“You're all late for tea!” - March Hare, Alice in Wonderland
4.1 million tonnes of tea are produced globally every year. This equates to 130kg per second. While China is the largest producer of tea, Japan is famous for its tea ceremony.
Preparing tea in Japan is an important part of Japanese culture and you need to pay particular attention to it. Respect, humility, and managing your emotions are all important social norms in everyday life and when preparing tea.
If you’d like to learn more about the Japanese tea ceremony, we’ve got just the article you were looking for.
What Are the Different Types of Japanese Tea?
Green tea is known in Europe for detoxing, earl Grey is also very popular for its flavour, and there’s also Chinese white tea. Usually, we’ll drink tea from a bag or use real tea leaves and leave them to infuse before drinking it. Unlike what you might think, the teapot doesn’t affect the type of tea.
In Japan, there’s only really green tea. Of course, there are plenty of different varieties of green tea. The main differences are down the harvest and how the leaves are treated afterwards. Most of the time, the leaves are steamed for a minute to stop oxidation after collection.
- Sencha: this is the most common type of green tea and is only really available in Japan.
- Bancha: this is from tougher leaves than those used for sencha. This is the lowest-quality of tea although it’s the second-most popular.,
- Hoji-cha: this is a very cheap green tea which is heated to 200ºC before being rapidly cooled. It has a very particular taste.
- Gyokuro: this is luxury tea in Japan. To guarantee its quality, it’s kept in the shade for 20 days before harvest. The chlorophyll and flavours concentrate in the softest leaves. It’s not very bitter at all because it doesn’t contain many catechins.
- Matcha: this is the tea used in the tea ceremony. It comes from gyokuro tea. The leaves are reduced to a fine powder.
- Genmaicha: a mix of tea and roasted popped brown rice.
- Tamaryokucha: a tea with a fruity flavour.
There are many other types of tea consumed in Japan but most of the differences appear during the manufacturing process.
How Did the Japanese Tea Ceremony Originate?
Before we talk about the origins of the Japanese tea ceremony, we need to talk about the origins of tea. Unsurprisingly, tea originated in China where it was used as a medicine long before it was an everyday beverage.
But how did it go from medicine to beverage?
Buddhist monks were forbidden from drinking alcohol and to stake awake during their meditation, they would drink tea. Bit by bit, its consumption spread to the aristocracy and then the working classes.
Nowadays, tea is part of everyday life in China. In China, most water isn’t drinkable. You need to boil water from the tap before you can drink it. At this point, it’s quite common to add tea leaves or other herbs to add flavour to the boiling water.
Tea appeared in Japan in the 9th century and was popularised by the Buddhist monk Eichu. It was first consumed by the Japanese nobility and spread to the rest of the populace during the 12th century. Change can take time.
The tea ceremony was influenced by Zen Buddhism and the writings of Lu Yu that mentioned the temperature and utensils used for drinking tea in the 8th century.
However, the practice changed a lot between then and the 16th century and took on board practices brought in by the samurai and working classes. The philosophy of the tea ceremony was codified by the priest Murata Jukō and Sen no Rikyū who developed the key concepts of wa, kei, sei, and jaku.
Nowadays, the ceremony isn’t practised a lot in Japan but it’s a symbol of the culture and history of the country. In fact, most Japanese people don’t know the ins and outs of the tea ceremony and will probably only attend one or two of them throughout their lives.
What Happens in a Tea Ceremony?
If you want to immerse yourself in Japanese traditions and see a tea master conduct a Japanese tea ceremony, you should know what to expect.
The ceremony follows a number of specific steps which are always the same. It takes a lifetime of practice and there are even ancestral tea ceremony schools to train tea masters in the art of conducting tea ceremonies.
Here are the main parts of the tea ceremony:
- The preparation: the tea master sends invitations to their guests. They then prepare spiritually for the ceremony by ridding themselves of all thought to be in complete harmony with nature. They also need to clean the house and the tatami. If there’s a meal, they need to prepare it in advance.
- The arrival of the guests: they also need to prepare themselves for the tea ceremony and leave their worries outside the tea room and wash their hands before they come in. Shoes need to be left outside and the guests cannot enter until asked to by the tea master.
- Cleaning the tools: the bowls, whisk, bamboo, and spoons all need to be cleaned before the guests arrived in a precise, harmonious, and careful manner.
- Preparing the tea: whisking the matcha will cause it to foam and froth and release its powerful flavour.
- Serving the tea: traditionally, only a single bowl is used. It needs to be passed from guest to guest. Sometimes, the tea master will prepare a bowl for each guest.
- Completing the ceremony: at the end, the tea master will clean their tools in front of the guests. Guests may then be asked to look over the utensils.
There are several things you’ll need to perform a tea ceremony. It depends on the tastes of the tea master to arrange the room as they see fit. That said, they’ll need a tea caddy (chaki), a whisk (chasen), a spoon (chashaku), a bowl (chawan), and a pot (kama) that replaces a teapot.
How to Behave in a Chanoyu
To make the most of a tea ceremony, you need to prepare. Japanese culture is extremely codified and even as a tourist, you’ll be expected to behave appropriately. Attending a tea ceremony allows you to learn a lot about Japanese culture and identity.
You can attend a practice session before going to a tea ceremony. These sessions are designed with non-Japanese tourists in mind and there’ll be an explanation in English.
In a tea ceremony, there are usually 4 or 5 guests. Each has a particular role to play, especially the first guest, the shokyaku. Their role will be as a guide or a Japanese person familiar with the tea ceremony. They will communicate with the tea master, the teishu.
A few things you should know:
- Do not enter before being asked.
- Remove your shoes before entering.
- Bow as a sign of respect as you enter.
- Sit in the seiza position (on your knees) where you are told.
- Do not speak, eat, or drink before being asked to.
- You must eat and drink everything you are given.
- Do not smoke.
- In case of any doubts, do not say anything. Wait until you’re told what to do.
You can easily attend tea ceremonies in Tokyo and Kyoto and even in the UK if you want. The tea ceremony is quite simple if you follow the rules.
So do you have any more questions about the tea ceremony?
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