Teatime Essentials
Teatime Essentials

“The very act of preparing and serving tea encourages conversation. The little spaces in time created by teatime rituals call out to be filled with conversation. Even the tea itself–warm and comforting-inspires a feeling of relaxation and trust that fosters shared confidences.”

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Japanese Philosophy of Chado

The underlying philosophy of Tea evolved from Zen Buddhism. Zen is the Japanese counterpart of the Chinese word chan, which is a translation of the Sanskrit word dhyana, meaning the meditation that leads to deep spiritual insight. Both Tea and Zen emphasize a way of training body and mind in awareness that has potential to become a rigorous spiritual discipline. Urasenke founder, Sen Rikyu (1522-1591) summarized the principles of the discipline of Tea into four concepts: wa, kei, sei, and jaku.


wa - Harmony
wa – Harmony

Wa” stands for harmony. As there is harmony in nature, the Teishu will try to bring this quality into the tea room and the garden around the tea house. The utensils used during the tea ceremony are in harmony with each other, so the theme is the same as well as the colors. The tea garden should be an extension of the natural flora surrounding it.


kei - Respect
kei – Respect

Kei” stands for respect. The guests must respect all things, all matters without involving their status or position in life. They must crawl trough a small entrance called Nijiriguchi to get into the room. In the room they will all kneel down and bow to the hanging scroll, they will sit next to each other in Seiza position on the Tatami. Respect is also shown by carefully handling and observing the tea bowl and other objects during Haiken.


sei - Purity
sei – Purity

Sei” stands for purity. Crawling into the tea room, one is to leave behind all thoughts and worries of daily life. The tea room or Chashitsu is a different world where one can re-vitalize, slow down, and enjoy the presence of friends. The gesture of purity is enhanced by the ritual cleaning of the Chawan, Natsume, Chashaku, and Kensui lit by the host. The real grand master of tea does not perform the Japanese tea ceremony from memory but from a pure heart.


jaku - Tranquility
jaku – Tranquility

Jaku”  stands for tranquility. Only after the first three concepts (harmony, respect, and purity) are discovered, experienced and embraced, can people finally embody tranquility. This was one of the teachings of the Japanese tea ceremony master Sen no Rikyu (1522 – 1591).




Chado Today

Modern chado is taught in Japan today for a number of reasons: as a social practice, as a way to discipline the mind and body, and as a way to connect with Japan’s cultural history, among others. Although chado remains a widespread practice, not all Japanese study it or are familiar with tea etiquette.

The Mind and Soul: Japanese Philosophy

Tea Set - I love it!
Tea Set – I love it! by Gisela Francisco

Japanese Philosophy has historically been a fusion of both indigenous Shinto and the continental religions, such as Buddhism and Confucianism. Formerly heavily influenced by both Chinese philosophy and Indian philosophy, as with Mitogaku and Zen, much modern Japanese philosophy is now also influenced by Western philosophy.

The Japanese Tea Ceremony captures all the elements of Japanese philosophy and artistic beauty, and interweaves four principles – harmony (with people and nature), respect (for others), purity (of heart and mind), and tranquility. Alongside than the ceremony, when people gather over a cup of tea, there is no need to differentiate the tea of the guest from the tea of host. In fact, there is no need to differentiate between one form of tea and another. What matters above all is that everyone can enjoy and appreciate a good tea together. In other words, sharing Matcha or Sencha involves the same spirit of respect.

Yin and Yang surrounded by 'ba gua' - picture by Pratyeka at the English language Wikipedia

A Guide to Japanese Teas

assortment of teas
assortment of teas

Green tea is the main type of tea that is produced and consumed in Japan. There are many kinds of green tea produced in Japan. Japanese teas are generally classified according to their type of cultivation, processing method and regional origin.


Sencha is the most common variety of Japanese green tea and the tea that a guest is most likely to be served when visiting a Japanese home. Sencha can be translated as “roasted tea”. This term refers to an older style of processing Japanese green tea that was influenced by Chinese tea processing methods. Today, most sencha is steamed instead of pan-roasted in its initial stage to prevent oxidation of the leaf.

