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.
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: