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GO GREEN: Master the art of the Japanese tea ceremony

Monks and matcha 

Since tea seeds were first brought back from China by the Buddhist monk Eisai in 1191, the Japanese have dedicated themselves to green tea – whether steamed Sencha, super-green Gyokuro, powdered matcha or popcorn-style Genmaicha. Eisai had heard from the Chinese monks that tea was a great way to stay awake during long hours of mediation, and he introduced the monasteries to the method of grinding the leaves to a powder and whisking with water. In other words, monks set the trend for matcha.

 

Writing the rule book

Over the next few centuries Japanese tea masters turned tea drinking into a fine art, developing new styles of green tea and a particular type of etiquette. By the 13th century green tea had become a favourite with statesmen, intellectuals and court nobles, and in the 16th century the grand tea master Sen No Rikyu arrived on the scene. Drawing inspiration from the Chinese tea ceremony popularised during the Song Dynasty, he established the rules for the distinctly Japanese chanoyu tea ceremony.

 

The four essential principles

 It takes years of training to learn the hundreds of different steps involved in chanoyu, but by following Sen No Rikyu’s philosophy you can try your hand at a proper Japanese tea ceremony. It all comes down to four essential principles: harmony, respect, purity and tranquillity.

 

Set the scene

 Sen No Rikyu’s golden rule was: ‘take care of everything ahead of time’…

 

  1. Flower arranging: Hosts are advised to ‘arrange the flowers as they grow in the fields’. A single branch of blossom in a vase will do.
  2. Prepare the water: Ever wondered how to make green tea without it tasting bitter? The trick is to let the water cool for five minutes after boiling – we pour the water into a Tetsubin teapot before mixing with the matcha in a stoneware tea bowl.
  3. Be cool: The comfort of your guests is everything. Sen No Rikyu was keen on creating the perfect level of coolness in the room; he also warned ‘be prepared for rain’.

 

Chaji

 Chaji is the more formal type of tea ceremony, lasting three to four hours with a maximum of four participants.

 

  1. Start in the garden: Greet your guests outside, before inviting in to a meal in the ‘teahouse’. Follow Sen No Rikyu’s advice and ‘give every one of your guests your full attention.’
  2. Make the matcha: After the meal, serve a thick, strong matcha with two scoops of powder per bowl. After a moment of contemplation, serve a second, lighter matcha and follow with further meditation.

 

Chakai

 Chakai is the shorter version of chaji, lasting only 30 to 45 minutes.

 

  1. The more the merrier: Invite as many guests as you like, but make sure they all feel important.
  2. Sweetie tea: Serve a lighter preparation of matcha with an array of traditional Japanese sweets such as squidgy mochi, green tea ice cream and dorayaki pancakes. Japanese cherry tea is a great alternative to matcha – we’d suggest our Cherry Blossom tea as an icy cold brew.

 

It might sound strict, but the Japanese philosophy of tea is simple. Tea is treated as a way of life, ‘to discover the hidden beauty of people and objects’. There might not be time for the full tea ceremony every day, but introduce some Sen No Rikyu’s principles to your daily routine and see how you feel. It’s our favourite form of mindfulness…

 

 


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