Chado; The Japanese Tea Ceremony

The Japanese tea ceremony is a get-together that can bring harmony to all tea drinkers. This ritual is called Chado, meaning the way of the tea. Japanese people do tea ceremonies to bond together in a calm, harmonious, and peaceful manner and to appreciate tea. It is like coming to another peaceful world. There are even tea ceremony schools for people who want to practice the right way of conducting tea ceremonies in different seasons.

Let’s check out the basics of preparing matcha in a tea ceremony and how we can quickly learn how the host accommodates the guests. 

When and How did the Japanese Tea Ceremony Start?

In Japan, tea has been enjoyed for centuries. It was in the eighth century when tea first arrived on Japanese shores during a period of exchange between China and Japan. However, it wasn’t until 1615 that the formalized rules for serving and consuming green tea were set out by Rikyu (1522-1591), a renowned monk who founded the Urasenke school of the Tea ceremony.

Sen no Rikyū (千利休, 1522 – April 21, 1591), also known simply as Rikyū, is considered the historical figure with the most profound influence on chanoyu, the Japanese “Way of Tea”, particularly the tradition of wabi-cha. He was also the first to emphasize several key aspects of the ceremony, including rustic simplicity, directness of approach and honesty of self. Originating from the Sengoku period and the Azuchi–Momoyama period, these aspects of the tea ceremony persist.[1] Rikyū is known by many names; for consistency, he will be referred to as Rikyū in this article.             


Sen no Rikyu JPN

Painted by 長谷川等伯, calligraphy by 春屋宗園, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Preparing for Your Japanese Tea Ceremony

First, we must have these essential tea tools to conduct a tea ceremony:

  • Matcha powder in a small tea caddy
  • Water pot
  • Water
  • Silk cloth
  • Ladle
  • Tea Bowls
  • Bamboo whisk
  • Bamboo whisk stand
  • Small bamboo scoop
Japanese tea ceremony. Woman places her hand on the bamboo scoop that is resting on the container of ceremonial matcha tea.

Inviting Your Guests

Like inviting people you know to attend your party, the host will invite the guests by sending a formal invitation card a few weeks in advance. Why weeks in advance? Because it will give the host more time to choose tea utensils and décor.

Before the day of the tea ceremony, the host will prepare the tea house by cleaning the tatami mats or the area where you will conduct the ceremony, and the décor must be appropriate for the season.

Guests Prepare To Enter The Tea Room

On the day of the tea ceremony, around noon, the guests will be in the waiting room of the tea house. After all the guests arrive together at the designated time, the host’s assistant will give each guest a cup of hot water. After drinking, while going to another waiting room outside, they will see the Zen garden and appreciate its beauty. Going to that outdoor waiting room and at the same time witnessing the garden implies cleansing of body and mind from negative energy. After that, the host and the guests will meet and bow to each other, but they won’t talk to each other yet because it is best to hear and admire the chirping of the birds and crickets, the sound and scent of the whole garden, and nature. Finally, the host comes to the tea house and directs the guests to the tea room. Guests will remove their footwear to wear the provided slippers in the tea room.

Guests will wash their hands and mouth for hygienic purposes and symbolize purity and cleansing of their hearts and minds from negative outside energy. The tea ceremony is a spiritual practice in nature. They will come one by one and have time to look at the hanging scroll, the flower on the vase, and the pottery in the tea room.

Guidance For Guests

Guests will sit according to societal rank or who’s the oldest. The host and the primary or the oldest guest will talk first about the nature and the décor of the tea room. Then, the host will greet them individually and give some short regards. A box of Japanese sweets, like mochi, will be served to complement the matcha.

The host will prepare the charcoal under the water pot and light some incense. Next, the host will purify the tea tools in front of the guests, especially the whisk and the bowl. 

The host will then purify the utensils, wiping them with a silk cloth, particularly the tea bowl. The tea bowl will be passed to the primary guest until all the guests look at the bowl to appreciate its aesthetic. Then the host will pour hot water (not very hot, around 70 to 80 degrees Celsius) using a ladle into the tea bowl and dip the bamboo whisk. After a few seconds of whisking the water, the bamboo whisk will be placed on a bamboo whisk stand. The used water will be discarded in a separate bowl. After that, the usual tea-making begins.

During the Japanese Tea Ceremony

There are two ways to make matcha in tea ceremonies. Those are thin and thick matcha. For the first drink, the host will make thick matcha (Koicha) first.

Three teaspoons to 1 cup of water for thick matcha (Koicha)

One teaspoon to 1 cup of water for thin matcha (Usucha)

Before drinking the thick tea, the primary guest will ask about the brand, and manufacturer name of the matcha and the box of sweets served earlier. After that, when the host puts some charcoal under the water pot and burns some incense, the hose will make thin tea and serve it to the guests. After drinking the matcha, the host will ask the guests to look and examine the tea utensils.

The host will fill the bowls or cups and refill them again whenever their guests ask. 

After the tea-drinking, the host will take back and clean the tea bowls again. Then, the host will wait outside and bow to each exiting guest.

Depending on the type of tea ceremony and the number of guests, a tea ceremony can take up to 4 hours. It does not mean all of them will be sitting for 4 hours. They will have a short break after eating sweets (before the host serves the matcha) to stretch their legs and wait outside again in the outdoor waiting room. After enjoying the scent and sounds of nature, the host will hammer a small gong to signal that guests can enter the tea room again.

Tea ceremony takes years to master. Then, when you appreciate and want to make it a tradition, you must learn the angles and folding napkins.

The tea ceremony is a time for relaxation, and there is no need to rush learning about it. Instead, you will learn gradually about this as you attend and be invited to tea ceremonies.

Here are some videos about tea ceremonies taught by Obachan!