What Is a Tea Ceremony? All You Should Know

Tea has been a popular drink for centuries. It’s often served at social gatherings and it can be an integral part of many cultures. Tea ceremonies are a common ritual in Japan, China, Korea, Sri Lanka, and other countries that have adopted this cultural tradition.

This article will provide information about what a tea ceremony is and the different types of tea ceremonies from around the world.

What Is A Tea Ceremony?

A tea ceremony is a ritualized social custom of preparing and presenting the tea to guests in many Eastern cultures. It’s also called chanoyu, the Way of Tea. There are various forms, but they share some common elements: A person (the host) prepares green tea with great attention to detail; The guest takes small portions of this beverage while expressing appreciation for its quality; Then the host and guest drink from their respective cups without any further ado.

The dictionary describes a tea ceremony as, “an elaborate Japanese ritual of serving and drinking tea, as an expression of Zen Buddhist philosophy.”

The two main types of tea ceremonies are chakai (informal) and chaji (formal). Tea ceremonies such as these are most popular in Japan but the ritual tea drinking originated in China. Chakai ceremonies are informal, they include sweets and a thin tea called usucha.

Chaji is much for formal and includes a full course meal, sweets, and a thicker tea called koicha as well as the thin tea. Chaji is hours long and requires breaks for the guests to walk around.

There are other tea ceremonies held in Japan but they depend on season, day, or occasion. These other ceremonies are much less common.

Chinese Tea Ceremonies

The Chinese also practice a type of tea ceremony. These ceremonies take place at weddings, the bride and groom serve tea to their parents and families. It symbolizes the union of the two sides and is a very important part of a wedding day. These tea ceremonies take place in the family homes.

Korean Tea Ceremonies

Referred to as Darye, Korean tea ceremonies are a form of etiquette. Translated to “tea rite”, these ceremonies are meant to be relaxing. Koreans have practiced these tea ceremonies for over a thousand years. They are meant to be about enjoying the ease and relaxation of enjoying tea in a natural, formal setting.

What is the Purpose of a Tea Ceremony?

Tea ceremonies symbolize many different things depending on the type and the country. For the Japanese, a tea ceremony is an expression of their philosophy, Zen Buddhism.

For the Chinese, a tea ceremony is a union of two families on a wedding day.

For the Koreans, a tea ceremony symbolizes relaxation and enjoyment. If one were to take part in a tea ceremony, it is important to understand which kind one is taking part in. Understand the meaning behind taking part in such a ceremony.

What Teas Are Served in Each Ceremony?

Japan

  • Usucha – a thin tea served at both formal and informal ceremonies
  • Koicha – a thick tea served at formal ceremonies

China

Types of tea are left up to the family of the wedding. This is much like choosing a wedding cake flavor.

Popular choices:

  • Black Dragon Tea
  • Orange Blossom Tea
  • Classic Green Tea

Korea

  • Korean Wild Green Tea – served along with Korean snacks, one is not supposed to put down their bowl until their tea is finished. It lasts roughly 3-5 sips.

Different Etiquettes for Different Types

Japanese

  • Let the host seat you themselves.
  • Enter on your knees and do not step in the middle of the mats.
  • Turn the cup when it is passed to you to avoid drinking from the same spot as another guest
  • Eat what is given to you to avoid seeming disrespectful.

Chinese

  • The guests will be organized with the groom on the right and the bride on the left.
  • Parents of the bride and groom sit in chairs while the new couple kneels and serves the tea.
  • The order of tea serving is important because it shows respect and seniority.
  • Parents are served first, then grandparents, granduncles, and aunts, then uncles and aunts. Elder siblings come next and so on down the line.
  • Tea must be served with two hands on the saucer and one must bow forward or kneel.
  • Those being served must hold their tea by the saucer not the cup to avoid burns and spills.
  • When drinking the tea, one must lift the saucer and cup to their lips, move the lid slightly to the side and sip carefully.
  • Gifts will be presented after the tea drinking.

Korean

  • The tea is served with traditional Korean treats.
  • The tea is served in bowls.
  • To drink, hold the bowl at the base with your left hand, and do not put the bowl down until you’ve finished the tea (3-5 sips).
  • Relax and enjoy the naturalness of drinking tea.

The History of the Japanese Tea Ceremony

The Japanese tea ceremonies were first practiced during the “Kamakura Period”, the years 1192 – 1333. It began with Zen Monks drinking teas to keep themselves awake while enduring long, tiring meditation sessions. It became a Zen ritual as a way of honoring Bodhidharma or “Daruma” the first patriarch.

It became a private way for friends to discuss art, nature, etc. in the 15th century. Friends would meet in a private place to enjoy tea and discuss paintings, flowers, and even the tea utensils.

After much development, the tea ceremony became known for four specific things: harmony, respect, cleanliness, and tranquility.

Harmony is important among all kinds of people to keep the peace. A tea ceremony allows many peoples to come together and share tea and stories.

Tea ceremonies are also a way of showing respect. A host can invite guests and show them respect by serving them tea. Guests can show their respect by having proper manners, like waiting to be seated by the host.

Tea ceremonies represent cleanliness by requiring guests to wash their hands and clean their mouths before they are allowed to drink.

Tranquility is achieved by taking one’s time throughout the ceremony. One must enjoy every aspect of the ceremony and relax into the symbolism and calmness.

Japanese tea ceremonies are still popular today in the culture. There are many kinds of ceremonies including one for each season, but, as previously stated the most common are the formal and informal consisting of thin and thick teas.

The food served at a formal Japanese tea ceremony consists of rice, soups, and Mukouduke. Mukouduke is seasonal food served on a square tray called an Oshiki. It is typically raw seafood. Mukouduke is followed by Nimonowan which is simmered food. The third course consists of Yakimono which is grilled food. Each course’s food is cooked more intensely than the last. The meal is finished with traditional sweets such as higashi (a dry dessert) and omogashi (a moist dessert).

Conclusion

What’s the difference between a tea ceremony and other ceremonies? It all depends on what kind of occasion it is. A tea ceremony is typically more intimate than an opening for example, which would require seating arrangements that can accommodate large crowds.

If you’re looking to host your own Japanese-style tea party, we encourage you to take some time to investigate the different components that makeup such an event before planning one with friends or family members. This way, everyone will be able to fully appreciate and understand their roles in this special type of gathering!

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