The Japanese Tea Ceremony, also called Chanoyu, Sado or Ocha, is a cultural ceremony steeped in history that dates back as far as the 14th century. Also known as the Way of Tea, this traditional Japanese tea ritual is not exclusively about drinking tea, but also about presentation, aesthetics and connecting with guests on a spiritual level. While it can be a very complex ritual that changes with the seasons, a basic understanding of the steps and tea supplies required can provide you with enough insight to host your own Japanese Tea Ceremony at home.
Tea Ceremony Supplies
The basic tools you will need to host a Japanese Tea Ceremony:
Matcha Green Tea: This is a special form of Japanese green tea where green tea leaves are ground into a fine powder. Hot water is then added to the powder and whisked into a frothy tea.
Matcha Whisk: A bamboo matcha whisk, also called a “chasen,” is required to blend the matcha green tea powder until it froths.
Japanese Tea Pot: A Japanese tea pot, also known as a “kama,” is typically made of iron and is used to heat the water for the tea. These pots come in various styles and are generally passed down from generation to generation.
Japanese Tea Bowl: Matcha tea is typically served in a tea bowl as opposed to a tea cup. Known as “chashaku” in Japanese, this bowl is the most essential tool in a Japanese Tea Ceremony. The size and shape of a tea bowl can vary depending on the season and type of tea served.
Silk Cloth: A silk cloth, known as a “fukusa,” is a square piece of silk that is used to serve tea and to clean the tea bowl after use. These are usually solid in color with women using red or orange and men using purple.
Other optional supplies you may want to consider are:
Sweet Foods: Sweet desserts are served prior to drinking matcha to offset the bitterness of the tea.
Flower Vase: A flower vase, or “Hana-ire,” is used as a centerpiece and can be made of either bamboo or ceramic.
Mini Napkins: Small napkins, or “Kaishi” are used to serve the sweets or to wipe the rim of the tea bowl.
Japanese Tea Ceremony Steps
Step 1: Invitations
The first step in hosting a Japanese Tea Ceremony is sending out formal invitations. Invitations are typically chosen for their aesthetic value and are sent several weeks prior to the event.
Step 2: Preparing the Ceremony Room
A traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony involves preparing the room according to the season and the time of day the event is being held. This can also include changing the Japanese mats, or “tatami,” switching out the types of tools used and rearranging the room. For simplicity, a basic tea ceremony can just involve cleaning the room and ensuring that all supplies are available.
Step 3: Receiving the Guests
Guests that are invited to a tea ceremony will typically wait until the host formally invites them into the tea room. After being announced, the guests will remove their shoes and enter the room. They will then proceed to wash their hands as a symbol of purifying themselves. Guests are then seated according to rank. Once the guests are seated, the host will then formally acknowledge each guest. If Japanese tea ceremony sweets are being offered, they will be served at this time.
Step 4: Cleansing of the Tools
Once guests are settled, the host will bring in the Japanese tea ceremony set. The host will proceed to ritually cleanse each tool, including the tea bowl and whisk.
Step 5: Preparing Thick Matcha Tea
Following the cleansing of the tea tools, the host will then prepare a thick matcha tea in the tea bowl. Thick matcha tea, also known as “koicha matcha”, is blended in a ratio of 3:1, 3 tsp matcha to 1 cup hot water. This thick tea is kneaded with the matcha whisk and is then passed to the guest of honor to take a sip. The guest will then clean the bowl with his or her fukusa or kaishi (cloth or napkin), and then pass the tea bowl to the second guest. This continues until everyone has had an opportunity to drink from the same tea bowl. It is common for each guest to compliment the host while sampling the tea.
Once everyone has sampled the thick matcha tea, it is then returned to the host for cleaning. This will end the formal portion of the tea ceremony.
Step 6: Preparing Thin Matcha Tea
At this time, the host will prepare thin matcha tea, known as “usucha matcha.” This is blended in a ratio of 1:1, 1 tsp matcha to 1 cup hot water and is whipped with the bamboo whisk until frothy before being served to guests. If confections are being offered, they will be served again at this time.
Step 7: Cleansing of the Tools
After all guests have sampled the thin matcha tea, the host will clean the tea set a third time. It is common for the guest of honor to request to examine the utensils at this point to examine the craftsmanship of the tools. These can then be passed around for admiration as sometimes these tools are priceless antiques.
Step 8: Guests Depart
Finally, the tea ceremony is ended and guests will depart the tea house. The host bows to each guest as they depart. A typical ceremony can last up to 4 hours, depending on the season and the type of meal served.
The world of Japanese Tea Ceremonies is an extremely complex and evolving subject that involves precise movements, priceless antiques and a deep-seeded spirituality. But with a few tools and the close company of friends and family, you too can host your own Japanese Tea Ceremony at home.