Sencha is noted for its delicate sweetness, mild astringency and flowery-green aroma. The quality of Sencha will vary depending on origin, time of harvest and leaf processing techniques. The early spring harvests, or first picking of the tea bush (known as ichi-ban cha), are considered to produce the highest quality sencha. The first harvest generally occurs in April and May and produces sencha of bright, luminescent green color, strong aroma and pronounced sweetness. After a long period of dormancy during the winter, the spring crops are enriched with nutrients, especially amino acids, sugars and catechins, which enhance the flavor and aroma of spring-picked tea.

Kabuse Cha

Kabuse-cha is a type of sencha that is shaded for about 2 weeks prior to harvest. Most sencha is grown in unshaded gardens exposed to direct sunlight. The kabuse sencha tend to have a mellower flavor and subtler color than sencha grown in direct sunlight.


Gyokuro is regarded as the highest grade of tea made in Japan. It is made only with the first flush leaf and its special processing results in a tea with a sweet, mild flavor and fresh, flowery-green aroma. Gyokuro’s sweetness is due to the high levels of theanine, an amino acid that is generated by shading the tea bushes from direct sunlight for 20 days prior to harvesting.


Bancha means common tea and refers to a lower grade of sencha that is harvested during the second and third crops in the summer and autumn. Bancha usually contains larger leaves and upper stems, which are discarded during the production of sencha. Compared to sencha, bancha is less aromatic and more astringent. Nevertheless, bancha is much appreciated in Japan for its more robust flavor. Because of its strong character, it goes well with food.


Kukicha is known as twig tea or stalk tea. It consists of a blend of leaves with the stems and stalks normally discarded in the production of sencha and gyokuro. The flavor profile is light and refreshing with a mild sweetness and the aroma is fresh and green.


Hojicha is produced by roasting bancha or kukicha over high heat. The result is a savory tea with a refreshing and roasty taste and virtually no bitterness. The degree of roastiness in the aroma and flavor will depend on whether the tea is lightly or more deeply roasted. Unlike other Japanese teas, hojicha has a distinct reddish-brown appearance in the cup. Lower in caffeine, it makes a great after-dinner tea.


Genmaicha is a blend of bancha with well-toasted brown rice (genmai). The rice adds a slightly nutty taste. The mild flavor of Genmaicha and its low caffeine content make it an ideal after-dinner tea.


Tea Field
Tea Field

Shizuoka Prefecture

Shizuoka is the largest production center in Japan, producing more than 40% of Japan’s tea. Most of the tea produced here is Sencha. Honyama is a well-known tea producing region that includes many tea gardens. Kawane, Tenryu and the Abe River area in the north produce premium tea with the characteristics of a refreshing aroma and mild taste peculiar to the production area in the mountains.

Kagoshima Prefecture

Kagoshima, located on the southern island of Kyushu, is the second largest production area after Shizuoka. The region produces the broadest variety of green teas, with a taste that is full of strength and richness. The climate in Kagoshima is regarded as ideal for tea: warm & humid for much of the year. This allows five harvests to be collected from early April until mid October.

Kyoto Prefecture

The Uji region is said to be the origin of Japanese tea and is a historical production area. Uji produces high-quality Gyokuro, Matcha, and Sencha.

Fukuoka Prefecture

Yame is a famous production area for Gyokuro and produces the largest amount of quality Gyokuro in Japan. The area enjoys well-drained soil and cool temperatures, which produce high-quality tea. The taste is rich and sweet and full of aroma.

Kumamoto Prefecture

With gardens situated in a mountainous region, Kumamoto is well-known for its light, aromatic and delicately flavored Sencha.

Saga Prefecture

The town of Ureshino is known for its quality Sencha but is particularly famous for its Kamairi-cha. Kamairi tea is not steamed like most Japanese teas; instead, it is roasted and rolled, using production methods similar to Chinese green tea.It has a less astringent, refreshing, and mild taste

The Japanese Tea Ceremony

Tea Ceremony Accessories
Tea Ceremony Accessories

The Japanese tea ceremony, or chanoyu (hot water for tea in Japanese), came about when Japan adopted both Chinese practices of drinking powdered green tea and Zen Buddhist beliefs.  In the 1500s, Sen No Rikkyu incorporated the ideas of simplicity and that each meeting should be special and unique into the tea ceremonies.  The traditional Japanese tea ceremony became more than just drinking tea; it is a spiritual experience that embodies harmony, respect, purity and tranquility.

