The Japanese tea ceremony is a ritual that involves the ceremonial preparation and serving of Matcha green tea, along with traditional Japanese sweets that help balance out the tea’s bitter taste. This quiet and serene ceremony, which takes place in an intimate setting, usually a small room that can only fit four or five people, is also referred to as chanoyu, meaning hot water for tea, as well as sado, which means the way of tea.
Focus of the Japanese Tea Ceremony
This ritual is more than just about drinking tea. The main focus involves the host (tea maker) putting all of their attention and effort into preparing and serving their guests tea. Every gesture matters during the entire process, and every gesture must be done from the heart. In fact, the act of preparing and drinking the Matcha green tea, in the traditional tea ceremony way, is viewed as a choreographed artform that most Japanese people believe requires numerous years of study and practice before one can master it.
During a traditional tea ceremony—a formal, full-length one may last four hours and includes a meal along with two servings of tea—guests do not engage in small talk or any kind of gossip. Rather, if they talk, which is to be limited, they discuss the origin of the utensils being used and commend the beauty of simple aspects of nature, like the sound of the water or the natural light.
The overall goal of this ceremony is to be aesthetically pleasing, encourage guests to live in the moment and not be distracted by things going on in their lives or the outside world and bring peace and physical enjoyment to the host and guests.
The main utensils used are the traditional tea making tools, which include:
- Ceremonial ceramic bowls
- Bamboo whisk
- Bamboo ladle to pour the fresh or boiling water into the tea bowl
- Scoop for the powdered green tea (ceremonial Matcha)
- Scuttle with charcoal to build a fire
- Water jar to replenish the kettle
- Ceramic waste water bowl
- Linen cloth for wiping the bowl.
Along with the traditional tea making tools, other nice objects are used. Each object used is supposed to be unique to the guests and gathering. Typical objects used are flower vases, tea caddies and other similar, simple objects.
How to Receive and Drink the Tea
The host makes the Matcha green tea in front of their guests. Once the tea is made, the host hands the bowl of tea to the first guest. Upon receiving the bowl, the guest first places it between them and the next guest. Next, they bow to excuse themself for being the first guest to drink the tea. Then, they move the bowl in front of their knees, thank the host for the tea, pick the bowl up and drink the tea.
To drink a bowl of Matcha properly, hold the bowl in the palm of your left hand, slightly raised and with your head slightly bowed in thanks. After taking a drink, wipe off the spot where you drank from and set the bowl down in front of you. Finally, you pick up and admire the bowl before returning it to the host.
History of Tea Ceremonies
Drinking green tea was first known in China during the 4th century. It later spread to Japan and was solely practiced by priests and nobles in the mid-14th century. Later, starting in the 15th and 16th centuries, wealthy merchants and warlords began taking part in tea ceremonies.
It used to be a ceremony that only men participated in; until the early Meiji era, late 1800s to early 1900s, when women were finally taking part in it.
The traditional Japanese tea ceremony is not something Japanese people do regularly. But there are many today who are being taught the way of the tea from Japanese teachers. And there are also some today, throughout the world, who are incorporating their own Matcha green tea ceremony into their workday or at home to help bring more peace into their daily life.