Chado - Reviving History through a Cup of Tea
Chado - Reviving History through a Cup of Tea
For most people, matcha can be associated with cold beverages such as milktea, latte, and even cakes. These days, matcha gained popularity because of its unique flavor profile and health benefits that attracted the younger generation. But not everybody knows that matcha has been an essential element of a sacred ceremony that dates back around 800 years ago - the Chado.
The Chado, or Japanese Tea ceremony is a culture of life that teaches the people the spirit of hospitality and a peace of mind. This is highly influenced by the principles of Zen Buddhism. The Japanese Tea Ceremony is a vanishing traditional ceremony of hosting guests with food and of course, tea, where Matcha (抹茶 ) or powdered green tea leaves are used. It refers to the entire process of serving guests in a tea room, from Kaseiki cuisine to tasting the tea. It is the ultimate form of Japanese hospitality and also serves as a meditation for the participants.
Chado (茶道) or "the way of tea" is believed to be dated back in the 9th century, where a Buddhist monk came back to Japan and brought some tea from China. He then prepared and serve the tea to Emperor Saga (815) while he's on a trip in Karasagi (Shiga Prefecture). The tea cultivation then started as an order from the Emperor. During the end of 12th century, another Buddhist monk named as Eisai introduced the preparation of tea when he came to Japan from China. The style of preparation called "tencha" is as follows: the powdered tea (Matcha, 抹茶) is placed on a bowl, then the hot water is added. The two will then whipped together and is ready to be served. During his return from China, he also took some seeds which later produced high quality tea. During the 13th century, the tea preparation was considered a luxury among the nobelty and warrior class. A tea party also called tōcha (闘茶, "tea tasting") also emerged during this time, where the participants could win prizes if they guessed the finest quality tea produced in Kyoto.
Because of the practice involving tea preparations, Japanese tea ceremony (Chado) eventually evolve its own principle called "wabi-sabi" (わびさび). The word "wabi" (わび) refers to the "spiritual experiences of human lives" and "sabi" as the "material side of life". This principle means that understanding emptiness is the most effective way of spiritual awakening. Buddhism has a large influence on the development of Chado, as the Buddhism during the 16th century and the political society created a symbiotic relationship. However, because of certain circumstances, a particular Buddhist monk has been executed that lead the way of discouragement of other monks. Eventually, schools are then created as a reminiscence of the Buddhist monks and continuation of the Chado tradition. Today, schools practicing Chado are still active and are trying to revive the tradition.
The Japanese tea ceremony is initiated with the invitation of guests dressed in traditional Kimono. Upon the arrival of the guests, they will get ready in a room called Yorizuki. There, they will be given a cup of warm water to moisten their throats. After that, they will wait in an area called Sotokoshigake for the host to welcome them. The host will welcome the guest through a silent bow, and invites the guests into the tea room. The main guest will initiate the ceremony by washing his/her hands. The rest of the guests will also wash their hand and rinse their mouths to purify their mind and bodies. The guests will then enter the tea room where they will have a chance to take a look at the Tokonoma and the kettle before taking their seats. The host, usually dressed in Kimono will now prepare the fire for cooking and boiling water. The host will pour rice into the kettle and wait for the rice to cook. While waiting, the guests are encouraged to write haiku- a Japanese poem consisting of 17 syllables, in 3 lines of five, seven and five, traditionally evoking images of the natural world. Despite of the quiet atmosphere, the tea room will fill with happiness when aroma of the rice starts to steam. The freshly cooked sticky rice is first served to the guests, followed by other dishes. Chatting and making the guests as comfortable as possible. The host prepared the complete course meals with dishes such as mukozuke, yakimono, and hassun. A formal Japanese tea ceremony is oftentimes lasts for about 4 hours, initiated by a Kaiseki (懐石) course meal. Kaseiki course meal are set of dishes usually in small amounts that are beautifully arranged. This is to express the art of preparation and balance which consists of fresh ingredients that are available depending on the season. These meals are prepared in the kitchen, except for rice and soup. These certain dishes are prepared in front of the guests for their enjoyment. After the meal is over, the preparation will follow. First, Wagashi or traditional sweets are served to accompany the taste of the tea. These Japanese plant-based confectionaries are usually made from mochi, azuki bean paste, and fruits and are known for their delicate and artistic appearance. There are different variations of Wagashi but it is usually classified according to the production method and moisture content.
Namagashi (生菓子) is a type of Wagashi that contains 30% moisture content or more. This classification of Wagashi includes soft and delicate confectionaries. They are cooked in different ways, such as steaming, baking, frying, and flat pan baking. Apparently, these type of Wagashi have shorter shelf life than the other type, which is the Higashi, because it contains more moisture content.
