A guide to a Japanese matcha tea ceremony
If you drink matcha, you’re probably already aware of its many many health benefits. But you might not know the tradition and history behind this ancient secret for youth, beauty and energy. This green superfood isn’t just delicious and great for your health, it also has a rich and beautiful history that spans centuries. Read on to learn about where matcha originated and how (and why) it was (and still is) used in traditional Japanese Tea Ceremonies.
WHAT IS THE JAPANESE TEA CEREMONY?
The Japanese Tea Ceremony is an artistic, meditative experience that is native to Japan. It revolves around the ritualistic serving and sipping of Ceremonial Matcha (green tea powder). Even though matcha originated in China, it was brought to Japan by a Buddhist Monk around the 12th century and made popular among the upper class around the 14th century. One of the main ways to enjoy matcha during this time was at social gatherings, where attendees would drink matcha to clear their minds and appreciate fine paintings and crafts in a serene environment.
Traditionally in Japan, serving tea is a sort of art that requires spiritual discipline. The Japanese Tea Ceremony is an opportunity to appreciate the calm simplicity of the tearoom, the feel of the bamboo tea preparation accessories in your hand, and the quiet company of others. It’s also an opportunity to clear the mind and experience a moment of purity, free from the stresses of everyday life. Every detail of the ceremony is thought out and executed with intention. Flower arrangements, calligraphy, and ceramics are all required in these traditional ceremonies, although there are contemporary, simplified versions of the ceremony as well.
PURPOSE OF THE TEA CEREMONY
The purpose of the Japanese tea ceremony is to create a calm communication between guests and host. Partly, the ceremony is based on the act of serving tea, but it also includes the appreciation of our connection with landscape, architecture, traditional bamboo accessories, art, flower arrangements, ceramics, and Buddhism. All these elements co-exist in the Japanese Tea Ceremony, and the ultimate goal is to gain a deep, spiritual gratification through enjoying your tea in quiet contemplation. On a social level, the Tea Ceremony is a gift from host to guests, and bonds are strengthened through this gift of tea and pleasant environment.
RULES OF THE JAPANESE TEA CEREMONY
Throughout the world, this ritualistic preparation of matcha is referred to as “The Japanese Tea Ceremony,” but in Japan, it is called Chanoyu (translated literally, this word means “hot water for tea”). Although the word “ceremony” invokes images of a formal, fixed act based on strict traditions, the Japanese Tea Ceremony has quite a bit of flexibility, and each ceremony differs depending on the occasion. Different seasons and different occasions call for unique preparation, utensils, flower arrangements, and intentions. A scroll describing the purpose of the tea ceremony and the host’s objective is often displayed. Regardless of the host and the purpose of the ceremony, Japanese Tea Ceremonies do share a common mission: to commune with friends and the surrounding environment, to remove oneself from the day-to-day living and enjoy a moment of inner peace, and to enjoy a bowl of matcha.
PHILOSOPHY OF TEA
The philosophy of tea is deeply rooted in the following ideals: Harmony, respect, purity, tranquility. Or, in Japanese: Wa, Kei, Sei, Jaku
“Wa” signifies harmony. The tea host will try to replicate the harmony of nature in the tea room and the surrounding area. The tea accessories, flower arrangements, and all other aspects of the ceremony will also reflect the harmony of nature.
“Kei” signifies respect. The guests must show respect for the ceremony and also for the tea room. Regardless of their status or position in life, guests must perform all parts of the ceremony, including crawling through the entrance to get into the tea room, kneeling and bowing when appropriate, and sitting next to each other on the floor. Guests also show respect by carefully handling the tea bowl, passing it to one another with intention and purpose.
“Sei” signifies purity. The tea room (Chashitsu) is a world of its own where guests can slow down, leave the worries of everyday life behind and enjoy the company of friends in a beautiful, harmonious environment. The idea of purity is reinforced by the ritualistic cleaning of the bamboo tea accessories and the tea bowl, and by the lighting of special incense by the host.
