The last year we've been very much occupied with the Japanese ways of tea. So much so that we've found ourselves signing up for a whole bunch of tea-related gatherings and lectures around town. In a recent attempt to daydream our way to Japan, Mother and I attended a tea-tasting event guided by tea-connoisseur Yuko Ono (not to be confused with Yoko Ono, the one that captured the heart of a certain member of the Beatles). This particular evening brought us a lot of insights on how to not make a fool of ourselves if we ever get the change to experience a proper tea-ceremony in Japan. We thought we'd share some of our newfound knowledge here with you.
A BEAUTIFUL FRONT
Japanese ceramics are often asymmetric, with subtle variations in color, shape and detailing. A Japanese chawan (a special bowl adapted for matcha) or a normal tea bowl will look slightly different depending on which way it's turned. The host of a tea-ceremony will always serve you the tea with the most beautiful angle of the chawan or cup facing forward. So that you get to enjoy its best side. Out of courtesy, you should, therefore, turn the cup 180° when you have received it so that the most beautiful angle of the bowl is then facing the other guests at the table. You want the others to be able to enjoy the beauty as well. This small gesture is a token of appreciation. It's also a humble way to honor the exquisite craftsmanship and work put into the creation of the ceramic bowl.
CONVERSATION, RESPECT & BODY LANGUAGE
Even in the Edo era (also called the Tokugawa period) known as a time defined by strict social hierarchy, the tea-house was one of the only places where ranks and standings were put aside. Samurai, farmers, monks and even enemies were able to enjoy warm aromatic infusions in the same room; all weapons left outside. And until this very day, it's custom not to indulge in political discussions or heated topics within the tea-room. The teahouse is a break from worldly worries and silence is very much encouraged by ancient Zen principles. When entering a teahouse, you should adopt a humble posture, bowing your head slightly. If you've ever wondered why the entrance to a teahouse is small and always a little higher up from the ground; this is why. By building the entrance like this, the body has to bow naturally. Anyone who enters will automatically adjust to a body language that signals respect.
WHO DRINKS FIRST?
Tea should be drunk immediately after brewing, that's when the flavors are the most intense. You're not expected to wait until all other guests have been served. But you should thank the others around the table if you're served before them. A quiet nod will do.
THE DELICATE TATAMI FLOOR
Make sure to remove your heavy boots or dirty walking shoes before you enter the delicate tatami mats of the tea-house floor. You will probably be offered a pair of slippers to replace them with.
BOTH HANDS ON THE BOWL
The only thing that should occupy your mind and body when attending a tea ceremony is to enjoy the flavors of the tea fully. This means that both hands should be nestled around the bowl so that you can enjoy the warmth of the cup but also to ensure that your hands and mind don't get distracted by something else; like a mobile phone, for example. Tea time is for reflection, tranquility, and calm.
Check out some of our carefully selected teas in the store, chosen according to our personal preferences.
01. White Earl - organic white Earl Grey tea
02. In the mood for love - a rich green organic jasmine tea
03. Shinto matcha - Organic authentic stone-milled matcha
04. Matcha Starter kit - Includes the Shinto matcha and all the utensils needed to perform the modern matcha ritual.
05. Rise and shine - box of six fine teas