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
Your Own Tea Ceremony
And now, finally, onto hosting your own Japanese tea ceremony!
There are two forms of tea ceremony in Japan - chaji and shakai. Chaji is a full-length, formal, complete ceremony that incorporates a full meal and can take up to four hours. Chakai is used for more of an informal gathering, with less rigid rules and lighter refreshments.
Of course, we recommend starting with the shorter ceremony to ease yourself in - but if you're ready to dedicate your life to Chaji, then go for it!
What You'll Need
First and foremost, you absolutely need the proper gear (called chadogu) to perform your own Japanese tea ceremony. There are five main aspects of the chadogu that you should invest in:
- Cha-ire: The cha-ire is the tea caddy, usually ceramic. The tea will be stored and dispersed from it, and will be filled before the ceremony. You will measure your tea out of this in front of the guests, so a steady hand is CRUCIAL. (No pressure.)
- Chasen: The chasen whisk is made from bamboo, and it is damaged often so is frequently replaced. It needs to be handled carefully due to the fact that it's quite delicate, so don’t use force to whisk the tea - rather, use soft, delicate, and gentle movements.
- Chakin: This is a white hemp cloth used to wipe down the rim of the bowl after a guest has taken a sip of their tea.
- Chawan: The chawan is the teacup or bowl, and is the most important element of the tea ceremony. You tend to have shallow bowls in the summer to encourage the tea to cool, and deeper ones in the winter for the opposite effect. Chipped and imperfect bowls are prized, with their flaws being points of interest, admired by the guests. Broken cups are repaired through kintsugi - meaning mending with gold.
- Chasaku: Also known as chashaku, this is the scoop used for scooping out tea from the caddy and into the cup. Usually, it is carved from a single piece of material like ivory or bamboo.
The Dress Code
You should wear modest clothes and avoid any strong fragrances that may distract from the tea experience. Remove all jewellery that may damage delicate tea equipment.
The traditional Japanese tea ceremony venue is surrounded by a garden, which is kept tranquil and simple to encourage a calm spirit, and typically features stones of varying shapes and sizes which makes up the path leading to the teahouse.
A stone lantern should be placed close to a stone basin near the entrance so that visitors can wash their hands and rinse their mouths before entering the tea room. They will then remove their footwear before they enter the tea room, and will be seated in order of prestige (or favouritism).
The Tea Room
The ceremony is traditionally held in a tatami room (and you should avoid stepping on where they join up), where the entrance is traditionally kept low so that entering guests have to bend over, symbolising humility.
Decorative elements in the tearoom include an alcove (tokonoma) where a scroll or seasonal flowers are displayed. After a bow, the first guest will enter the room and take the seat closest to the alcove, followed by the other guests. The group will ideally sit in a seiza position on the tatami floor, with knees forward, legs bent, and butt cheeks resting on the heels. The back should be straight with the hands folded in the lap.
Once the guests have taken their positions, they should bow once more before observing the decorations which you would have carefully selected for the occasion.
Serving the Tea
The guests will be served a meal in several courses, accompanied by sake and Wagashi (which is served before the tea). After the meal, there will be a break when the guests leave the room and the host sweeps it down, sets up flower arrangements, and makes preparations for serving the tea.
The host will prepare the tea in front of the guest. The tea bowl is then placed onto the tatami mat in front of the guests, who should pick it up with their right hand and place it on their left palm. With their right hand, they should turn it clockwise by around 90 degrees so that its front is not facing them anymore. (It's okay if their maths is slightly off - we'll forgive them).
Every object used in the ritual will be ritually cleansed, including the tea scoop, the whisk and the tea bowl. The first guest should take a sip, compliment the host on the tea, bow and then wipe the rim and pass it along to the second guest. The procedure is repeated until everyone has taken tea from the same bowl.
At the end of the tea ceremony, the guests may inspect and appreciate the tea bowl by lifting it, but once finished, they must turn the bowl so that the front now faces back towards the host. The guests will then be asked if they would like another round of tea, but if not, the tea ceremony is over - once the host washes the tea utensils and returns the equipment to where they were before starting.
The Importance of Chado
In Japanese, there is a common phrase: Ocha-wo-suru. This means 'to have tea together' and symbolises the importance of sharing company, ideas, and moments with one another over a nice cup of tea. The Zen Buddhist term ichigo-ichie means 'one opportunity one encounter', suggesting that there is only one moment: the moment you are currently living in, which will be gone in the blink of an eye and lost forever. That's why it's so important to make the most of each moment.
And with that, you should make each Japanese tea ceremony as special as can be.