THERE'S sipping tea and there's experiencing tea. It doesn't make sense? Wait until you get invited to a Japanese tea ceremony and your perception of "having tea" will be altered. Like, not just steeping tea bags in hot water or enjoying the astringent flavor on desserts. You'll have a new-found respect for this green powder.
A Japanese tea ceremony is a ritual preparation of tea. It's referred to as Chanayo, which literally translates to "hot water for tea," and Chado or Sado translates to "the way of tea." The entire process is not about drinking the tea but in the preparation -- its aesthetics. It's a choreographed ritual where every movement is predefined with the host artfully, and with heart, prepare the tea. The host sees to it that movement and placement of tea implements are seen by the guests.
Just like any art, devotion is de rigeur. It takes time to master the Japanese tea ceremony and patience. One may perceive it as a simple preparation and he is right. Simplicity is one of the principles but the controlled movements of the process require calmness, composure, and serenity. The discipline is almost spiritual.
Powdered green tea, or Matcha, reached Japan in the end of the 12th century, though it was introduced by China four centuries earlier. By the 14th century the Japanese upper class held social gatherings to drink Matcha in a study room (Shoin). One of the main purposes of the social is to appreciate Chinese art and crafts in a relaxed atmosphere.
As part of the discipline, the host will do his best to be knowledgeable in the other aspects related to the preparation, like calligraphy, flower arranging, cooking a special meal (Kaiseki). It is a way of life, "The Way of the Tea."
The tea ceremony I attended was an informal gathering (chakai) and happened on a cold season. Thus, an indoor ceremony was in order. Yes, preparation also varies depending on the season (generally the warm and the cold) and occasion (formal or informal). There is a unique and special preparation, choice of utensils, the flower selections, and even the scroll to express the objective of the host.
Inside the small Tatami room, we took our places along the perimeter and was served a confection to start. We all watched in amazement as the tea master prepared the thin tea. As it was served, we were taught how to receive the cups, turning it before sipping the hot, green iquid.
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