The Way of Tea: About Japanese Tea Ceremonies

Picture this: a small house with a low door surrounded by a tranquil garden. The inside of the house is sparsely decorated. The walls are a plain, neutral color, and an alcove towards the back of the room showcases a scroll hanging from the wall, a careful flower arrangement sitting in a small vase in front of it. The floor, except for a small, slightly depressed square, is covered with tatami mats. Within the square is a brazier and an iron kettle.

Guests begin to enter the tea house, removing their shoes and then bowing to step through the low doorway. They are greeted by the host, who wears a kimono and sits near the brazier. The guests take their seats, quietly kneeling on cushions in seiza while the host prepares tea. Everything about the host’s movements is carefully measured, and practiced to the point of perfection. Water boils, and is spooned out of the kettle and into a cup along with fresh matcha powder. The host whisks the contents of the cup until they are smooth, and carefully hands the cup to the first guest. The guest turns the cup around, 180 degrees and drinks the tea-- measured, graceful and appreciative. The guest then wipes the rim of the cup with a cloth before passing it along. Some wagashi sweets are served to the guests as a counterpart to the bitterness of the tea.