Imagine sitting in an intimate room in Japan where you take part in an elaborate ceremony that has been performed in the same way for centuries. This is the matcha tea ceremony, a ritual that is as much about the careful preparation of tea as it is about drinking the tea itself. It’s a ceremony that can transport you to an era of beautiful simplicity, where honor and respect are conveyed through small gestures.
Matcha, a high-quality, finely ground powdered form of green tea, was first brought from China to Japan in the 9th century. Buddhist monks in Japan developed the tea ceremony to foster mindfulness and inner quiet. Later it became popular among Japanese nobility. Today, many people study and practice the tea ceremony, performing it to honor the meeting between host and guests and to celebrate harmony, respect, and tranquility.
Different versions of the tea ceremony vary in formality and length. The most formal is called a chaji and is held at noon with a small number of guests. Each chaji begins with purification; guests wash their hands, rinse their mouths, and change into clean slippers. They are then served a kaiseki meal of beautifully presented multiple courses, accompanied by saké and ending with a traditional sweet called a wagashi. After the meal, guests wait in an outdoor shelter while the host prepares the room.
Once the guests are summoned back to the tearoom, the ceremony itself begins. The host begins by carefully cleaning each utensil — a tea bowl, a bamboo tea scoop, and a bamboo whisk — using precise, graceful movements. The host then prepares a bowl of thick tea (koicha) by whisking hot water and matcha powder together. Each guest takes a sip of the thick mixture, wipes the rim of the bowl, and passes it on. Next, the host will prepare a bowl of thin tea (usucha) for each guest. Guests may chat casually while drinking this.
Once everyone has finished their tea, the host will clean each utensil and allow guests to examine them. Finally, host and guests bow to each other to conclude the ceremony.