In Japanese, the traditional tea ceremony is called Sado, Chanoyu, or Ocha. It is the formal, ceremonial preparation and consumption of matcha green tea.
The history of the formal Japanese Tea Ceremony dates to the eighth century, yet at this time the ceremony bore limited resemblance to what we see today. It was only after a Chinese Buddhist priest wrote an instructional manual on the preparation of matcha tea that the ceremony evolved. In the eighth century, matcha tea was consumed only by noblemen and priests as a medicinal beverage. The Japanese were forced, after relations with China cooled at the end of the Tang Dynasty, to cultivate and devise their own tea traditions.
The tea ceremony in Japan was created because matcha tea was such a prized and precious commodity; as such, it was greatly respected. Matcha leaves were first ground (as opposed to simple being steamed) by Japanese priest Myoan Eisai in the twelfth century.
Today, the Japanese Tea Ceremony is a well choreographed, formal ritual of preparing and serving matcha tea alongside traditional sweets (which are used to balance the bitter taste of the tea). The participants’ attention is fully devoted to predefined actions and movements; aesthetics are paramount. Guests are of utmost importance, and even the placement of utensils reflects the relative importance of each guest. The host and each guest must comply with complicated etiquette requirements. It is a process which takes a long time to learn.
There are various types of tea ceremony, depending on the time of day, the season, and the occasion. These include the winter dawn tea ceremony (Akatsuki-no-chaji); the summer dusk tea ceremony (Yuuzari-no-chaji); and the winter evening tea ceremony (Yobanashi).
Simplicity is the key component of the Japanese tea ceremony. The ritual preparation and the drinking of the tea are done with silence, serenity, and spirituality.
Preparation differs most in that summer tea preparation is done with an iron kettle on a brazier, whereas in winter the iron kettle is placed in a sunken hearth in the Tatami flooring of the ceremony room.
The Winter Ceremony: (very basic description)
Every step and aspect of the ceremony has a profound deeper meaning. These aesthetics date back centuries.
Prior to the ceremony: send guest invitations; clean grounds of teahouse; select utensils and clean tea room; prepare meal.
After the formal tea drinking is done, a more casual atmosphere is fostered and more sweets, a smoking set, and a thinner tea are brought. The thinner tea is consumed individually rather than communally from the same bowl. The utensils are inspected by guests with reverence.
Traditional Japanese tea ceremony can last four hours.