Matcha Tea Ceremony
The matcha tea ceremony (Japanese tea ceremony) is an ancient tradition influenced by Zen Buddhism where matcha is meticulously prepared and served to a small group of guests. The tea ceremony is called chanoyu, sado or chado. The ceremony is done in special tea rooms or houses with elegantly crafted matcha tools. These tea ceremonies can even last up to five hours.
The deep rooted zen philosophy of the matcha tea ceremony emphasizes that focusing on the little things in life increases our sense of harmony, respect, purity, and tranquility. In fact this philosophy is quite noticeable today in various aspects of japanese culture
The main procedure of matcha tea ceremonies is as follows: The host prepares for the ceremony, the guest prepare for the ceremony, and the host cleans their Utensils. Then, the host prepares and serves Matcha and the host and guests finish the ceremony. Now remember that there are differences in these ceremonies depending on the school and region but they generally follow the main procedure.
The matcha tea ceremony uses a wide variety of delicate and finely crafted tools, I have included a brief list of the main ones:
Chakin. A cloth used to clean the tea bowl.
Tea bowl (chawan). Chawans come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes as per ceremony.
Tea caddy (cha-ire and natsume). Tea caddies can be short or tall and can be made from wood or ivory.
Tea scoop (chashaku). Tea scoops are carved from a single piece of bamboo or ivory and are used to scoop tea from the tea caddy into the chawan.
Whisk (chasen). Tea whisks are also carved from a single piece of bamboo.
Fukusa. A cloth used for ritually cleaning the tea scoop and the tea caddy. Also, to handle hot lids.
Ladle (hishaku). This is used to transfer water to and from the iron pot and the fresh water container in certain ceremonies and for purification purposes.
The way of the matcha tea ceremony (chadō)
As I mentioned earlier there are different ways of conducting a matcha tea ceremony. I will include the type of tea ceremony that I am most familiar with. It is quite an honour to be invited to a tea ceremony since its not easy to be invited to one. Usually five guests are invited to tea ceremonies.
The hosts and guests dress in fine kimono’s made of silk. The kimono’s can make you feel comfortable and relaxed compared to tight fitting modern clothes. when guests arrive for the ceremony they usually wait in a quiet corner of a garden. As the guests arrive into the waiting room they will greet one another. After some time the host will arrive and gently open the paper sliding-door. The host will bow deeply and go to the tea-room. The shokyaku (main guest) will lead the other guests to the tea-room.
The roji (garden) is the area between the waiting place and tea room. It is a beautiful example of Japanese landscaping art which provides guests with a peace of mind. In fact it will reduce the stress associated with the modern and hectic lifestyle of Japan. The rocks, trees, and lanterns are finely arranged and maintained by a landscaping artist. The shokyaku then starts a purification ritual just before he enter the tea-room. The purification involves coming to a basin and for guests to rinse their hands and mouths.
The typical size of a (cha-sitsu) tea-room is four and a half mats and some tea-rooms are even smaller. Also, the entrance to the tea-room is small and guests need to duck in order to enter. The guests are also required to kneel in front of the alcove or tokonoma as its called in Japanese. The matcha tea ceremony has a rule that the hanging scroll cannot be in the same place as the flower arrangement. The tea-rooms are rather simplistic and this is a common feature in traditional Japanese architecture. The incense holder is also a common feature in tea-rooms and is usually placed on a side shelf.
Another feature of matcha tea ceremonies is the kaiseki meal which is served once the guests are seated in place. The meal is an essential part of the ceremony and the host is required to bring the meals himself. Also, while the ceremony is being conducted the host never eats with the guests. After the meal, sweets are served and the first session ends. The guests then go to the waiting room. A gong is placed near the tea-room and is used as a signal to notify the guests about when they can return. Five strokes are often given. It is a sign that the host is ready to serve matcha.
Once the guests are seated in their places the host then brings the tea bowl (chawan), tea cloth (chakin) and tea spoon (chashaku). The host then places matcha in front of the main guest. The guest then bows and puts the bowl on the palm of his left hand. The guest then takes a sip of matcha and makes a remark of how great it tastes. Then after a few more sips the chawan is passed on to the next guest, and then the next until all guests have had their chance to try matcha. During the Japanese tea ceremony the guests inspect the chawan, natsume (tea caddy), and chashaku. The guests will admire the fine works of art that they are. The guests may discuss the art and history of all objects used in the tea ceremony.
The chawan, natsume, and chashaku are returned to the host and the matcha tea ceremony has come to an end. Then usucha (thin tea) is served informally either in the tea-room or a larger room. This is actually not an essential part of the matcha tea ceremony. However, it is a way for guests to talk freely and other member’s of the hosts family can mingle with guests too. When the ceremony is completely over as the guests leave the host will then return to the tea-room. The host will sit in front of the kettle and meditate on the whole matcha tea experience.
My First Matcha Tea Ceremony
I clearly remember my first matcha tea ceremony several years ago when I first visited Japan. I read a lot about it and I was glad that such an art form existed. I believe it is a unique part of Japanese culture which has survived and thrived even after being exposed to westernization. The tea ceremony might even require a life time of study in order to fully appreciate its art and philosophy.
I appreciated the hospitality of the host and how he conducted the matcha tea ceremony gracefully. We greeted the tea master host by the bamboo spout outside his home first. Then we purified ourselves by washing our hands. I was amazed that I was actually taking part in such a ceremony. I read a lot about it but to be actually part of it was an appealing experience overall. The taste of matcha was rich and strong.
Everyday now I enjoy making matcha at home. It is a great way for me to live the moment as I prepare the tea. Now its your turn to prepare your own cup of matcha. You must grasp the present moment while being part of the universal spirit of matcha tea.