“Jaku” signifies tranquility. Tranquility is only achieved when the first 3 concepts are revealed and embraced by guests.
THE JAPANESE TEA CEREMONY IN 6 STEPS
Although the Japanese Tea Ceremony might seem too complex to recreate, at its core it is simply a ritualistic, aesthetical preparation of matcha in the company of good friends surrounded by art and nature. The steps involved in all Japanese Tea Ceremonies are essentially the same (with slight variations depending on season and objective), and relatively easy to duplicate. You can hold your own version of the Japanese Tea Ceremony by following the 6 steps below.
STEP 1: PREPARE FOR THE CEREMONY (HOST)
The preparation for a Tea Ceremony can start weeks in advance before the actual event. The host needs to send formal invitations and also must mentally and spiritually prepare themselves for the event by clearing their mind of worldly problems and focusing on achieving harmony within themselves. On the practical side of preparation, there is much to be done as well. The host must choose the right tea accessories (depending on the season and time of day). They must also clean the tea room and garden and change the carpets (where the guests will sit). Sometimes the Tea Ceremony involves a meal, which will have to be prepared fresh the morning of the event.
STEP 2: PREPARE FOR THE CEREMONY (GUESTS)
Guests also must spiritually and mentally prepare for the ceremony. They must also clear their minds and focus on achieving harmony within. On the day of the ceremony, guests will arrive and wait outside the tea room until the host announces they are ready to receive them. Before they enter, they must wash their hands as a symbol of cleansing themselves from the outside world. When the host invites them to enter, guests will pass through a small door which requires them to bow or crawl in order to enter. This serves as a sign of respect for the host and the preparations they have made.
STEP 3: CLEANING THE TEA TOOLS
Once everyone is inside, the actual Tea Ceremony can begin. First, the host brings in the preparation tools and cleans them in front of the guests. This cleaning is done in a ritualistic manner, using graceful movements. The movements can differ, but the intention must be the same: to maintain graceful movements and posture and avoid unnecessary motions or words during the ceremony. All things (guest/host behavior, tea tools, surrounding environment) must remain harmonious.
STEP 4: PREPARING THE MATCHA
Once the tools are cleaned and artistically displayed, the matcha preparation can begin. For each guest, the host will add 3 scoops of Japanese matcha powder (powdered green tea) to the communal bowl. After the powder is added, the host will pour hot water into the bowl and whisk it into a thin paste. Finally, more water is added to create a smooth bowl of matcha.
STEP 5: SERVING THE MATCHA
When the matcha is prepared, the bowl is passed from host to the main guest. The guest then takes their time admiring the bowl, rotating it before taking a sip. After sipping the tea, the first guest will wipe the rim of the bowl and offer it to the next guest. The next guest repeats the actions of the first guest, and this continues until the last guest has had a drink.
STEP 6: COMPLETING THE CEREMONY
When the last guest has had a drink, the host once again cleans the bowl and the tools. After the tools are cleaned, the guests inspect them one last time (this is a sign of respect and admiration for the host). Guests carefully handle the tea tools using a cloth and when they are finished, the host gathers the tools and the guests exit the tea house the same way they arrived (bowing or crawling through the small door). This completes the Japanese Tea Ceremony.
PERFORMING YOUR OWN TEA CEREMONY
For centuries, this ancient tradition has been a way for people to enjoy the company of friends, commune with nature, appreciate art and enjoy a moment of tranquility. Although each Tea Ceremony is a little different (with varying degrees of ritual and intensity), they all represent harmony, respect, purity and tranquility, and each Tea Ceremony gives its guests and host an opportunity to leave their worldly troubles behind and feed their souls.
Whichever way you choose to perform your own matcha tea ceremony is up to you, but whatever the occasion and objective, you’ll want to impress your guests with some premium matcha (Ceremonial Grade), and some traditional bamboo accessories. The rest is up to you!