Ah, the Japanese tea ceremony: the ceremony of making and drinking Matcha green tea. Buddhist monks armed with chasen bamboo whisks perfected the art.
It’s a lot more than just making tea. And it’s certainly not a green tea latte. NO. It’s mind, ritual, discipline, and militaristic precision with the grace and elegance of Her Majesty the Queen.
Matcha, the tea used in the ceremony, is micro-milled Camillia Sinensis tea leaves. It’s not loose leaf tea. You don’t steep it. You whisk it with a chasen.
To learn much more about tea ceremony, and all Japanese tea, check out Green is the New Black where we delve into a deep, yet lighthearted study of it, from a Westerner’s point of view.
If you have ever wondered how to make green tea the “tea ceremony” way, there are numerous schools, akin to religions, to teach you. Tea cafes and tea shops don’t make it in this highly structured way.
Tea ceremony, called Sadou, chadou or even cha-no-yu, is a life’s work for those attempting to master it. But you can never master it because tea ceremony is an on-going meditative practice with nothing to master except your mind.
The ceremony incorporates special handmade instruments, like the chashaku scoop, used in a choreographed ritual with theatrical precision that centers the mind.
So precise are the movements that no one seems to breath during the moment of experiencing it. Exquisite hand-made bowls are adorned with the finest tea in the land, whisked into a frothy, three-sip gesture of respect.
Created by a Zen Buddhist priest named Ikkyu, it was his student, Sen Rikyu (Sen-no-Soueki Rikyu Kouji) who perfected the tea ceremony. He refined it into rustic simplicity, or “no-frills”, so as to strip away anything that might hinder the path to enlightenment. Because of his contribution to the art, Sen Rikyu is considered the “father” of Sadou.
This concept of rustic simplicity has reverberated into modern life, seen in breathtaking homes with beautiful floors, walls, sliding doors and interiors containing nothing but a vase of flowers. It has influenced everything from cuisine to the iMac.
The tea ceremony was first used as a meditative practice - it wasn’t about the tea at all. The ritual was about mindfulness, simplicity and respect for the self.
The main purpose of Zen, and of the tea ceremony, is to eliminate the unnecessary in life … and everyone could use a little bit of that! After all, the ritual consists of nothing more than “the simple act of boiling water, making tea and drinking it”, to quote Sen Rikyu.
As the greatest tea master of all time, he believed that if we all did a bit of navel gazing, we would realize that our human lives are filled with a plethora of ridiculous and superfluous thoughts, cluttering our minds and causing confusion. To get back to basics by boiling water, making tea and sipping it, we are helping rid ourselves of fantasy and illusion, enabling us to live a more harmonious and balanced life.
Westerners are curious about the tea ceremony because it’s just so unlike anything we know or do. What attracts Westerners, and Japanese alike, is the beauty, serenity and tradition of the ritual in an attempt to bring some quiet normality to our everyday chaos.
Check out these articles for more about this fascinating ritual:
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