Recently, our San Diego Tea Meetup group featured Steven R. Jones, a Wu-Wo tea ceremony master, who introduced us to the Wu-Wo tea ceremony. If you are looking to create a special tea event, it is actually done very easily. All it requires is a little planning. But once you get going, it is an experience every tea lover should have!

The following is an in-depth introduction to Steven Jones’ Wu-Wo tea ceremony.

“Wu-Wo” is a style of tea ceremony. “Wu” and “Wo” are Chinese words with philosophical meanings. “Wu” means a void or absolute emptiness as far as the mind or senses can determine; therefore, it represents infinite space. “Wo,” on the other hand, means mine, self, or being. When we put these two words together, they seem to contradict each other, with “Wu” seeming to imply not being and “Wo” seeming to imply being. However, it is important to look deeper into the meanings of both words. “Wu-Wo” means to empty the mind, to be without physical or mental attachments, and to let go of our knowledge, wealth, and appearance.

Before beginning the Wu-Wo tea ceremony, it is important to assemble the following:

  • Hot water in a thermos four times larger than your cover bowl or teapot
  • Teapot or cover bowl
  • Tea pitcher
  • Four teacups
  • Tea tray
  • Cloth wraps for teaware and basket, backpack, or bag
  • Watch or timer for brewing
  • Small cloth
  • Mat or stool or cushion
  • Tarp, cloth, or towel to set up on

Here are the tenets of the Wu-Wo tea ceremony:

  1. Participants bring simple teaware and enjoy tea together in a circle. When there are many participants, two or more circles can be formed.
  2. Seats are chosen randomly. No one knows beforehand who will sit next to whom and who will serve tea to whom. There is no class distinction and participants adjust themseleves to the circumstances.
  3. After setting up the teaware, participants appreciate each others’ teaware, and get to know one another. This session is called “teaware appreciation and friendship time.”
  4. When it’s “brewing time,” everybody goes back to their seats to make tea. There is no director at a Wu-Wo tea ceremony; everything is based on the “public announcement.” The aim of this is to force participants to follow certain conventions.
  5. After the first brew, participants take their cups to serve the tea. If the “public announcement” states to “make four cups of tea, serve the three participants on the adjacent left, and keep one teacup for oneself,” it is important to follow the public announcement. At a Wu-Wo tea ceremony, tea is served in one direction, with the aim to let participants serve without waiting for compensation; this is part of the Wu-Wo principle of “no reward is expected.”
  6. If the recipient is sitting when the participant serves tea to him / her, the participant and the recipient should bow to one another without speaking. When the brewing begins, participants should remain silent. This will promote group rhythm and harmony.
  7. All participants must prepare the tea by themselves. Therefore, everyone may have the chance to taste different kinds of tea and appreciate the different teas. This is the “no bias” principle of the tea ceremony. When a cup is unpleasant, still accept it as a reminder of how to brew good tea. This is the “concentrate and improve” principle of the tea ceremony.
  8. Start brewing the second brew when everybody has finished the first round. One of the participants should pour the second brew into four disposable cups and serve four spectators, then return to his / her seat. For the third brew, a participant should pour the tea into a tea pitcher and then pour it into the same cups used for the first brew; then the participant should return to his / her seat and give him- / herself some tea.
  9. If the tea ceremony is in a public place, arrange for a narrator to describe what is going on for any public participants who are watching. Perhaps even arrange to serve the public the second brew using disposable cups and / or the fourth brew using disposable cups.
  10. There are no restrictions on the teaware or the brewing methods. However, the basic principle is to make good tea for everybody. Therefore, the Wu-Wo tea ceremony is a ceremony with “no distinction of school or region.”
  11. Setting up on the ground is preferred because no seats separate the participants.  However, there are no real restrictions on sitting; one can even bring a small seat.
  12. The tea ceremony can be held in the evening. Participants should each bring a personal light. An evening tea ceremony is an occasion for people to appreciate the beauty of the evening.
  13. After the last cup is enjoyed, you may arrange for some music or mediation for 3 to 5 minutes. This “post-tea drinking activity” is an opportunity to reflect on the tea ceremony.
  14. After the “post-tea drinking activity,” everybody should clean up. After everything is cleaned up and packed, the tea ceremony is over.
  15. The Wu-Wo tea ceremony reminds people of the significance of “emptiness.” Nothingness is not what we are pursuing, but rather “having” followed by “emptiness” – just like pure light, which is formed by all the colors of the rainbow.
  16. The Wu-Wo tea ceremony began in Taiwan in 1990. It shortly became an international tea cultural activity. A large “International Wu-Wo Tea Ceremony” is held every two years in one country or region.
  17. To promote the Wu-Wo tea ceremony, the International Wu-Wo Tea Ceremony Association recruits “Tea Instructors” and “Tea Ceremony Instructors,” establishes “Tea Ceremony Classrooms” to promote tea arts and the tea ceremony, and provides training for participants in the Wu-Wo tea ceremony through a three-level education program.

For more information on Steven R. Jones, visit his blog or his Facebook page.