By Eddy Montilla
In some countries in South America, people drink tea using the same container, as a symbol of friendship. In Europe, a cup of tea is a social event. In Japan, however, tea embraces all these ideas and more… It means culture, art and tradition.
History: The date when this drink was introduced into Japan from China seems to differ considerably from one expert to another, from a website to another. As an attempt to reach a consensus, we will say that it happened between the late 8th century and the early 9th century. Since then, Japanese people stamped their own style on the tea ceremony and it is one of the must-see events for those who love Japanese culture. Sadou, the Japanese tea ceremony, is thought to be held for the first time in the fifteenth century (there are also many different opinions on this subject.). At first, tea was a luxury product available in small amounts to priests and noblemen as a medicinal beverage. With the passage of time, its influence and taste reached the farthest corner of the country and today it can be savored in any house in Japan.
First steps: It’s no accident that “Sadou” means tea ceremony: It is indeed a great ceremony with ritualized forms of making and serving tea where you have to follow certain order. Everything begins with a stone basin located in the garden. There, people who are going to participate in the tea ceremony wash their hands and face in order to purify themselves. After that, they will enter a room specially designed for this purpose. Once inside, participants will “sit properly” (seiza), the traditional formal way of sitting in that country.
The tea room: Inside the room where the tea ceremony is celebrated, you will find a sacred place that is called “tokonoma”, sometimes decorated with a flower arrangement. It also has a hanging scroll with a painting or a work of calligraphy, which changes according to the season. In general, it is a way to express people’s desire to have a happy life and live in harmony with nature.
The ceremony: The Japanese tea ceremony centers on the preparation, serving, and drinking of green tea.
The water that will be used to prepare the tea will be heated by the teacher in an iron pot.
After that, she mixes the hot water and powdered green tea (matcha) using a tea whisk (shasen), a tool carved out of bamboo.
Then, she whisks the ingredients until the green tea has a thick froth with many tiny bubbles on the surface, a good sign that you have gotten a rich and delicious beverage.
The teacher will use a special tea bowl to serve the tea to the participants and she will put it on the Japanese traditional floor (tatami). Green tea is served without sugar, and, for many foreigners, it is a little bitter. This problem is solved thanks to some sweets that participants have to eat before drinking tea. They will help to find a better taste when drinking green tea, above all, if this is your first time. Sweets served during the ceremony are usually a reflection of the season. For example, in the picture below, some sweets look like umbrellas to symbolize rain since from early June to mid-July for most of the country it is rainy season.
Once the guests eat some sweets, they have to lift the tea bowl, look at the flower or any other thing drawn on the bowl and then turn the tea cup twice, clockwise, and enjoy it!
Benefits and virtues of green tea are well known: Thanks to its antioxidant properties, green tea could prevent certain forms of cancer. It also protects against heart disease and helps burn fat, etc. In Japan, there are a lot of places where you can see or participate in the tea ceremony. By knowing the culture of a country, you can know better it people. For those who have the opportunity to be a guest in a tea ceremony in Japan, I recommend them not to miss it! You will not be disappointed.
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