Japanese tea ceremony is the cultural preparation and presentation of powdered green tea which is popularly known as matcha. Tea was first introduced in Japan by Chinese in the 60's and tea ceremonies was first practiced by the samurai who were very knowledgeable about tea and held ceremonies for tea tasting. Tea has since become an important tradition and the "Way of Tea" was created by the grand tea master.
Yesterday, I had a wonderful opportunity to wander around Kyoto city and attended two tea ceremonies for tourist. It was a very unique experience and I want to share what I learned about the basics of tea ceremony from the presentation at Juan, a tea ceremony room in Kyoto.
What to carry to a tea ceremony
Whenever you are invited to attend a tea ceremony, there are three mandatory things you need to carry: a small fan, a cutting knife and a pack of hard paper tissues. All these are carried in a small and colorful purse.
The fan is used for greetings and a form of introduction. The guests sits in the seiza style (kneeling), puts the fan in-front of the knees, and removes it after exchanging greetings with the host.
The cutting knife
In a tea ceremony, sweets are served before serving the tea. This is a small knife for cutting sweets and picking them.
The paper tissue
This is for serving sweets. It is also used for cleaning the tea bowl after sipping tea. Mostly in big tea ceremonies, the host prepares about three tea bowls only. He/she serves to the nearest guest who sips, wipes the edge of the bowl and passes it on to the next guest.
The host is a well trained person on the art of tea ceremony from a tea school or a tea grand master. This type of training is received over a long period of time and it may take over a year before one can be allowed to perform the ceremony. There is a lot of mannerisms especially in the way they use their napkin, clean the tea utensils wipe the bamboo scoop, bow, enter and exit the ceremony room.
Tea utensils and etiquette for guests
The session also provided a lot of education about the utensils used in tea ceremonies and their importance to culture. Like the bamboo scoop which is well curved out of bamboo by artisans. Interestingly, every scoop has a special name.
Every tea bowl has a distinctive mark at the bottom with helps in identifying the front from the rear. When serving, the host turns the front side of the bowl to face the guest so that he/she can admire the decorations or paintings on the bowl. The guest turns the bowl twice in the clockwise direction so the painting can face the host as a sign of respect. After drinking, he/she must turn the tea bowl twice in an anticlockwise direction to admire the paintings one more time.
The tea is whisked to give it a creamy pleasant taste. Although in some foreign traditions, its not polite to slurp, slurping is appreciated in Japanese culture as a way of complimenting the good taste of tea. Don't forget to slurp on your last sip.
In the past, most tea ceremonies were actually held in temples with tea masters. The ambiance and decorations of the room is very important in tea ceremonies. The room is mostly surrounded by a garden and would have a painting with a nice quote that guest will meditate on as they sip tea.