Japanese Tea Ceremony- Matcha

In the past I wrote a brief overview of the traditional Chinese tea ceremony. Now, I want to share the Japanese tea ceremony, in order to understand the difference.

For starters, the type of tea used for the Japanese tea ceremony is different than Chinese. Japanese tea is steamed which keeps the sweet, fresh, fruity notes in the tea, but may be more grassy. Chinese tea can be pan-fired and have a toasted or roasted flavor.

The two main Japanese teas are called matcha and sencha. Matcha (powdered) tea is typically the tea used in the Japanese tea ceremony, so I will focus particularly on this tea.

As mentioned in previous posts, tea began in China then moved to other countries. Japan was the second country tea was grown. Japanese monks brought the tea plant back from China and began to cultivate them in monasteries. In the late 12th century, matcha tea made its way through Japanese classes. The tea helped samurai focus better on the battle field and tea ceremonies were ways for upper class to show case their wealth.

In the 16th century, Sen no Rikyu created the more humble tea ceremony (“Way of Tea”) to focus on harmony, respect, purity, and tranquility. This ceremony is used today when attending a traditional Japanese tea ceremony.

Photo by Jonathan Ley

The tea ceremony begins on the path to the tea room. While on the path, guests purify their hearts and thoughts, leaving their worldly worries behind. Symbolically, guests purify their hands and mouth in water before entering the tea room, which washes away the dust from the outside world.  Guests wait outside the tea room to quiet their mind before entering and find harmony. Guests are to respect all things, shown by bowing before entering the tea room. Inside the tea room, all guests are equal regardless of their status. Only after guests clear their mind, can they enjoy something as simple as a bowl of tea in silence. After all the others above are followed, tranquility can be found.

Photo by Jenna Kvidt

The Japanese tea ceremony takes place in a room, sparsely decorated with tatami mats and a hanging scroll or flower arrangement, with guests kneeling on cushions. While guests are entering, the tea master cleans the vessels and utensils used in the matcha tea ceremony.  The tea master pours boiling water into the bowl (chawan), before adding tea, to make the bowl hot. This ensures the bowl does not cool down the tea too quickly and loosens the bamboo whisk used to mix the tea. Then the tea master discards the water and cleans the bowl with a separate cloth. Next, the matcha tea and hot water is added to the bowl, and whisked. The whisk creates air bubbles giving the tea a smooth and creamy taste. Finally, the tea master presents the matcha tea to the guest with the decorative side facing out, as a sign of humility and respect. This also allows the guest to enjoy the most beautiful part of the bowl. Sweets are served along side the matcha to enhance the sweet flavor of the tea. Once the guest is finished drinking their tea, they place their bowl across the black line on the tatami mat.

By the end of the Japanese tea ceremony, guests should feel relaxed and find a deep spiritual satisfaction through silent contemplation.

That is a quick overview of the “Way of Tea”, Japanese tea ceremony. Happy Tea-ventures everyone 😊

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