Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Japanese Tea contrasted with the Victorian Tea

The chanoyu tea ceremony, which offers Japanese green tea in the powdered and whisked form (maccha), is still the most widely practiced of the Japanese tea ceremonies. While its traditions may slightly vary from tearoom to teahouse, the basics are the same. Here’s what one can expect to experience at a tea ceremony.

The host or hostess will don a kimono. In tea ceremonies held in a detached teahouse, guests will wait in a garden portico for their host’s summons. Guests will take part in a ritual hand washing. Upon entering the teahouse or tearoom, guests should stop to admire the hanging scroll, art piece, floral arrangement, or other decorative element set out for their enjoyment.

Guests may be served a light meal with sake or a small offering of sweets. They should bow lightly when either is presented. Sweets are selected and eaten with a wooden pick called a kuromoji. Once selected, sweets should be placed on the special napkin called a kaishi. The host ritually cleanses and arranges all the tea utensils: tea bowl, whisk, tea scoop, then begins making the tea, using precise measurements of powdered green tea and water, specific whisking techniques, and other formal procedure. Guests should keep conversation minimal and enjoy the sights, smells, and sounds of the teahouse and the tea-making process.

The tea bowl is served to the guest of honor or first guest who exchanges bows with the host. The first guest should then bow to the second guest and lift the bowl in respect to the host. Always handle the bowl with delicacy and care. Before drinking, the guest should rotate the bowl, avoiding drinking from the front of the cup. Then take two or three sips, wipe the rim with his fingers, rotate the bowl back, and pass it to the second guest with a bow. The guest may wipe his fingers on the kaishi.

Once all the guests have been served, the host ritually cleans the utensils. The guest of honor or first guest should ask to examine the utensils. At this time, all the guests should admire each utensil with respect and gentle care. If the host serves everyone tea in separate tea bowls, guests should admire and examine the bowl when they’re finished as well. The host will gather up the utensils, dismiss the guests, and bow his farewells from the door.

McCoy, Elin and John Frederick Walker, Coffee and Tea, G.S. Haley Company, Inc., 1998.

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