MAN: When guests pass through a tea garden, or roji, they are throwing away their worldly desires and all their irrelevant thoughts – just putting themselves in the moment, calming themselves down, ready to enter the tea ceremony room as their perfect self, or their ideal self.
Before entering a tea ceremony room, you go through many rituals to calm yourself down, get your mind at peace and purify yourself.
When guests enter the room, the first thing they do is appreciate the art on display. A Japanese tea ceremony is a beautiful time to enjoy beautiful art.
During a tea ceremony, the host is exploring omotenashi – or warm, heartfelt hospitality – towards their guests. All through a tea ceremony, you see subtle interactions between host and guest, showing the warm hospitality of the host and the appreciation of the guests.
Japanese sweets, or wagashi, are served before tea in the Japanese tea ceremony, so the sweetness from the wagashi harmonises with the invigorating freshness and slight bitterness of the catechins in caffeine in matcha, or powdered green tea, the tea of the tea ceremony. As the tea is the main event, the sweets must be made with a subtle sweetness and aroma, so they do not overpower the essence of the tea. One of the base ingredients of wagashi, and the ingredient many Westerners struggle with, is ‘an’, or sweet bean paste, made from azuki beans.
Koicha, or thick tea, is exceptionally high-quality powdered green tea, prepared as a runny paste.
The climax of a tea gathering is when the host serves the head guest thick tea and the head guest tastes the thick tea.
Before partaking of tea or sweets, the guest bows to the next guest to excuse himself for going ahead of the other guest.
After the guests taste the thick tea, they bow as an acknowledgement of all the preparation and hard work that’s gone into that bowl.
Before the thin tea, higashi – or dry sweets – are served. These are predominantly press-moulded sugar sweets or beautifully designed sugar candies. Sweets are given a poetic name inspired by Japanese literature, and this poetic name becomes a conversation point in the tea ceremony. The poetic name of the sweet conjures up beautiful imagery in the mind, making the time for the guests all the more fulfilling.