- Chinese origins
- Further developments
- The beginnings of tea ceremonies
- The new tea ceremonies
- The purpose of the tea ceremonies
- A calm setting
- Zen and tea
- The tea ceremony evolution
- The role of the tea masters
- A meeting spot
- Part of Japanese culture
- The four qualities of life in Japan
- Tearooms or tea houses
- The original structure
- Details of the space
- It’s in the details
- The perfect garden
- Zen rock garden
- The calming garden
- The tea from the past
- The tea from the past
- Tea of today
- The preparation
- The equipment
- The procedure
- The procedure
- The procedure
- The finale
The Japanese tea ceremony, known as chanoyu or chado, is an intriguing cultural tradition involving particular procedures for drinking green tea. Practiced since the 11th century, this ritual has become an important tradition for the Japanese and their culture.
Curious to learn more about its history and rituals? Then have a click through the following gallery, and don’t forget your cup of tea!
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Tea drinking first began in China. From the 2nd century BCE, Buddhist monks began to drink tea to help support themselves while they meditated and tried to avoid falling asleep.
However, it wasn’t until the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE) that tea drinking spread to the aristocracy, the only ones who could afford the drink. From China, the habit spread via traders and visiting monks. It eventually arrived in Japan, later evolving into a whole cultural experience.
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The beginnings of tea ceremonies
In Japanese, a tea ceremony is called chanoyu, meaning “hot water for tea,” or chado, “way of the tea.” Prior to the Zen-like ceremonies, the aristocratic tea parties were much more rowdy with alcohol and tea-guessing games being played.
The new tea ceremonies
However, this all changed in the 15th century when shogun (military dictator) Ashikaga Yoshimasa made it into a much more sober and subdued event, transforming it to the ceremonies we know today.
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The purpose of the tea ceremonies
The tea ceremony had become the ultimate setting for carefully displaying one’s expert knowledge of porcelain and other decorative objects involved in the ceremony.
A calm setting
The tea ceremony also provided a tranquil setting for discrete conversation on sensitive subjects.
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Zen and tea
The experience was meant to involve a spiritual element, a shared moment of calmness and reflection for the participants. This reflects the old Japanese saying cha-Zen ichimi, or “Zen and tea have the same flavor.”
The tea ceremony evolution
One of the most influential figures on the evolution of the tea ceremony was the 16th century monk and tea master Sen no Rikyu. He made tearooms smaller and more intimate, and added details like perfectly arranged flowers.
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The role of the tea masters
Rikyu was a typical tea master of medieval Japan, who served as an important advisor to the ruler, not only in etiquette, but also in politics. Tea masters would often act as official ambassadors and negotiators.
A meeting spot
Rulers and warlords used tea ceremonies for their own political encounters. There, they would also exchange gifts such as Chinese and Korean porcelain tea bowls.
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Part of Japanese culture
By the 17th century, tea ceremonies were no longer just for the upper classes. It had now become popular for all in Japan and an essential part of the culture.
The four qualities of life in Japan
The tea ceremony symbolizes the four essential qualities of everyday life in Japan: wa (“harmony”), kei (“respect”), sei (“purity”), and jaku (“elegance and tranquility”).
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Tearooms or tea houses
The most essential element for the medieval tea ceremony was a dedicated space in the home to conduct it. These spaces were known as chashitsu, or sukiya, meaning the “house of the imperfect.”
The original structure
These medieval tearooms were simple and built with basic materials such as bamboo and unworked wood. By having a dedicated space, the tea drinkers could more easily detach themselves from their everyday worries.
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Details of the space
The upper class would have a separate toilet and larger windows with paper screens for light to come in. Another important feature was a stone basin by the entrance, only to wash the hands before the ceremony.
The interior of minimalist tearooms would be copied in private homes of today. Elements such as the Japanese flower arrangement, known as ikebana, were popular decorating aesthetics.
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It’s in the details
From the details of the vase to landscape art, or the finest calligraphy, all of these decorative elements had to together provide a harmonious and calming atmosphere.
The perfect garden
The correct sort of view could help achieve the desired atmosphere of tranquility to the tearoom, which preferably would be a panorama of an immaculately-tended landscape garden.
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Zen rock garden
Another popular type of garden is the Zen rock garden, a minimalist dry landscape garden consisting only of raked sand, gravel, and a few stones.
The calming garden
This type of small garden was designed for calming the guests on their way to the tea house. Rather than flowers, evergrass and moss are preferred, offering a calming effect before the ceremony.
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The tea from the past
In medieval Japan, tea was usually prepared by pounding the leaves and making a ball with amazura (a sweetener from grapes) or ginger, which was then left to brew in hot water.
The tea from the past
The tea was then brewed in hot water, which had typically been boiled in an iron kettle over charcoal. The tea was strong and bitter, but could be balanced out with small sweets provided on the side.
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Tea of today
The green tea used today is matcha and is of the highest quality. The leaves are typically dried, grounded into a very fine powder, and then sprinkled and whisked into hot water.
Methods of preparation varied as specialized tea schools opened, and each one had their own preferred approach. However, one thing that most tea drinkers agree on is the host should make the tea themselves, helping to create a greater atmosphere of intimacy.
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All the equipment used in the tea ceremony should be of the highest quality. Objects should be beautiful but also simple and exhibit the important Japanese aesthetic principle of wabi, the faded beauty of well-used objects.
With the correct atmosphere and objects, one is then ready to make the tea. The important thing is to only make the minimum of movements, which should be precise, graceful, restrained, and all done in silence.
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The equipment should have already been laid out before the guests, and only the kettle is hidden from their view. When ready, the hot water is poured into the tea bowls, but only enough to warm them.
Powdered tea is then added to the bowls, which are then topped up with hot water, and the mixture is whisked to make a frothy drink. The tea should be enjoyed in small sips.
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When everyone has finished, the equipments and bowls are cleaned and removed, leaving only the kettle before the guests. Some finer equipment may be returned in order for the guests to discuss their appreciation of them.
Sources: (World History Encyclopedia) (Rough Guides)
See also: Terrific tea houses around the world