How to host a Japanese tea ceremony
Inviting friends or family over for a catch up over a cup of tea is hardly a foreign concept – however, how many of us truly appreciate the art that is properly preparing and relishing the flavour of tea?
Maybe it’s time to shake off everyday stress and host your own traditional Japanese tea ceremony, which is all about increasing mindfulness, promoting tranquillity and harmony, and connecting with nature.
Luckily for those of us that aren’t so clued in about how Japanese tea ceremonies work, Melissa Di Marco, founder of TeaEsk and qualified Tea Master, has given us the low down.
“The Japanese tea ceremony is called ‘Cha-no-yu’ meaning “hot water for tea”; it’s not just about preparing a bowl of Matcha but focuses on the aesthetics behind the preparation,” explains Melissa.
“Chanoyu is based on four principals: harmony (with other people and nature), respect (of others), purity (physically and spiritually) and tranquility (reaching true enlightenment with oneself).”
Want to give hosting a tea ceremony a crack? We’ve broken down the key elements of the practice with Melissa’s help:
Know the history
A Japanese tea ceremony is historically very spiritual and focuses on mindfulness and tranquillity – therefore, the flow and structure of the ceremony reflects this.
Time is taken for the guests to remove shoes and coats at the door, where the host then provides clean slippers and clothes before taking participants to an alcove.
A traditional scroll that indicates the theme of the tea ceremony is placed in the alcove for guests to observe, as are flower arrangements that symbolise the host’s heart.
After washing their hands and mouth in a stone basin, the guests enter the tearoom and view the items and utensils selected by the host for this particular ceremony.
“Now the guests must leave all their worries and thoughts behind as they watch seamless movements of the tea master, listening to the sound of heated water in the kettle,” explains Melissa.
“Each guest observes and appreciates in silence the sheer perfection of how the tea master prepares the tea.
“In some ceremonies thick tea (Koicha) and thin tea (Usucha) are served, koicha being served first and drunk from the same bowl in silence. Thick tea is served in decorated Matcha bowls that have seasonal designs and patterns that fit the theme of the ceremony.
When Usucha is served, the host will prepare individual bowls – usually undecorated, and guests can enjoy polite conversations among themselves, kept to the topic of the ceremony. This also signals that the ceremony is coming to an end and guests must prepare themselves to re-enter the world outside of the tearoom.”
No two Chanoyu experiences will ever be the same.”
Collect the essentials
While a very traditional tea ceremony entails attention to all the tiny details, for those just starting out, or that wish to host a less formal ceremony, there are only six essential items.
The first, of course, is the tea – Matcha tea is the only tea used in Japanese ceremonies, and has been for centuries.
“Zen Buddhist monks used to incorporate Matcha into their rituals of prayers and meditation, and by the sixteenth century, they had formed an artful practice around Matcha that embodied harmony, tranquility, respect and the art of tea brewing,” explains Melissa.
The other pieces you need include:
- Chawan – the tea bowl that is used to make the tea, usually made from earthernware with designs and patterns that represent the four seasons
- Cha-sa-ku – the tea scoop, made from bamboo
- Chasen – a whisk that is used to form a froth on top of the tea
- Hishaku – a bamboo ladle for scooping hot water into the tea bowl
- Natsume – lacquered wooden caddies that hold Matcha tea for making thin tea, which, like the main tea bowl, come in beautiful colours and patterns
Focus on the experience
“Some say perfecting the ‘Way of Tea’ can take a lifetime, others say it’s impossible,” says Melissa.
“So for tea enthusiasts who are looking to host a ceremony but not spend the many years in learning the full art, I’d say approach it in that way- have fun and don’t overthink the small details.”
Hosting your own tea ceremony can be a fun, and relaxing way to reconnect with yourself and your loved ones, as well as a way to bring mindfulness back into your way of life.
“Whether you are hosting, enjoying a quiet cup in solitude or sharing a pot with friends, remember that tea is kind and welcoming – don’t over think it too much and have fun with it,” says Melissa.
“Tea is all about the moment; this is the essence of TeaEsk.”
Melissa’s top tips
First timer? Don’t worry, Melissa has got you covered with some great hints to get you started:
- Keep it simple. Pick a theme and don’t overcomplicate it. If your theme is going to be tranquillity, I would use neutral or cooling colours, think pale blues, aqua, creams or whites, earthenware works well too.
- For tea type, Matcha is a must!
- Keep conversation to a minimal and only about the tea and the experience.
- Hold the tea bowl with both hands when sipping, and don’t sip from the front of the bowl (there will traditionally be a pattern).
- Guests should compliment your service; from the flowers to the temperature in the room. This is the most important role of the guest.