Appreciating the Japanese Tea Ceremony
Tea has been an important part of Japanese culture since it was introduced by the Chinese in the 14th century. Almost everyone has heard of the Japanese tea ceremony. It is almost synonymous with Japanese culture. The Japanese tea ceremony is known as chanoyu in Japanese. It means "hot water for tea." This is an elaborate ritual that brings together the four principles of respect, harmony, purity and tranquility. Sen no Rikyu is credited with the creation of the tea ceremony in the 16th century. The tea ceremony is still studied and practiced all over Japan.
While the tea ceremony may take place anywhere, it is traditionally held in a teahouse or tatami room. The traditional ornamentation for the room is a hanging scroll decorated with calligraphy and a single display of flowers.
The host will greet the guests silently with a bow. Each guest bows in response, signifying that they are all of equal stature during the tea ceremony. The guests are served traditional sweets. While they enjoy the food, they silently watch the host prepare the tea.
In order to serve in a Japanese tea ceremony, the host must put in a lot of study time so they get every nuance and movement just right. The tea that is used is a powdered green tea known as matcha. This tea is rather bitter, and is considered the perfect counterpoint to the sweets enjoyed by the guests.
The host boils the water, and then mixes the powdered tea in the water with a bamboo whisk. The tea is served in a small round cup called a chawan. Each guest bows when they receive their cup. The chawan is accepted with the right hand and placed in the palm of the left. The chawan is turned clockwise three times before the guest takes a sip. The last sip is usually done with a loud slurp to let the host know how much the guest enjoyed the tea. The guest then wipes the chawan where their lips touched the rim, using their right hand. The chawan is turned counterclockwise and then given back to the host.
The host will remove all the tools and tea from the room when everyone has finished. They thank their guests for coming, which ends the ceremony.
A longer tea ceremony that features an entire meal is known as cha-kaiseki. This long ceremony may last up to four hours. It is very formal and consists of a full course meal, sweets, koicha (thick tea) and usucha (thin tea). Both teas are made with matcha, but they differ because of the amount of tea mixed with water. The thick tea is kneaded together with the water, while the thin tea is whipped together using a whisk.