The Art of Drinking Tea
In our previous story we were describing how big is the variety of delicious and beautiful sweets in Japan, and particularly the wagashi - amazing confections that are usually served during tea ceremonies, formal and informal. Now, what is exactly this tea ceremony, where we could enjoy these tasty treats, and how it became to be such important cultural activity up until modern days?
The Japanese tea ceremonies are probably not only the most elaborated in the world, but also one of the best way to truly appreciate green tea and cleanse one´s mind at the same time. The most common ceremonies (chadō 茶道) feature preparation and presentation of matcha - a special fine powdered green tea. Much less often, leaf tea, such as sencha, could be used and the ceremony then would be called senchadō 煎茶道.
The origins of the tea ceremonies lie in XII century and were greatly influenced by Zen Buddhism...
A tea gathering might be informal, called chakai 茶会, which is relatively simple ceremony, including confections, thin tea, and maybe even a light meal. However, the chaji 茶事 - much more formal tea gatherings - usually include a multi-course meal (kaiseki), which would be followed by various confections, thick tea and then also thin tea. Such ceremony might last up to four hours and requires a very strickt and well-trained etiquete.
There is a vide range of tea equipment, chadōgu 茶道具, that is used for different types of ceremonies, including chawan - tea bowl, chakin - linen or hemp cloth to wipe the tea bowl, natsume - tea container, chashuku - long bamboo spoon and chasen - bamboo whisk. All of the utensils are scrupulously cleaned before and after each use and before storing, and some are handled only with gloves.
The procedures (temae) performed, as well as the utensils used, should be chosen accordingly to the current season...
Only certified masters are allowed to perform formal tea ceremonies. Studying the art of the tea serving can be not only quite long, but also a costly endeavour, that could be taken upon in so-called "circles" - tea clubs that exist at many educational establishments.
The sequence and number of steps in a ceremony can vary greatly, depending on the season, place and the grade of the formality intended. For the true ceremony, all the rituals and their significance must be known not only by the host, but even more so by the guest, as every movement and action of the master is a silent communication indicating how the guest should proceed. As describing all possible rituals might not fit into one book, for the general idea it is sufficient to say that every Japanese tea ceremony carries deeply spiritual character, even if it´s purpose includes general social engagement.
The ideal venue for a tea gathering is considered to be a specially-built tatami-floored room or even separate house - chashitsu, which would have low ceilings, a hearth built into the floor, very specific decorations and separate entrances for the host and the guests. Such separate tea house usually has several designated rooms for waiting, dressing and other preparations, and is typically surrounded by the beautiful and very carefully groomed garden, called roji.
Considering the significance, it is not surprising that tea house motifs are very popular in Japanese art, poetry and textile design, such as on exquisite chirimen kimono silks featured in our KYOTO collection. Such patterns of a tea house, surrounded by garden scenery and streams, are called chajatsuji. It has not only seasonal significance, but also symbolizes harmony and tranquility for the wearer.