Hosting a Traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony: A Step-by-Step Guide
A Beginner's Guide to a Japanese Tea Gathering
Hosting a traditional Japanese tea ceremony, otherwise known as chakai or chanoyu, is a great way to bring people together to appreciate the beauty and serenity associated with this rich tradition. Celebrated for centuries, these ceremonies honor harmony, courtesy, cleanliness, and peace – and we’re here to show you how you can put one on in your own home! Immerse your guests in a culture steeped in history, art, and spirituality; read on as we guide you through the process of hosting your very own traditional Japanese tea ceremony.
1: Choose a Suitable Location
A Japanese tea ceremony is best held in a serene and calming environment. Choose a location that is quiet and free from distractions, such as a garden or a room with a view of nature. If possible, select a space with a tatami (straw mat) floor, a staple element in traditional Japanese tea rooms.
2: Prepare the Tea Room
Before your guests arrive, prepare the tea room by cleaning and decluttering the space. Traditional tea rooms are minimalistic, so avoid any unnecessary decorations. Create a serene atmosphere by adding a simple flower arrangement called chabana, made of seasonal flowers or branches. Place a hanging scroll, or kakemono, with a calligraphic inscription or a painting on the wall. These elements will set the tone for the tea ceremony.
3: Gather the Necessary Utensils
To host a traditional Japanese tea ceremony, you will need the following utensils:
Chawan: tea bowl
Chashaku: bamboo tea scoop
Chasen: bamboo whisk
Mizusashi: water container
Hishaku: bamboo ladle
Furo: portable brazier or a modern electric heater
Futaoki: lid rest
Kaishi: small paper for sweets
Chakin: small cloth for wiping the tea bowl
Natsume: tea caddy for storing matcha
4: Prepare the Tea
The focal point of the tea ceremony is the preparation and serving of matcha, a powdered green tea. Before the ceremony, purchase high-quality matcha such as ceremonial grade matcha. Ensure that the tea is fresh, vibrant green, and finely ground.
At Little Prayer Tea Company, our matcha is grown in the city of Nishio of Aichi prefecture in central Japan, where the finest matcha green tea has been grown for over 800 years and blended with pure cane sugar, which makes it great for matcha lattes!
5: Learn the Basic Tea Ceremony Techniques
Take the time to familiarize yourself with the basics of a Japanese tea ceremony. Some key elements to learn include:
Temae: the procedure of making tea
Temae, the procedure of making tea during a Japanese tea ceremony, is a choreographed ritual that requires precision, grace, and mindfulness. The primary focus is on the preparation and presentation of matcha, a powdered green tea. While there are various styles and levels of complexity in temae, we will outline a simplified version suitable for beginners.
Step 1: Prepare the Utensils Before beginning the temae, ensure all the necessary utensils are placed correctly on the tea tray or in the tea room. This includes the chawan (tea bowl), chashaku (bamboo tea scoop), chasen (bamboo whisk), natsume (tea caddy), and kama (kettle) or a thermos with hot water.
Step 2: Purification As the host, begin the temae by purifying the tea utensils. First, fold a chakin (small cloth) and use it to clean the rim and inside of the chawan. Next, cleanse the chashaku by wiping it with the chakin. Finally, take the chasen and pour a small amount of hot water into the chawan, whisking briefly to clean and soften the bristles. Discard the water and wipe the chawan dry with the chakin.
Step 3: Prepare the Matcha Using the chashaku, scoop out the appropriate amount of matcha powder into the chawan. The standard amount is about two scoops per guest. Next, pour hot water (around 70-80°C or 160-175°F) into the chawan. The amount of water will depend on the desired tea consistency, but typically, it's about 60-70ml (2-2.5oz) per serving.
Step 4: Whisk the Matcha Hold the chawan with one hand and the chasen with the other. Start whisking the matcha and hot water gently, using a back-and-forth motion. Gradually increase the speed, whisking in a "W" or "M" pattern. Continue whisking until the tea is frothy and smooth, without any lumps.
Step 5: Present and Serve the Tea Rotate the chawan so the most attractive side is facing the guest. This is a gesture of respect. Offer the tea to the guest with a slight bow. The guest should bow in return, then take the chawan with their right hand and place it in the palm of their left hand. Before drinking, the guest should admire the tea and chawan, then rotate the bowl 90 degrees clockwise to avoid drinking from the front. After taking a sip, the guest should wipe the rim of the chawan with their fingers or a kaishi (small paper).
