Tea Drinking Ceremonies: What Are They?

Tea Ceremony

Tea is a religion of the art of life - Okakura Kakuzo (1863-1913)

Tea drinking ceremonies, known as Chanoyu, are an ancient and highly disciplined art cultivated by Zen Buddhists in Japan. The purpose of the ceremony is for the host (Teishu) to have an honoured guest (Shokyaku), a second guest, known as Jikyaku, and other visitors (Kyaku) who enjoy the respectful, meditative and aesthetic practice of the ceremony. The Shokyaku has special actions to perform as part of the tea ceremony and everyone has a special sitting place within the room (Chashitsu). Everything within the ceremony is neatly ordered and people must learn to master the art of preparation and serving in order to have a successful and harmonious ceremony.

Matcha is a key ingredient in the tea making process. The tea can be made either thin (usucha) or thick (koicha), depending on the grade and quality of powder used. Usucha is usually made from the leaves of young tea trees, while Koicha tends to be crafted from tea bushes that are 30 years or older upon the first harvest.

Beautiful flowers adorn the room in arrangements created by the Teishu. In fact, the Teishu learns to master not only the art of tea preparation throughout their life in regular classes, but also art appreciation, calligraphy, poetry, gardening, pottery, and all of the fine arts that are involved in Chanoyu.

From the 12th century, tea ceremonies began to evolve among the wealthy Japanese elite, involving an elaborate display of utensils and frivolous party guessing games about the origination of each tea. Yet, Sen no Rikyu, the son of a wealthy merchant, became a tea master in the 16th century and redefined simplicity in the ceremony, emphasising spiritual focus ahead of the showing off of tea making utensils.

Today, people from all over the world travel to Japan to partake in traditional tea drinking ceremonies. The Mista Matcha team enjoyed taking part in a tea ceremony in Kyoto in March this year. It was a wonderful experience which we highly recommend to all. 

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