As the most popular beverage in Japan, green tea holds an important place within Japanese food culture. To this day, green tea can be found in practically all restaurants, stores, and vending machines across the country. The immense popularity of green tea can be traced back to the rise of the traditional Japanese tea ceremony (or sado), which literally translates to “The Way of Tea.”
Japanese Tea Ceremony History
Tea was first introduced to Japan when Buddhist monks brought tea seeds back from China over 1000 years ago, and it especially became popular with the Zen monks and samurai, who drank it to keep good health. The samurai adopted an early form of tea ceremony as a political tool used during negotiations with their enemies.
During the Muromachi period (1338-1573), tea became popular with the masses, and the tea ceremony still practiced today was born. Sen no Rikyu, known as the father of the modern tea ceremony, created the practice based on the ideals of Zen buddhismーtranquility, respect, purity, reverence, and simplicity.
Tea Ceremony Utensils and Tools
To perform a Japanese tea ceremony, you need these basic tools and ingredients.
Matcha, Japan's vibrant colored powdered green tea, takes center stage with the highest grades being reserved for the tea ceremony. It has a nuanced and vegetal slightly sweet yet bitter taste.
Chaki or Usuki (Tea Caddy)
The chaki or usuki is used to store the matcha powder. The chaki is used to store koicha (thick tea) and the usuki is used to store usucha (thin tea).
Chasen (Tea Whisk)
The chasen is a whisk carved from a single piece of bamboo that’s used to froth matcha powder when mixed with water.
Chashaku (Tea Scoop)
Sculpted from a single piece of bamboo or ivory, the chashaku is used to spoon the appropriate amount of matcha powder.
Kama (Tea Pot)
The kama is a metal pot, usually made of cast iron or copper, used to boil the water.
Chawan (Tea Bowl)
Artisans make a variety of tea bowls for ceremonies. Many tea bowls feature natural or floral patterns that correspond to each season and are renowned for their beauty.
Tea Ceremony Sweets
Tea ceremony guests are usually presented with seasonal sweets to enjoy with the tea. There are two types of tea ceremony sweets: dry sweets called higashi and moist sweets called omogashi. They both feature a sweet and subtle favor made to complement the bitter taste of matcha.
Higashi are made from sweetened rice flour and pressed into seasonal shapes using a wooden mold made from cherry bark. In the spring, cherry-blossom shaped higashi are common, and, in the fall, sweets are molded into the shape of a maple leaf.
Omogashi includes many types of popular Japanese sweets, especially mochi (steamed rice cakes). Omogashi are usually filled with anko (sweet bean paste), jelly, or fruit. During the tea ceremony, a very colorful type of omogashi called nerikiri is often served.
About the author:
Jessica Craven is a writer, artist, and designer passionate about introducing aspects of Japanese culture to English-speaking audiences. Previously, she studied Japanese traditional art forms and Japanese art history at Akita International University, worked in art museums and galleries in the United States, and returned to Japan to work in Saitama for five years on the JET Program. She is fascinated by how traditional Japanese art forms, like tea ceremony, are also closely related to philosophy and health. She currently lives in Tokyo, where she is continuing her writing career.
June 22, 2022
Nice article. Remember the tea ceremony we went to vividly.