There are very few instances or experiences that bind humans together like our love for tea. It forms the essence of how we plan and live our days - a cup to begin the day with, a few cups in between work and perhaps a slightly different one before we head to bed. It is the fiber of life that encapsulates human imagination in a small little cup.
In Japan, however, this is taken to the next level. Tea culture is unlike any other and is rigorous and sacred, almost. The Japanese word for the color brown is cha-iro, which means the “color of tea”, which is a clear indication of how deeply ingrained tea is in Japanese culture.
While tea forms a large part of our everyday lives, there are few instances and days where tea is the focal point of our attention and world. One such instance is a Sado, which is the “the Way of the Tea”. This is a ceremonial presentation of matcha tea. This ceremony is led by an otemae, a position that takes years of effort and dedication to achieve.
A Sado is a beautiful way to reflect, decompress and nurture the mind and soul. It allows you to escape the mundanities and pressures of our everyday lives and spend time with what lies within. This escape also allows you to feel more connected and one with nature and the bigger picture.
A Sado is an affair that is based on a few guiding principles. These were created by Sen Rikyu, the 16th century tea master and have endured and survived ever since. The idea is to imbibe these principles during the tea ceremony, but allow them to filter into the rest of your life after the ceremony is over. Thus, once agains we see that the tea ceremony is but a passage into the rest of your lives - it is a tiny yet essential part of how we view ourselves and the rest of the world as well.
The key principles are -
Wa - harmony
Living in harmony with oneself and thine surroundings, whether these be people or nature. Also being flexible, movable and changeable.
Kei - respect
Respecting and trusting the process of the ceremony. This extends not just to the people who are a part of this ceremony, but also the equipment, and the produce.
Sei - purity
This refers to the cleanliness and orderliness of the ceremony and our lives, but also, an ode to being authentic, clear and transparent in how we conduct ourselves. We should imbibe a purity of mind and spirit in everything we do.
Jaku - tranquility
Finally, if we have truly grasped and incorporated all of the previously mentioned principles, we can achieve Jaku. This is an elevation of the mind or a specific state of mindfulness.
Now that we know the principles of how to conduct this ceremony, let’s look at what we’re drinking.
Koicha is a thick tea that is offered first during the ceremony. The cup is shared among three guests, each of whom takes three sips each. The matcha content is 3x that of the matcha content in usucha, making it thick and rich in flavor.
This is closer to your standard cup of tea, with each guest permitted to drink from their own individual cup.
In order to make our tea, we’ll need the help of some matcha-specific equipment, also called chadogu.
This is a tea caddy that holds and dispenses the tea. You must fill this before the ceremony begins, and through the course of the process, you’ll be seen measuring from the chai-re.
Perhaps the most well known and important piece of equipment, the chasen is a whisk made from bamboo. These are delicate pieces of bamboo that are prone to breaking, so like in every other part of the sado, you must be soft, deliberate and gentle.
This is a white hemp cloth used to wipe down the rim of the bowl after a guest has taken a sip of the tea.
Another essential element - chawan - is a tea cup or bowl that you drink from. This changes per the season. Summer is when you have shallow bowls, which encourage the tea to cool faster, and you have the opposite in the winter, when heat preservation is paramount. Bowls or cups that chip or slightly break are prized possessions. This is inline with the Japanese philosophy of Kintsugi.
A chasaku is a tea scoop that is carved from a single piece of material like ivory or bamboo.
And finally, we come to where you will host your tea party. Sados are usually held at special tea-rooms, where you sit with your knees on the ground. If you’d like, you can also host a nodate, a tea ceremony outside, like a picnic.
If you’d like to go the extra mile in creating the best tea ceremony experience, consider adding calligraphy scrolls to your setting. Flowers too are a helpful element in setting the scene right for your ceremony. Minimalist placements are considered the best.
And once you have your flowers in place, you’re ready for your sado! Remember to embrace the principles and yet make them your own, as you embark on your tea ceremony adventure!