Q&A WHAT IS THE JAPANESE TEA CEREMONY?

First what I feel is important to indicate is that the term ‘tea ceremony’ is a mistranslation. The word ‘ceremony’ only partially captures what the practice really is and calls for misunderstandings about the concept. It is a ritual but one that is not only used for ceremonial purposes. It essentially is a rite of hospitality, and that is why we prefer to refer to it as ‘the rite of tea’.

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JAPANESE TEA CEREMONY STEPS

Regardless of the tradition or style in which a service of tea is conducted, one single such service comprises of several stages the host observes to provide his guests with a bowl of tea and an enjoyable occasion. Each individual stage has a specific function in the unfolding of the service. I will lay out the basic structure of the steps of a basic service of Japanese tea ceremony according to the praxis of the Enshū school.

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DIFFERENT TYPES OF MATCHA, KOICHA AND USUCHA

It is thick tea, koicha, [濃茶] that is “tea proper”. Proper thick tea is mid-way between a liquid and a paste. It can only be blended [練(ね)る], using a bamboo whisk cut into tines that are fewer, and consequently thicker and stronger. Even for a single guest’s serving, the volume of powder required is such that, upon contact with that powder, the temperature of heated water immediately drops.

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THE JAPANESE TEA HUT OR CHASHITSU

When we consider the space in which we commonly conduct a service of tea, we become aware of the wide variety of layouts and sizes that these chambers or chashitsu come in. Each tea practitioner that lived and contributed to the development of the rite of tea throughout history, constructed and employed tea hermitages or tea chambers that suited his/her personal aesthetic and functional preferences.

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