The Japanese Tea Ceremony

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At a Japanese tea ceremony, a maximum of 6 people participate; the tea master and up to 5 guests. Including a specific sequence of hand and mouth washing as well as the intake of a Kaiseki menu, the ceremony lasts approximately four hours. Kaiseki is a light meal which is linked to the Zen tradition. It is typically vegetarian, but can nowadays sometimes contain fish, and rarely meat. Before the Matcha can be prepared and tasted, it is essential that the Kaiseki be first entirely consumed.

Following a rest in the tea garden, the gong is struck and the guests gather again in the Chashitsu, the tearoom. Apart from straw sitting mats, the room only contains items to be employed for the tea ceremony. Everything, right down to individual movements and the sequence of events, is in tune with Matcha and the philosophy it represents. The latter is defined by the connection of self with others through Wa, the harmony of connection; Kai, respect for others ; Sei, purity taking the form of clarity but also truthfulness in thought, feeling and action/conduct; as well as Jaku, indulgence patience, and composure in togetherness.

The tea ceremony rituals, and their integration with Wa, Kai, Sei and Jaku, can be traced in their present form back to Sen no Rikyu. At the end of the 16th century, the Zen master was concerned with reducing the ceremony to its essential elements. This didn’t mean imposing limitations or austerity; rather it was about increasing respect for the simple way of life.

The water is boiled on a specially designed fireplace glowing with charcoals. After being left briefly to cool off, the water is poured into precious yet simple cups already filled with plenty of tea powder, and made frothy with the aid of a bamboo stick. It can now be seen why the tea ceremony is called Chado, the Way of Tea. The cup is passed from the hand of the tea master to the hand of the guest of honour, who in turn hands it to the other guests. Therefore each tea ceremony is always somewhat unique, which presents a constant challenge for the tea master.

Continue to → Preparing Matcha at home