Do you ever find yourself wondering why Japan is one of the coolest countries in the world?
Well, we don't. Because we already know the answer.
(The answer tea. The answer is always tea.)
The Japanese tea ceremony is one of the most famous of them all, and for good reason. Called Chado, meaning the way of tea, it is one of the most ritualistic tea ceremonies, following a traditional set of rules and ideas.
The Principles of Japanese Tea Ceremony
In Japanese tea ceremony, there are four main elements that you should consider.
Firstly, we have Wa, meaning harmony. This element is focused on living harmoniously with one another and with nature; being changeable and flexible.
Secondly, we have Kei, meaning respect. This means having respect for the process of the tea ceremony, along with one another and the equipment and implements. The idea is that you should take pride in the practice and the company.
Thirdly, we have Sei, meaning purity. In this instance, purity means cleanliness and orderliness, along with being pure of mind and spirit. In practice, this means that you should have a clean (not grubby) body, body, and in theory, it also means that you shouldn't have a grubby mind.
Finally, we have Jaku, meaning tranquillity. This will only come when you put the other three principles into practice, and is more about aiming for mindfulness and elevation of the mind. This requires a high level of discipline to embody tranquillity both within and outside of your practice, and is one of the reasons why Chado can be considered a form of meditation.
The Importance of Matcha
As we all know, matcha is extremely important in Japanese tea culture - especially in Japanese tea ceremony.
In Chado, there are two different methods of matcha preparation. First there is usucha, which is a thin tea and is used for shorter or more casual ceremonies. The matcha that you typically see in photographs is usucha, identifiable by its thin layer of foam.
The second is koicha, which is thicker and a lot more concentrated, and the texture is very different to what you find in any other tea. With this type of matcha, the ceremony can last for up to four hours!
In the Japanese tea ceremony, each person drinks their own bowl of usucha, and the koicha is shared between the group. The art of the ceremonial preparation and presentation of matcha is called temae.
In Japanese tea ceremony, the teaware is considered to be equally as important as the brew. There are six main schools of pottery in Japan, all of which produce incredibly talented and skilful artists - with 'potter' being a highly respected occupation (and not just a skinny English wizard).
Japanese teapots are known as kyusus, and come in three main styles, typically made from purple or red clay. There are other types of Japanese teaware that can be made from cast iron, glass, or porcelain, all offering different dimensions to the flavour profile and ceremony experience.
The Yokode Kyusu is the most typical modern type of Tokoname teapots, with a handle on the side. This teapot allows the tea drinker to hold the handle and place their thumb on the lid to pour using one hand. This is considered to be the ideal teaware for daily drinking in Japan as it is easy to quickly pour multiple cups of tea without spilling a drop, and the kyusu's small size makes it perfect for brewing smaller quantities to draw out the full flavour of the leaves.
The Ushirode Kyusu has a handle at the back (like a classic teapot), and can be used to brew Chinese and British teas. It actually draws inspiration from classic Chinese teapots, with the lid sealing in flavour and moisture during steeping.
The Uwade Kyusu has a handle on top, in the form of an upside-down U. The handle is typically made from a different material to the rest of the pot, such as rattan, bamboo, or even plastic. Due to the handle being attached to the rest of the pot by metal hooks, it stays cooler for longer, and can also be a great choice for those who are left-handed.
Do you happen to know and love the concept of snacks?
Well luckily for you, the Japanese tea ceremony is full of them!
Usually, the matcha will be served with a Japanese confectionary called Wagashi, with the type of Wagashi differing between districts.
Some example of Wagashi treats are:
- Daifuku, a small round mochi or glutinous rice cake, with the most traditional filling being Anko (sweet red bean paste)
- Dorayaki, also typically filled with Anko, the outer layer is made from castella
- Taiyaki, translates to ‘baked sea bream’; this is fish-shaped but contains no fish
- Yokan, one of the oldest and more traditional Wagashi, is made from Anko. Yokan is traditionally given as a gift, and the fact that it is (mostly) vegan is a nod to ancient Buddhist principles