A teapot full of fragrant tea at the Orangery or a bowl of matcha in Japan or a clay pot of chai in Kolkata – which tea tradition would you choose?
Each time, you are compelled to make a choice like this, you will understand that the pleasure of partaking in these ceremonies also lies in the fact that these tea traditions have been handed down through generations. The tea lovers of these regions don’t just dunk tea leaves into boiling water and sip on their teas at random. They have created an art around the brewing of tea and it is these beautiful and tender rituals that serve to remind them of the grace and beauty of this gentle beverage.
One of the best known tea ceremonies of the world is from Japan. Here’s a compilation of the steps of this gracious ceremony and all that goes into making it special…
Japan, the land of one of the most famous tea ceremonies has its roots in Zen philosophy. This ceremony works on the Zen maxims of maintaining the order of the mind and training it. The tea ceremony is believed to have risen as one of the methods to practice this tradition. It is more than just a ritual to drink tea. It is performed to create a bonding experience of mindfulness and deep respect, both for people and the beverage.
Matcha tea is usually used for the Japanese tea ceremony, which is essentially a finely ground powder of specially grown and processed green tea leaves. It is an anti-oxidant rich tea with polyphenols that promote health. Matcha green tea is believed to be the highest quality of green tea available.
The Japanese tea ceremony works on all five senses. You get to enjoy the aroma of the tea, the feel of the potter’s glaze on the bowl, the sound of the water as it boils, the visual images of the art and flowers in the room where the ceremony is held and finally, the taste of the delicious snacks and the tea.
The ceremony begins with the guests gathering in a special room set up by the hosts. There is a short purification ritual for the guests before the actual tea ceremony begins, that is usually done at a stone basin. The guests enter the tea ceremony area with a silent bow and the host begins to prepare the utensils for the rites, cleansing them to perfection. Then the tea is prepared with matcha green tea powder and water (usually three scoops of matcha per guest) and a traditional bamboo whisk is used to create a green paste. Hot water is later added to produce the tea.
No unnecessary movements or words are allowed during the ceremony. The experience of drinking the tea in this ceremony is meant to engage the senses and enjoy the beauty of the special tea. The host presents the tea bowl to the guest who sips the tea and then wipes the rim before passing it onto the next guest. After the last guest has been served, the host cleanses the utensils once more and the guests examine and appreciate these objects respectfully before leaving the premises with another silent bow.
So, what happens during this ceremony? Many participants report that it is a time of pure stillness, when they are aware of the sharpness of each of their senses. It is like stepping into a work of art or into a Zen moment when time stands still and the mind quietens and reaches a state of heightened sensitivity. Their hands touch the glaze on the bowl that has actually been allowed to run in order to make people aware of its imperfections. They begin to understand that nothing in life is always ideal and that beauty can lie in imperfection too. The guests are also allowed to inspect the cleanliness of the bowl to appreciate the little things of life closely and see the beauty of each object around them.
Sipping the tea in itself is a special moment that allows the beverage to clear the mind and savour the deeper nuances of their philosophy.
Though it is highly ritualised, the Japanese tea ceremony is aesthetic, tender and meaningful. It is a must-try experience at least once in a lifetime, as it can enrich and enlighten your soul through its quiet rites and sweet ceremony.