For the Love of Matcha: 5 Things I learned at a Traditional Tea Ceremony in Kyoto, Japan
Updated: Aug 29, 2019
I’m not sure when I fell in love with green tea flavored everything, but the obsession is strong. So I was more than pleased when Andy surprised me with a traditional tea ceremony in which we would learn the history and rules of the ceremony while sipping matcha.
We happily came off the drenched streets of Kyoto and into a tiny entry way where we removed our wet coats and backpacks and, of course, our shoes, then stepped up onto the raised floor of the tea room. As instructed, we sat cross-legged in a small semi-circle on the tatami mats. The middle of the room contained a pot and some bowls and the promise of delicious tea and tradition.
5 Things I Learned:
1. The difference between matcha and green tea. I thought I loved them equally, but no. Green tea is made by infusing water with green tea leaves. Matcha is made by grinding down green tea leaves into a fine power that is then mixed into water. These processes create distinctly different tastes and health benefits as matcha ends up being higher in some substances. Matcha is the flavor that I love.
2. Hosts go to school to learn the art of the tea ceremony. Because tea was rare and valuable in early Japanese culture, strict rules guide the traditional tea ceremony that began with the upper class and spread throughout society. There are three main highly respected tea schools in Japan in which the art of the tea ceremony can be learned and perfected.
3. Every movement matters. Each person has a specific role, host or guest, and each role performs specific, smooth, sweeping movements that become part of the larger presentation. Hosts spend years crafting these movements and creating fluidity within them. Each movement has a specific meaning: the turning of the bowl, the laying down of the utensils, the stir of the bamboo whisk. Pick up your own whisk or a whole set to practice!
4. Conversation is highly restricted. There are four guiding principles of the tea ceremony: harmony, respect, purity, and tranquility. These are shown in all aspects of the ceremony, as well as the conversations. Participants are to discuss the tea utensils and bowls, the weather, or other complements and pleasantries. It's also common for the only sound to be the rhythmic boiling of the water. There is to be no talk of politics, history, or any topics that may be controversial or upsetting.
5. I am now even more in love with matcha. Learning the history and meaning behind this traditional ceremony added so much to the experience of this unique flavor. Now I'll not only enjoy the taste, but I'll remember our tea ceremony experience every time I taste matcha.
Something else that is wonderful about Japan: Matcha flavored candy is EVERYWHERE. I found an entire grocery store aisle in which every item was matcha-flavored. Andy caught me walking out of it with an armload of goodies and my guilty smile has never been wider. Green tea KitKats are my favorite.
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