Tea readily lends itself to rituals and practices that let us slow down. It allows us to take in not just our surroundings, but our state of mind and the characteristic of the beverage we are patiently awaiting. Not surprisingly, Chinese and Japanese developed formal rituals around tea that are worth exploring as they explain both the culture of tea of those countries and some of the historical manufacturing processes.
Japanese Tea Ceremony
The Japanese tea ceremony originated with the Buddhist monks, who incorporated the preparation of powdered tea into their meditation rituals. The accessories and steps taken in the tea ceremony are focused on the comfort of the guests and the preparer. The ceremony appeared in Japan during the 15th century, being created and documented by Sen No Rikyu, a Japanese Buddhist tea master. In his book, the Way of Tea, Rikyu not only lays out the steps of Chanoyu, the Japanese Tea Ceremony, but discusses the philosophy of tea and how tea helps to reinforce the contemplative experience of life and man’s interaction with other men and material objects. Rikyu used the Way of Tea to invite all who believed in harmony, respect, purity and tranquility to become masters of tea, opening up the beverage and the tea ceremony to the masses, effectively taking it out of the temple and into the upper classes of Japanese society.
The ritualization and formalization of the tea ceremony is still seen today in the accessories associated not just with Matcha but with Japanese green teas. Kyusu’s, Japanese tea pots used to serve whole leaf green tea, are either a solid color or decorated with pictures of nature, which are always on the side of the pot that should face the guest when serving the tea. Rikyu is also given credit for having created the bamboo whisk and scoop used in the preparation of Matcha.
Chinese Tea Ceremony
The Chinese also have a tea ceremony. It is lesser known than the Japanese one but it still has its own beauty. Done with whole leaves instead of powder, it is a simple presentation of a kettle, teapot and handle-less cups. The preparation is done simply with few gestures of significance and little concern to the type of pottery or other accessories. Unlike the Japanese ceremony, there is discussion with guests, usually around nature, the tea being drunk and other topics usually related to nature and man’s place in it. The leaves will be infused multiple times by the host as conversation continues.
This informal ceremony reflects the very informal view of tea in China. However, informality should not imply a lack of importance. Tea is considered one of the seven critical items for a healthy life and is consumed throughout the day, every day, by most Chinese.
Creating Your Own Tea Ceremony or Ritual
It is not hard to create your own ritual around your cup of tea. It could be something as simple as taking a few minutes to hold still and breathe while you allow your tea to steep. Alternatively, you may prefer to sit with a pot of tea and a book in your favorite chair. The Chinese and the Japanese both got it right in focusing on tea’s tie to nature and its ability to allow people to slow down and contemplate their place in it. My favorite ritual is enjoying a cup of tea at my kitchen table looking out the windows and watching the stars fade and the sky fill with early morning sunlight. What is your favorite tea ceremony?