Step 6: Clean Up and Conclusion Once all guests have been served, collect the chawan and clean it with the chakin. Rinse the chasen again with hot water and return all the utensils to their original positions. Bow to your guests to signal the end of the temae.
Remember that the temae is a complex ritual with many variations, and mastering it requires practice and dedication. Consider attending a tea ceremony workshop or learning from an experienced tea master to further develop your skills.
Chaji: a full-course tea gathering that includes a meal, followed by tea
Chaji is a full-course tea gathering that includes a meal called kaiseki, followed by the preparation and serving of both thick tea (koicha) and thin tea (usucha). A chaji can last for up to four hours and is a formal, intimate gathering steeped in tradition. Here are the basic steps for hosting a chaji:
Step 1: Choose the Date and Time. Chaji is typically held in the afternoon, with the meal portion starting around noon and the tea ceremony portion starting around 2 PM. Choose a date that allows ample time for preparation and for guests to clear their schedules.
Step 2: Send Invitations. Traditionally, chaji is an intimate gathering with only a few guests. Send out invitations well in advance to allow guests to prepare and make arrangements. Include information about the dress code, which is typically traditional Japanese attire like a kimono.
Step 3: Prepare the Tea Room and Garden. The tea room and garden should be clean, serene, and welcoming. Ensure the garden path leading to the tea room is clear and well-maintained. Arrange the tea room with a tatami floor, a hanging scroll, and a simple flower arrangement (chabana).
Step 4: Plan the Kaiseki Meal. Kaiseki is a multi-course, traditional Japanese meal featuring a variety of small, seasonal dishes. The meal should be well-balanced, visually appealing, and include the following courses:
Sakizuke: an appetizer similar to an amuse-bouche
Nimono: simmered vegetables and proteins
Mukōzuke: a sashimi dish
Hassun: a platter of small seasonal dishes, both from the sea and the mountains
Yakimono: grilled fish
Suimono or shirumono: a clear soup
Gohan: rice, often cooked with seasonal ingredients
Kōnomono: pickled vegetables
Tomewan: a final soup, often miso-based
Step 5: Prepare the Tea Utensils and Sweets. Assemble all the necessary tea utensils (listed in the previous blog post) for both the koicha and usucha tea ceremonies. Also, prepare seasonal Japanese sweets (wagashi) to serve alongside the tea.
Step 6: Conduct the Kaiseki Meal. Greet your guests at the garden entrance and lead them to the tea room. Have them cleanse their hands and mouths with water from a tsukubai (stone basin) before entering. Start the kaiseki meal by offering the sakizuke and continue with each course in the proper order.
Step 7: Perform the Koicha Ceremony. After the kaiseki meal, conduct the koicha ceremony. Koicha is a thick, concentrated tea made from high-quality matcha. The preparation process is similar to the temae outlined earlier but uses more matcha powder and less water, creating a thick paste. Guests share the same chawan, taking a few sips before passing it to the next person.
Step 8: Perform the Usucha Ceremony. Following the koicha ceremony, proceed with the usucha ceremony, which involves the preparation and serving of thin tea. This process is similar to the temae described earlier, but each guest receives their own chawan of tea. Serve wagashi alongside the usucha for guests to enjoy.
Step 9: Conclude the Chaji. Once all guests have finished their tea, collect the chawan and clean the utensils. Bow to your guests, signaling the end of the chaji. Escort them back to the garden entrance and bid them farewell.
Hosting a chaji requires significant preparation, knowledge, and practice.
While mastering the art of tea ceremonies can take years, a basic understanding will help you conduct a successful tea ceremony.
6: Dress Appropriately
It's best to wear a kimono, a Japanese garment characterized by its long, flowing sleeves and intricate patterns. If you don't have access to a kimono, choose simple, modest clothing that is respectful of the occasion.
7: Serve Japanese Sweets
In a traditional tea ceremony, Japanese sweets, or wagashi, are served to balance the bitterness of the matcha. Offer your guests a variety of seasonal sweets, such as mochi, yokan, or dorayaki.
8: Invite Guests and Enjoy the Ceremony
Invite a small group of friends or family members to your tea ceremony, as traditional tea gatherings are intimate affairs. Encourage guests to dress in traditional Japanese attire, if possible, and provide a brief explanation of the tea ceremony before starting.
Hosting a Japanese tea ceremony is a rewarding and enriching experience that allows you to share a piece of Japanese culture with your guests