". . . and then you drink it."

Etiquette is a natural part of the evolution of tea drinking from an everyday activity, to a path for spiritual enlightenment. Repeating the same act in the same way, over and over, quickly goes from a conscious effort to a passive, selfless act of meditation. This seemingly contradictory point, that one achieves freedom through form, is the reason the mundane act of drinking tea is ritualised in chanoyu. 

 

But prior to any protocol, the most important thing when drinking matcha is to simply enjoy your tea in a moment of quietude.

 

Almost 400 years ago, the founder of the Ueda School, Ueda Sōko wrote the following brief and easy to understand guide for achieving a moment's quietude through matcha drinking:

 

“First take the chawan and raise it, showing your respect to the chawan by bowing. Then lower the chawan and look at the colour of the tea. Bring the chawan to your mouth, but don’t drink the tea straight away. Take a moment to inhale the steam. Drink the tea in three mouthfuls. Wipe the part of the rim from which you drank with your fingers.”

 

The sensory aspects of inhaling the steam, peering into the deep green and feeling the heat of the tea transmit through the clay of the chawan are particularly important for achieving a tranquil mind. Here the introspective aspects of zen meditation are brought into the everyday, tactile world and tea drinking becomes a path linking the mundane and the transcendent. 

Etiquette for drinking matcha

Should you wish to follow the full drinking protocol followed in the Ueda Sōko Ryū, or even if just curious about the meanings behind the gestures, the etiquette for drinking matcha is detailed here:

  • After the host prepares the tea, the guest takes the chawan (tea bowl) and places it before their lap
  • Bow to the next guest waiting for tea and saying 'o-saki ni' (excuse me for going ahead of you). Then say 'chōdai itashimasu' (thank you for the tea) to the host
  • All chawans have a face, called the shōmen. You can identify the face by looking for the part with a picture, variation in shape, variation in colour of the glaze, or if the chawan looks the same all around, the front is the part that is presented to the guest by the host
  • Take the tea bowl in your right hand and rest it on the palm of your left hand. Raise the tea bowl with both hands to a height just above eye-level and bow. This action expresses reverence to all the elements of nature that combined to bring you this tea
  • Lower the chawan to a height above your lap and turn the  chawan 45 degrees to the left (clockwise). This is to show humility by not partaking tea from the face, or best part, of the chawan.
  • Partake the tea at a leisurely pace in three mouthfuls. Sit with a straight posture when drinking tea, bringing the chawan to your mouth with your arms
  • After the first mouthful the host will ask 'o-fuku kagen ikaga desu ka' (How is the tea?). After this, hold the chawan in your left hand while resting it on your left thigh and reply 'kekkō desu' (It's very good)
  • After drinking the tea you view the chawan, so ensure you drink the tea clean with the last mouthful
  • After drinking, wipe the part of the rim from which you drank with your thumb and index finger. Then wipe a second time with your little finger. The direction is from left to right both times
  • As you turned the chawan to the left before drinking, return the chawan so the face is facing you (turn anti-clockwise)
  • View the chawan. The chawan is a treasured item of the host, so when viewing, stabilise your hold of the chawan by resting both elbows atop your thighs and view the chawan at a low height just in front of your knees. Now is a good time to promote conversation by asking questions such as “What type of chawan is this?” and “From what maker does this chawan come?”
  • Return the chawan to the host by turning it clockwise twice, so that the face faces the host
  • The host takes the chawan, places it before them and says 'O-nomi nikū gozaimashita' (I hope the tea was not too displeasing).
  • The guest replies 'Kekkō ni chōdai itashimashita' (I enjoyed it very much).

Creative Commons Licence 

Adam Sōmu Wojciński, 2018 

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