Honoring the Matcha Tea Ceremony: A Traditional Japanese Ritual
In Japanese culture, matcha green tea is much more than a drink. The matcha tea ceremony has been an integral part of the traditional Japanese culture for centuries. A quiet celebration performed with grace and beauty, the matcha tea ritual is a bonding experience of mindfulness, respect and a focus on the now.
What is the difference between matcha powder and regular loose leaf green tea?
Matcha tea powder is a far superior grade of tea containing up to 15 times more nutrients than loose leaf green tea. Because matcha powder represents the ground tea leaf in its entirety, you get the benefits of the whole tea leaf’s nutrients and vitamins. In comparison, in regular brewed green tea leaves, its nutrients and vitamins such as vitamins C gets left behind in the tea leaf and are usually discarded.
What types of tea are used during the tea ceremony?
The type of matcha used in this ritual is the ceremonial grade matcha powder, specifically used for drinking and lattes. Ceremonial grade matcha is specifically distinct from its color to how it feels. It should have a vibrantly green color and smell light, fresh, and slightly grass like. It should also be extremely fine to the touch and feel silky and smooth like eye shadow.
There are two types of matcha preparation known as usucha (thin tea) and koicha (thick tea). Usucha is typically made from the leaves of tea bushes that are less than 30 years old, and koicha is made from the first harvest of plants that are a over 30 years old.
That higher grades of matcha, usually are more vibrant color, has loads of natural sweetness, maximum umami (pleasant savory taste), and very long finish, is typically used to make thicker, denser and stronger tea (koicha), and that lesser grades are good for thinner and weaker tea (usucha).
Who hosts the matcha tea ceremony?
You don’t have to be a Buddhist monk or Zen master to host a tea ceremony, but in Japan the matcha tea ritual requires a series of precise hand movements and graceful choreography. Students gather in special circles and tea clubs to learn how to host the ceremony, which often requires hours of preparation. Many Japanese have also studied and performed the matcha tea ceremony in their homes.
Where is the matcha tea ceremony performed?
Tea ceremonies can be held just about anywhere, as the required decoration is very simplistic and minimalist. Hanging scrolls that feature popular quotes and well-known proverbs are commonplace, and offer thoughtful wisdom and advice to the participants. Simple flower arrangements may also be used.
How does the tea ceremony begin?
Before the ceremony begins, guests gather in a special room set up by the host, known as a machiai. After everyone has arrived, the guests will walk across a dew-covered ground, a cleansing ritual that symbolizes the removal of dust from the world. To further purify themselves for the ceremony ahead, guests wash their hands and mouths using clean water from a stone basin.
Once the purification rites are complete, the host greets each guest with a silent bow as they enter the tea ceremony site. Depending on the formality of the ceremony, small sweets or even a three-course meal may now be served prior to the tea being poured. Next, the host properly prepares the pouring utensils, taking great care to ensure they are immaculately clean and unblemished.
Finally, it’s time for the matcha tea powder. The host gracefully adds one to three scoops of matcha green tea powder per guest into the group bowl, followed by a small amount of hot water. Using a traditional bamboo whisk, the host rapidly stirs the mixture to create a bright green paste. When the matcha powder paste reaches the right consistency, additional hot water is whisked into the mix to produce a thick, rich tea.
Below is a video demonstration of a matcha tea ceremony with a focus on the steps described above.
When do the guests drink the tea?
The matcha powder has now been transformed into a foam-topped tea. Each guest takes a drink from the bowl, one by one, ensuring to clean the bowl before passing it on. After everyone has sipped the tea, they are a chance to inspect the utensils that were used. Once completed, the tea ceremony ends with a bow and the guests return home.
Why is the matcha ceremony important?
The traditional Japanese tea ceremony is a symbol of peace, harmony and happiness. It’s a spiritual experience that demonstrates respect through etiquette and grace, which are integral facets of Japanese culture. The matcha tea powder ceremony also promotes social bonding, and provides an occasion for everyone to relax and enjoy themselves away from the worries of the outside world.