The tea ceremony is part of the Zen meditation rituals. It is what the Japanese call Ichigo, which means “a moment, an encounter.” It is all about creating a unique, unrepeatable moment. Participants focus all their senses on the moment and experience it fully. It is, therefore, a kind of meditation.
During a tea ceremony there are specific stages. Participants should carry out each step with full awareness. That’s what the tea ceremony is all about: concentrating exclusively on the moment at hand and noticing even the smallest details of the ritual. Forget your haste and worries, forget about the before and after.
This ritual is a gift of respect and affection from the host to the guests. The person who hosts the tea ceremony is hoping to give a little moment of supreme peace to the participants. That’s why she does everything with the utmost devotion and attention to detail.
“We drink tea to forget the noise of the world.”
Anyone can host a tea ceremony. It doesn’t matter if it’s a man or a woman. Preparations for this ritual take a long time, and in Japan, sometimes it even takes years. In ancient times, samurais were the ones who practiced the tea ceremony. That’s why it has almost sacred connotations.
It is crucial that the person doing the ceremony knows the proper way to prepare the tea. You can’t do it just any old way. It might be difficult to do it in the West as carefully and thoughtfully as they do it in Japan. In any case, the host has to prepare the drink as perfectly as possible. The result should be pleasant for everyone, the product of remarkable sensitivity and attention.
In addition, the guests also have to know how to drink the tea. The ceremony has 15 steps and the guests have to know them all in order to do it properly. From the outside it probably seems very complicated, but it isn’t. Actually, in the western world the tea ceremony is now more well-known and widely practiced than ever before.
The steps of a tea ceremony
The tea ceremony has 15 steps. Participants must complete all 15 steps for the ritual to be truly authentic. The steps are:
- The host has to consider three basic principles: peace, harmony and serenity. The host must concentrate on giving these three things to her guests.
- Purify all elements used in the tea ceremony. Purity is a central concept to the ceremony.
- Have enough space for all of the guests and get the space ready to receive them. Keep their comfort in mind.
- Designate a guest of honor. This person will set the tone for the rest of the guests. The guest of honor should enter the space first.
- The host greets the guest of honor and exchanges kind words with him and the rest of the guests. She welcomes them with generosity and respect.
- The host should offer some kind of light fare like cakes.
- All of the guests should dress formally. In the west, guests wear white.
- The host should have all the elements necessary to make the tea: water and tea leaves. Everyone should be quiet and watch as the tea is prepared.
- The host slowly pours water into the teapot, allowing everyone to observe, listen, and experience each second.
- Then, the host puts the tea leaves into the water, with the same attitude as in the previous step.
- After that, the host silently serves the tea into each one of the tea cups.
- The teacups are passed out to the guests. As each guest receives the cup, he or she says a few words of gratitude or congratulations.
- The guests drink the tea.
- The tea ceremony has two rounds of tea. After the first round, each guest covers his or her cup with a plate. The basic ceremony is now over.
The tea ceremony and meditation
In some tea ceremonies, everyone first drinks from the same cup and then from individual cups. Also, the tea ceremony is particularly useful when the participants are people who practice meditation. The lesson of the tea ceremony is as simple as it is deep: each moment of life is unique and will never happen again.