Higashi (干菓子) is the dry type Wagashi that contains either 10% or less moisture content. They are either baked or candied confectionary, and have longer shelf life. This type of Wagashi is served with Usucha or thin tea.
The guests will then move to another area (Sotokoshigake) while the host rearanges the room. The sound of gong played by the host is the sign that the room is ready. The teameker, or the "Tou" will bring the bowls and start preparing the tea. There are two ways of preparing the tea in the ceremony: thick tea (Koicha, 濃茶) is served first, and ends with a bowl of thin tea (Usucha, 薄茶)
Koicha or Thick Tea (濃茶)
The Koicha is served before the Usucha. Traditionally, Koicha is served on a single bowl and is shared among the number of guests. This type of tea served in Japanese tea ceremony has a more viscous and richer taste than the other one. To achieve this, 4-5 spoonful of Matcha powder is put on the Chawan (Matcha bowl) together with 1 ounce of hot water. The Chasen (whisk) is used to blend and “knead” the Matcha, instead of whisking it in a quick movement. The remaining water (about 1 tablespoon) is then added to make the consistency thick. As a result, Koicha has the final viscosity similar to warm honey or melted chocolate. This style of making tea requires only high graded Matcha powder due to some reasons.
Because this beverage is strong, dense and thick, drinking the Koicha might be challenging. This is why premium Matcha powders are the recommended use, since these powders provide sweeter but smooth taste profile. Low quality Matcha powders are highly discouraged to use for Koicha because they results in bitter tea.
Usucha or Thin Tea (薄茶)
The Usucha is the bowl of tea served finally after the Koicha. Unlike Koicha, it is served in individual bowls. Making the Usucha requires about one to two grams of Matcha powder and three to four ounces of water – roughly four times the typical water needed for Koicha. After the Matcha and water is added, it will then whisked using Chasen in a quick manner. This will result with more frothy and even foam on top of the tea.
Producing Matcha powder has been a laborious process that improved in many ways within thousands of years. The highest quality of tea comes from the Wazuka in Kyoto prefecture, a perfect place of growing and producing tea due to the suitable environment and mineral-rich soil essential in growing tea. Surprisingly enough, the many variations of tea such as black tea, green tea, and Matcha comes from only one species of tree, which is called Camellia Sinensis. The types of tea varies from the way of oxidizing the leaves as well as the harvest time. Matcha, the powdered green tea used in Japanese tea ceremony. Is harvested differently from other types of tea. The trees are covered in the shade for about 3 weeks, slowing the process of photosynthesis. This is very important because every leaves of tea has amino acid. When exposed to sun for a long period of time, amino acid will turn into catechin, a substance responsible for the bitterness of the leaves. This is why farmers cover the sun with artificial shades for 3 weeks, preserving the amino acids as well as the sweet and umami taste profiles. High grade Matcha powder are ground using hand stone grinders rather than industrial machines. After grinding the powder is also sifted to produce more fine and premium tea powder. These time-consuming factors are the reason behind the expensive value of Matcha powder in the market. On the other hand, this is also the reason behind the dignified and sacred reputation of Japanese tea ceremony.
Usually, a bowl was use to passed around the participants to sip the tea. However, due to Covid, the tea is served one bowl at a time for each person. This process of making tea shows a quiet and meditative atmosphere between the host and the guests while enjoying the tea. The tea ceremony will then end by the guests looking at the utensils used in the ceremony. It is noticeable that the host's movements are very intricate and possess specific steps in making the tea. It reflects the aesthetic of the Japanese tea ceremony- hospitality in a form of meditation and a place of communication surrounded by nature despite of the sad reality of human's mortality.
The tea ceremony is held in particular venues exclusively for Chado. These rooms are called chashitsu. It has a waiting area, low ceiling, shoji (screens), an alcove used for scrolls, a hearth built into the floor, and entrances for both guests and host. These venues are constructed rooms where Tatami mats are placed on the floor. The room is designed to have a low ceiling However, since places like these can be rarely seen, any places where guests can be served seated are considered acceptable, as long as the host can prepare the needed equipment and food for the ceremony. Tourists and even Japanese who are not given the opportunity of a formal Japanese tea ceremony may find the experience significant. The Japanese tea ceremony has become a form of meditation. The Japanese tea ceremony in the modern world can be done with the particular elements, with each utensil symbolises the flourishing traditional Japanese beverage.
If you want to enjoy Matcha at home, you will need to prepare these:
CHASEN- this is a whisk traditionally handcrafted made from a single piece of bamboo, with many varieties depending on the thickness and string counts "teeth" of the whisk. Anyone can enjoy Matcha with only boiling water and the Matcha itself. However, a chasen has a certain purpose that makes Chado more enjoyable. A Chasen is purposely used to coax the Matcha into a uniform consistency, since the powdered tea may end up clumping when water is added. Because of the fine "teeth" of Chasen, it produces a fine and smooth layer of foam that fork or any milk frother can't do. Moreover, the usage of blender in Chado might be disrespectful, because when looking at the origin of Matcha, the principles encapsulated on it are harmony, tranquility, purity and respect- principles that are hard to find in modern appliances.
