A tea ceremony is a ritualized form of making tea practiced in Asian culture by the Chinese, Koreans, Japanese,Indians, Vietnamese and Taiwanese. The tea ceremony, literally translated as “way of tea” in Japanese “etiquette for tea” or “tea rite” in Korean and “art of tea” in Chinese is a cultural activity involving the ceremonial preparation and presentation of tea

The Japanese tea ceremony is better known, and was influenced by the Chinese tea culture during ancient and medieval times, starting in the 9th century when tea was first introduced to Japan from China

The Vietnamese tea ceremony, also influenced by its Chinese counterpart, is only performed during weddings and other religious rituals

One can also refer to the whole set of rituals, tools, gestures, etc. used in such ceremonies as tea culture

All of these tea ceremonies and rituals contain “an adoration of the beautiful among the sordid facts of everyday life”, as well as refinement, an inner spiritual content, humility, restraint and simplicity “as all arts that partake the extraordinary, an artistic artificiality, abstractness, symbolism and formalism” to one degree or another

At a very basic level, tea ceremonies are a formalized way of making tea, in a process which has been refined to yield the best taste

Historical documents on the subject include the 8th-century monograph “The Classic of Tea” and the 12th-century book Treatise on Tea

Uses of tea drinking

Green matcha tea

  • In Japan, a tea ceremony is a blend of two principles- sabi & wabi
  • “Wabi” represents the inner, or spiritual, experiences of human lives
  • Its original meaning indicated quiet or sober refinement, or subdued taste “characterized by humility, restraint, simplicity, naturalism, profundity, imperfection, and asymmetry” and “emphasizes simple, unadorned objects and architectural space, and celebrates the mellow beauty that time and care impart to materials
  • “Sabi” on the other hand, represents the outer, or material imperfection of life, also the original nature of things
  • Zen Buddhism has been an influence in the development of the tea ceremony
  • The elements of the Japanese tea ceremony is the harmony of nature and self cultivation, and enjoying tea in a formal and informal setting
  • The Japanese tea ceremony developed as a “transformative practice”, and began to evolve its own aesthetic, in particular that of “sabis” and “wabis” principles
  • Understanding emptiness was considered the most effective means to spiritual awakening, while embracing imperfection was honoured as a healthy reminder to cherish our unpolished selves, here and now, just as we are – the first step to “satori” or enlightenment
  • Tea drinking is used as an aid to meditation, for assistance in fortune telling, for ceremonial purposes and in the expression of the arts

Worldwide customs

  • Corresponding tea drinking habits can be found worldwide. In Europe, including the Victorian-era ‘high tea’ or afternoon tea ritual, was a social event, where the ritual of being seen to have the right equipment, manners, and social circle, was just as important as the drink itself
  • The Victorian-era tea was also influenced by the Indian tea culture, as for the choice of tea varieties
  • The American tea culture has roots that trace back to the Dutch colonization of the Americas
  • In the colonies, teas were served with silver strainers, fine porcelain cups and pots and exquisite tea caddies
  • In recent years there has been a resurgence of interest in fine teas in America, mainly due to the lifting of China’s ban on exports in 1971. Since the 1920s, Americans could not get much Chinese tea and very little Indian tea was imported

Tea houses and tea gardens

A Japanese tea garden

  • In Japanese tradition a tea house ordinarily refers to a private structure designed for holding Japanese tea ceremonies
  • This structure and specifically the room in it where the tea ceremony takes place is called chashitsu (茶室, literally “tea room”)
  • The architectural space called chashitsu was created for aesthetic and intellectual fulfillment
  • The tea garden was created during the Muromachi Period (1333–1573) and Momoyama Period (1573–1600) as a setting for the Japanese tea ceremony, or chanoyu
  • The style of garden takes its name from the roji, or path to the teahouse, which is supposed to inspire the visitor to meditation to prepare him for the ceremony
  • There is an outer garden, with a gate and covered arbor where guests wait for the invitation to enter
  • They then pass through a gate to the inner garden, where they wash their hands and rinse their mouth as they would before entering a Shinto shrine before going into the teahouse itself
  • The path is always kept moist and green, so it will look like a remote mountain path, and there are no bright flowers that might distract the visitor from his meditation
  • Early tea houses had no windows, but later teahouses have a wall which can be opened for a view of the garden.
  • In China, a tea house (茶館, cháguăn or 茶屋, cháwū) is traditionally similar to a coffeehouse, albeit offering tea rather than coffee
  • People gather at tea houses to chat, socialize, and enjoy tea and young people often meet at tea houses for dates
  • The Guangdong (Cantonese) style tea house is particularly famous outside of China
  • In the Korean tea ceremony, central to the Korean approach to tea is an easy and natural coherence, with fewer formal rituals, fewer absolutes, greater freedom for relaxation, and more creativity in enjoying a wider variety of teas, services, and conversation
  • This leads to a wider variance of teahouse design, tea garden entries and gardens, different use and styles of teawares, and regional variations in choice of tea, choice of cakes and biscuits and snacks, seasonal and temporal variations, and the acoustic and visual ambiance of Korean teahouses

Tea houses

A Japanese tea house located at the Museum für Asiatische Kunst, Berlin, Germany

Gyokusenen in Kanazawa, Ishikawa prefecture, Japan

Interior of Japanese style tea house in Japanese garden in Toulouse

Meimeian in Matsue, Shimane prefecture, Japan

Meimeian in Matsue, Shimane prefecture, Japan

Youkoukan Garden, Japan

Tea house at Adachi Museum of Art in Yasugi, Japan

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