The way of tea, also known as the Japanese tea ceremony, is the ritual preparation and presentation of matcha powdered green tea. Known as “chanoyu” in Japanese, the ceremony has little to do with the actual consumption of tea. More emphasis is placed on the aesthetics such as the placement of the utensils, the ambience and the nuanced gestures of the ceremony. Speaking broadly, the tea brewer’s goal is to make a bowl of tea from the heart.
Matcha powdered green tea was originally imported from China into Japan during the 12th century. At first the tea was lauded for its medicinal qualities and drunk in monasteries, aristocratic mansions and by the ruling warrior elite. Noisy and gaudy tea parties were turned into more spiritual affairs during the 14th century by Zen Buddhist masters. Tea ceremonies moved into austere thatched huts made for the sole purpose of holding this new form of meditative tea consumption. A coal burning fire, bamboo tea whisks and scoop, tea bowls, hemp and silk clothes, a ladle and an iron kettle became the essential components of the tea ceremony.
When a Zen Buddhist master teaches a student the methods of the tea ceremony his goal is to not have the student learn the process with only his mind, but with his whole body. A deep silence is kept throughout the actual brewing and serving of the tea. A peaceful state of mindfulness is attained by both the tea maker and the participants through contemplation of nature and the beauty of craftsmanship in the ceremony. All adhere to a rhythmic set of predetermined motions that are meant serve as mutual signs of respect.
Preparation styles can vary from season to season and can be informal (chakai) or formal (chaji). Formal ceremonies can last up to four hours and include a full meal. Sweets are served during both varieties of tea ceremonies to offset the bitterness of the tea.
You might not be looking to join a tea school in Japan to be taught the painstaking etiquette of the Japanese tea ceremony by a Zen Buddhist master. In which case, here's a quick four step process to make your own matcha powdered green tea.