The Japanese Tea Ceremony
Where did the Japanese tea ceremony begin and what does it involve? Is it milk and two sugars or is there something more?
The Japanese have a wonderful ceremony called 'Chado' which is basically a tea ceremony but unlike any form of drinking tea that you are likely to have seen before. No tea bags or tea strainers in sight...and no milk and sugar either!
Where did it begin?
Green tea, 'ocha', was first brought to Japan from China in the 8th century but it was not in common usage until the 12th century when the Samurai Class began to drink it.
The actual Japanese Tea Ceremony, Chado, was developed by Sen Rikyu, a 16th century tea master. It was Sen Rikyu who established the 'correct' way of performing the tea ceremony by following 7 rules. These rules do not involve the actual preparation of the tea but rather the other factors surrounding it such as being ready ahead of time and providing warmth in winter and coolness in summer for your guests.
What is it?
The Tea Ceremony usually arranged by a host for special guests and takes place in a Tea House with a tatami floor, wooden beams and sliding doors. People enter through a low door so that every one is equal (and humbled!) and kneel on the centre of a tatami mats, avoiding the joins. The room is carefully and sparsely decorated to promote tranquillity and harmony.
The tea master kneels near the tea implements and a crock of hot water which rests on coals. The tea is a green powder, a small scoop of which is placed into an elegant, ceramic bowl. Then a bamboo ladle is used to take some of the hot water from the crock and place a little in the bowl. The powder and water are whisked until they are frothy and then a little more water is added. When the tea is ready, it is passed to one of the guests who drinks it all while admiring the bowl. Small sweets are often served with the tea.
Seen in real life, the tea ceremony is a mesmerising but relaxing dance of fingers, hands and whisks, and the tea, while very bitter, is extremely good for your health. In fact, some tea masters even put gold flakes in the tea because they believe that is also good for your health. The tea used at ceremonies is quite different from the green tea that people drink for daily use, which comes as leaves and is usually not so strong.
There are many traditions about who does what and when during Chado but even many Japanese do not know all the details. What is most important for the tea master, is to make everyone invited feel welcome and to follow harmony, respect, tranquillity and purity which are the 4 cornerstones of the ceremony.
While Chado is not really intended as a 'spectator sport', there are displays of the ceremony in many places both in and outside Japan. You can go and watch or you can go and participate. You can even go and learn to do Chado yourself!