The host of the tea ceremony may prepare extensively for the event, practicing hand movements and all steps so that the ceremony is perfect, yet simple in every detail. The ceremony can be performed in the home, a special tea room, in a tea house, even outdoors.  The décor for the ceremony is simple and rustic and includes hanging scrolls (kakemono in Japanese) that are appropriate for the season or feature well known sayings.

Before a Japanese tea ceremony begins, guests may stay in a waiting room (machiai  in Japanese) until the host is ready for them.  The guests will walk across roji, Japanese for dewy ground, symbolically ridding themselves of the dust of the world in preparation for the ceremony.  Then, the guests will wash their hands and mouths from water in a stone basin (tsukubai in Japanese) as a last purifying step. Continue reading The Japanese Tea Ceremony

Yin and Yang surrounded by 'ba gua' - picture by Pratyeka at the English language Wikipedia

Chinese Tea Philosophy

A Healthy Lifestyle and Intangible Cultural Heritage

Bee's Knees Vintage Cafe Green Tea Latte by kawaiikiri  (https://www.flickr.com/photos/kawaiikiri/)
Bee’s Knees Vintage Cafe Green Tea Latte by kawaiikiri

Every spring, Chinese indulge in drinking copious amounts of fresh green tea picked and processed in the country’s southern mountain areas. In particular, several days before and after the Tomb Sweeping Day (April 4), tea trees blessed with faintly scented buds and tender leaves at Longjing in Hangzhou, capital of Zhejiang Province, is regarded as one of the finest green teas in China.

Tea, as well as coffee and cocoa, are the world’s three major non-alcoholic drinks. As the most popular drink in China, tea has a very long history and deep cultural tradition. In China, a popular proverb reads:

“Rather go without salt for three days than without tea for a single one.”

In both ancient and modern times, drinking tea has formed an important part of daily life. In East Asian countries in particular, it is regarded as a graceful social activity.

Tea, as well as coffee and cocoa, are the world’s three major non-alcoholic drinks. As the most popular drink in China, tea has a very long history and deep cultural tradition. In China, a popular proverb reads, “Rather go without salt for three days than without tea for a single one.” In both ancient and modern times, drinking tea has formed an important part of daily life. In East Asian countries in particular, it is regarded as a graceful social activity. Today, tea is widely planted in China with several hundreds of varieties. Tea is mainly divided into seven major categories including:

Tea Buds
Tea Buds
      • green
      • black
      • oolong
      • scented
      • white
      • yellow
      • dark green

People drink different teas in different seasons. Generally speaking, people usually drink scented tea in spring, green tea in summer, dark green tea in autumn and black tea in winter, in order to help the drinker adapt to changes in the weather.

Traditional Chinese Tea Ceremony

Hisashi Yamada, Urasenke Chanoyu Center Tea Ceremony Instructor

At 80, Long a Teacher of the Philosophy of Tea

Published: September 20, 2008

21tea.spanHisashi Yamada was prepared to die.

World War II was drawing to a close, and being in the Imperial Japanese Navy, he volunteered to be a kamikaze pilot — ready to lock himself in his plane with only enough fuel to reach his target.

“I was not afraid of death,” he said in an interview on Saturday. “Not knowing what death means.” Mr. Yamada, 80, laughed and said he now felt differently.

The world of combat and planning for a suicide attack could not be farther from the path that Mr. Yamada followed after the war.

For more than four decades, he has devoted his life to the discipline and teaching of the traditional Japanese tea ceremony, seeking to convey to Americans the sublime peace that can come from the study of tea. Last week, Mr. Yamada taught his final class, and on Saturday a party was held in his honor.

First in Queens, where he settled in 1964, and later at a school devoted to the study of tea on the Upper East Side, Mr. Yamada has taught thousands of students.

