The Japanese Tradition

In Japan, it all boils down to Zen Buddhism. Tea initially became popular because monks realized that it could enhance their meditative practices. Later it was elevated to an art, really just an extension of the Zen philosophy’s purity of form. Called Chanoyu (literally “the hot water for tea”), the tea ceremony consists of one simple act that is carried out through an elaborate set of procedures: making and serving a cup of tea. Every movement is prescribed, and requires great skill, poise, and charm. It takes years of dedication and training to be a true tea master and to carry out the highly formalized tradition of the tea ceremony.

Traditionally, guests at a tea ceremony take off their shoes and enter a special tearoom, where they sit on the floor to receive tea and engage in light conversation. A frothy green tea called matcha is served. It is made by mixing tea powder and hot water with a bamboo whisk. A sweet snack such as a sweetened rice cracker may also be eaten. From carrying the teapot to cleaning the dishes, the host’s graceful presentation is quietly observed – and appreciated – by each guest.