When choosing a Chasen, one must consider the Bamboo quality as well as the string count of the whisk. To simplify, the more strings or "teeth" a chasen has, the smoother and fine a Matcha is. Moreover, Chasen with a lower string count may take longer to whisk, compared to a Chasen with a large number of string count. To achieve a good quality Matcha at home, there are some steps to follow in whisking it. First, the Chasen must be soaked in hot water for a few seconds to soften the strings. Place an appropriate amount tea powder and boiling water to the bowl. Next, whisk the mixture quickly in a W or M motion, but at the same time, carefully avoiding to scrape the strings onto the bowl. Finally, after achieving an even layer of foam, carefully remove the Chasen in a swirling motion.
Because Chasen is a piece of art itself, there are few things to remember when cleaning it.
■ Avoid putting the Chasen back onto the container it was stored in purchasing it.
■ Cleaning a Chasen is simple, just rinse or soak it on the running warm water before storing.
■ Run the Chasen under warm to hot water for a few seconds to soften its strings. Using the Chasen without soaking it first under warm water will cause the strings or “teeth” to break upon whisking.
■ When whisking, avoid pushing and scrubbing the Chasen too hard onto the surface of Chawan. Instead, lift the Chasen while whisking rapidly but gently.
■ Another accessory necessary when owning a Chasen is the Kusenaoshi or the whisk holder. This serves as the storage tool of Chasen. Leaving the Chasen in the whisk holder allows it to fully air dry, preventing it to be a home for molds while retaining its beautiful shape.
■ An indication of a Chasen that needs to be replaced is when its strings are starting to get loose and shrink.
CHASHAKU- literally means "tea scoop", this small wooden spoon is another essential tool in making Matcha. This is considered to be the second most important tool to make Matcha tea next to Natsume (the traditional container for Matcha tea powder). The Chashaku is a small and narrow tea ladle with a rounded tip. This spoon is used to scoop the right amount of tea powder. Just like the powdered tea itself, Chashaku was also originated in China having the same purpose as to now - to scoop powder. A spoon of Matcha using the Chashaku is equal to 1/3 teaspoon. The thin tea (usucha, 薄茶） used in Japanese tea ceremony would require one and a half to 2 heaping scoops of Matcha powder (about 2 grams). On the other hand, thick tea or Koicha (濃茶) require as many as six heaping scoops of Matcha. Cleaning the Chashaku is quite simple, where a tissue or a soft cloth is used to wipe off the excess powder.
MATCHA BOWL- also known as "Chawan", this is another essential tool of a Japanese tea ceremony. The "chawan" was also originated in China and was imported to Japan between the 13th and 16th century. Hosts of the Japanese tea ceremony uses a cloth called "chakin" to clean and wipe the Chawan. Chakin is a rectangular cloth that is also part of the Japanese tea utensils made by linen or hemp. Traditionally, these matcha bowls have a number of variations according to the material used such as clay and porcelain. Chawan are also classified according to the shape, color, origin, and production color. For example, bowls with the shape of cylinder are called Tsusu-chawan and shallow bowls are called Hira-chawan.
Some of the variations also include:
- "Wooden" bowl (椀形, wan-nari),
- Goki (呉記型, Goki-gata)
- "Iron" bowl (鉄鉢形, tetsubachi-nari / teppatsu-nari)
- Tenmoku (天目, Jian ceramics)
- Wamono (和物)
However, in using a matcha bowl, one must be careful since Chawan made from porcelain tend to break when used with higher temperature tea, making it not appropriate for all tea types. Since Chawan are very delicate, there are important rules to remember in maintaining a Chawan.
■ Washing it should only be done by hands- avoiding the use of dryer and dishwasher.
■ A chawan cannot be used in other purposes besides for tea and rice. Thus, it cannot be put in oven, microwave, or in stove.
■ After cleaning a Chawan with soft dish soap, it should be dried with a cloth.
3 RECOMMENDED TEA CEREMONY/MATCHA GOODS
A formal Japanese tea ceremony (Chado) can be defined as once-in-a-lifetime experience. Fortunately, because of today's modernization, there are many ways to the access of high quality and money-worth utensils essential in making Matcha at home. These days, Chado can be enjoyed at the comfort of every household. Matcha has become very popular thanks to the internet and its growing audience around the world. Our products are made only from high quality materials to complete your authentic and tasteful experience of Japanese tea ceremony. Click here to purchase your very own tools and enjoy a traditional and meditative "way of tea".