“Tea is not salvation,” Hisashi Yamada tells beginners. “Just like Zen is not salvation. You do it for the sake of doing it.”

Sitting in the library of the school, the Urasenke Chanoyu Center on 69th Street near Lexington Avenue, Mr. Yamada reflected on the unexpected turns his life had taken.

Mr. Yamada, who was born in 1928, was expected to follow in the footsteps of his father, who was a doctor. “However,” he said, “I hate blood.”

But then his homeland went to war, and Mr. Yamada signed up to be a pilot, though he was only 15. “I volunteered without the approval of my parents,” he said.

He never had to carry out his kamikaze mission because Japan ran out of planes before it was his turn.

He returned to Tokyo to find the city, and his family’s home, in ruins. They moved to northern Japan, and he began to work as a houseboy for an American colonel who introduced him to a man who would change his life — a wealthy aristocrat named Burton Edwards Martin.

Mr. Yamada went to work for Mr. Martin, who had no children, and the two formed a bond so tight that Mr. Martin adopted Mr. Yamada.

“I asked permission of my birth father, and he said O.K.,” Mr. Yamada recalled.

Around that time, Mr. Yamada began to seriously study tea. Already familiar with American culture through his adoptive father, he took the opportunity to come to New York to work as a translator at the 1964 World’s Fair, where he described the Japanese tea ceremony to visitors. “There was no tea culture in America then,” he said.

He delved deeper into his studies and after years of training became a certified tea master. The study of tea, in Mr. Yamada’s telling, is akin to practicing religion.

Traditional Chinese Tea Ceremony

Mr. Yamada said that about 400 years ago a man named Sen Rikyu elevated the tea ceremony to an art.

Mr. Yamada said that about 400 years ago a man named Sen Rikyu elevated the tea ceremony to an art.

“I tell students that before Sen Rikyu there was tea and before Bach there was music,” he said.

“Then, slowly, slowly, I begin to explain the philosophy of tea. It involves architecture, the garden, calligraphy, flowers, pottery and much more.”

There are two types of ceremonies, a less formal “thin tea” and the more elaborate “thick tea,” Mr. Yamada explained.

At the center of the Upper East Side town house where the Urasenke tea school is located, there is a garden surrounded by tearooms. A skylight creates the impression that it is outside — and a world away from the city streets.

One of the innovations made by Sen Rikyu was requiring all visitors to the teahouse to enter from the garden through a small crawl space — making everyone equal, whether a shogun or a peasant.

The ceremony features intricate performances as the tea is prepared, and a thick tea ceremony can last as long as four hours.

During a thick tea ceremony, there is silence.

At a thin tea ceremony, talking is permitted, but only about the ceremony itself.

“There is no politics,” Mr. Yamada said. “No talk about who will be president in America or prime minister in Japan.”

While a tea ceremony might seem out of step with the pace of modern life, the Urasenke school has a waiting list for students.

“Once you begin the study of tea, it becomes a lifetime thing. You discover that you are not as busy as you think you are.”  Hisashi Yamada

The Book of Tea by Kakuzo Okakura

The Book of Tea by Kakuzo Okakura
The Book of Tea by Kakuzo Okakura

Tea began as a medicine and grew into a beverage. In China, in the eighth century, it entered the realm of poetry as one of the polite amusements. The fifteenth century saw Japan ennoble it into a religion of aestheticism–Teaism. Teaism is a cult founded on the adoration of the beautiful among the sordid facts of everyday existence. It inculcates purity and harmony, the mystery of mutual charity, the romanticism of the social order. It is essentially a worship of the Imperfect, as it is a tender attempt to accomplish something possible in this impossible thing we know as life.

Earthenware Teapot
Earthenware Teapot

The Philosophy of Tea is not mere aestheticism in the ordinary acceptance of the term, for it expresses conjointly with ethics and religion our whole point of view about man and nature. It is hygiene, for it enforces cleanliness; it is economics, for it shows comfort in simplicity rather than in the complex and costly; it is moral geometry, in as much as it defines our sense of proportion to the universe. It represents the true spirit of Eastern democracy by making all its votaries aristocrats in taste.  For a complete review of the book go to GoodReads.com and click “more”.