and comes in small packets for you to take on the go!