Tea ceremony in Japan used to be a ‘men only’ event. Up until the end of the Edo period (1603-1868 AD), women were not allowed to attend the ceremony.
Tea appeared in Japan under the influence of the Chinese Tang dynasty, during the 7th century, but its widespread adoption by Japanese society was very slow. For a long time, tea was a privilege reserved for the priests, being drunk only by Buddhist monks.
Japan is the only major tea producing country in the world to almost exclusively process only green tea, around 97% of which is consumed internally. Its three major tea-growing regions are Shizuoka, Kagoshima, and Uji.
Unlike all the other green teas produced in the world, Japanese green teas are not prepared according to the traditional Chinese process but undergo a special type of firing, by using steam. The leaves, instead of being roasted in a boiling hot receptacle, are steamed for a few minutes, which gives them a shiny appearance and a slightly iodised taste which is immediately recognisable.
Because of this typical appearance and flavour, Japanese green teas often provoke surprise in Westerners. They must be drunk unadulterated, with nothing added.
Matcha isn’t just the latest beverage fad or coffee replacement. Matcha isn’t just a trendy drink that Hollywood drinks by the gallon. Matcha dates back nearly a thousand years to a time when dynasties ruled China and Shogun clans ruled Japan.
Zen Master Sen-no-Rikyu is largely credited with popularising Juko’s tea ceremony ritual and has become the most well-known and revered historical figure of the Japanese Tea Ceremony.
Sen-no-Rikyu formed the four basic principles of the Japanese Tea Ceremony:
- Harmony (wa)
- Respect (kei)
- Purity (sei)
- Tranquility (jaku)
The Japanese Tea Ceremony is called “Chado” or “Sado.” Translated, this means “The Way of Tea.”
Did you know that until the late 1800s only rich nobles such as samurai and monks could afford to drink the matcha tea? Fascinating ins't it?
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Even in Japan, Gyokuro is considered a rare and premium green tea. Gyokuro leaves are only plucked once a year, and only in selected plantations. The tea leaves are shaded from sunlight for at least 20 days before harvest.
Gyokuro uses only the small tea leaves plucked from the top of the plant. As a result, Gyokuro has a distinctly mellow, sweet umami flavor and fresh aroma. In addition to its delicate taste, gyokuro’s abundant health benefits make it one of the finest green teas available.
Sencha teas are green teas very widespread in Japan. Their name in Japanese means "infused tea". The plucking is done mechanically, a technique that the Japanese have mastered so they can obtain teas of different grades. After steam firing, the leaves are folded to look like small flat needles. A Sencha tea is prepared with varying quantities of tea, differing volumes and temperatures of water, as well as different times of infusion, depending on its quality.
Bancha teas are produced with lower, larger leaves than those used for Sencha teas. The folding of the leaves is also less refined. They make up the bulk of Japanese production and are taken in three different guises: natural, grilled (Hojicha teas) or with cereal grains added (Genmaicha teas).
Tea Ceremony Fun Facts
- Until the late 1800s only rich nobles such as samurai and monks could afford to drink the matcha tea.
- Green tea was originally used as medicine not a relaxation drink. Matcha green tea has one of the highest levels of antioxidants compared to other drinks.
- When walking in the tea ceremony room, people should not step on the intersections of the tatami mats. Historically, there were occasions that the ninja hid under the basement and attacked from the beneath.
- The rules of the tea ceremony changes by seasons. The host changes everything (the scroll, the flower, type of tea, depth of the bowl, the way chashaku is put on the tea caddy) to show how seriously he/she is taking the ceremony and how each moment is unique.
- The flowers in the tea ceremony room are different from ikebana, we cannot use flowers with the strong smell and we must make sure the case looks natural.
- The most famous grand tea master alive today is Sen Soshitsu 15, who is the 15th generation of the Rikyu family and who holds 2 Phds , one from China and one from S. Korea. He started practicing Tea ceremony when he was 6 and became the grand master at the age of 41. He never drinks coffee.
- Due to novels and movies such as Memoirs of a Geisha, the Japanese tea ceremony has become linked with the grace and sophistication of the geisha. During the spring, geishas can be seen preparing sweets or meals for the tea ceremony.
- The reason why there are no chairs in a tea house is because the floor is a tatami floor. This floor is made from reeds, straw or rush grass and were seen as a luxury in ancient Japan. Traditional houses have tatami floors and only certain shoes should walk on its surface. The way the tatami floor is laid is important as it might bring good or bad luck into the house.
- There are just so many rules of tea ceremony and the training usually takes years. Just to give an example, there are rules of setting up the charcoals under the pot which may be considered a tiny detail.