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Everything you need to know about Japanese Tea Ceremony

Significance of Japanese Tea Ceremonies

Temae, the Japanese tea ceremony, is steeped in history and tradition. It is an integral part of Japanese culture and revered as a form of high art. It is a highly choreographed, ceremonial method of preparing and serving tea. It is more than just a form of hospitality and warmth towards guests and strangers, it is a way to unwind and take a moment to get back to simple pleasures away from the hectic pace of modern life.

If you are visiting Japan, you will find tea ceremonies of different degrees of formality and duration offered at different traditional gardens. The sometimes hours-long ceremony may seem intimidating to an outsider. The key is to be patient, because every movement, every gesture, and every step of the Japanese tea ceremony has profound cultural significance and meaning. The aesthetics go back hundreds of years and have evolved into a dance that is valued and cherished.

Japanese Tea Ceremony

Also Read- Tea Traditions Across the Globe

A full, formal Japanese tea ceremony spans hours beginning with a multi-course kaiseki ryori meal. This is followed by a bowl of thick matcha tea and ends with small bowls of thin matcha tea. However, these days Japanese tea ceremonies have been shortened, though they are still rather formal affairs. The protocol varies depending on the duration and formality along with the exacting nature of hand and body movements. The rules and rituals are extensive and one need not know all of them in detail, but a few basic rules of etiquette need to be followed.

Matcha Tea

The Proper Etiquette when attending a Japanese Tea Ceremony

Dress Code-

Japanese tea ceremonies are demure and it is best to avoid clothing that is either too tight or too loud in terms of color combinations. Strong perfumes and metallic jewelry should also be avoided.

Entering the Tearoom-

Traditionally the entrance where guests join a tea ceremony is kept intentionally low to symbolize humility as they enter. It is good manners to enter with your head bowed to denote modesty and acceptance of the gravitas that Japanese tea ceremonies evoke. The tearoom is usually decorated with seasonal flowers and scrolls. Touching them or any other artifacts displayed in the room is considered extremely rude. The guest of honor enters the room with his/her head bowed and sits closest to the host. 

Sitting Positions-

The other guests follow, similarly with their heads bowed and sit in a seiza position with both knees on the floor and the body resting on the calves. Once everyone is seated, it is customary to bow, not necessarily in unison. The guests then take a moment or two to observe the decorations in the room and allow themselves to get comfortable. 

The Rituals of Japanese Tea Ceremony

The Utensils-

Each utensil and piece of equipment is carefully selected depending on the precise nature of the ceremony. The formality of the ceremony along with the number and nature of the guests being entertained also informs the kind of equipment that is used. The main tools that are used are the ‘Natsume’ which is the container that holds the powdered matcha tea. The ‘Chasen’ is the bamboo whisk that is used to stir the tea. The ‘Chashaku’ is the tea scoop, along with tea bowls, a container to hold the sweets that accompany the tea, and a kettle.
Japanese Chasen

The Rituals-

  • Cleaning the Equipment

The top of the Natsume is gently wiped with the ‘Fukusa’, which is folded silk cloth. The same cloth is used to gently wipe the ‘Chawan’ which is the bowl that is used to prepare the tea. The Fukusa is always held in the right hand and both the Natsume and the Chawan are held in the left when being wiped, even if the host/hostess is left-handed.

Each piece of equipment is carefully cleaned before use and the process in itself is choreographed to the finest details of precise movements, gestures, and hands. Once every piece of equipment is cleaned and checked to be in perfect condition, the Chasen, the whisk, is stirred in warm water to soften the tines and ensure that they do not break when whisking the tea.

  • Warming the Chawan 

The host places the Chawan on his/her left palm and rotates it three times in an anticlockwise direction to warm the bowl up. The water in the Chawan is then discarded and the bowl wiped clean again. This process might be repeated depending on both how long the ceremony is and how warm the Chawan is.
  • Preparation of the Tea

One and a half teaspoons of powdered matcha is added to the Chawan, smoothened, and hot water is slowly added to it. With the Chawan in the left hand and the Chasen in the right, the matcha is whisked until it froths. The Chasen is whisked briskly but slowly to ensure that the froth doesn’t fall out of the Chawan. It is considered bad luck and bad manners if the froth does spill and Japanese hosts are extremely careful not to let that happen. 
Matcha Tea
  • Serving the Tea

The tea is served in small bowls, usually placed at a particular angle as a mark of respect. The transferring of utensils from one hand to another, the small movements in particular directions, and the setting of the bowls at specific angles are also highly choreographed and adhere to deeply ingrained principles of aesthetics. They might seem time-consuming and unnecessary to impatient visitors, but the aesthetics and simplicity of Temae hold strong significance in Japanese culture.

Enjoying Your Cup of Tea

The tea is served in small bowls usually accompanied by a sweet. The sweet is to be eaten before you sip the tea. Matcha tea may seem slightly bitter to those not accustomed to it and the sweet can help soften the sharp aftertaste. Pick the tea bowl placed in front of you with your right hand and place it on the palm of your left hand. Turn it 90 degrees, clockwise with your right hand. The tea should be sipped and not gulped, preferably with little to no sound. 

Once finished, the tea bowl should be turned back 90 degrees and placed on either the table or the floor. You can choose to accept or decline to refresh your tea bowl with some more tea. The ceremony concludes with the host washing the utensils and returning the equipment back to the position where they were placed before they were cleaned and used. Both the host and the guests bow to each other to express their gratitude.

Japanese Tea Ceremony

What Not to Do During a Japanese Tea Ceremony?

  • Be Late

Tea is revered in Japan and tea ceremonies are sacrosanct. Tardiness is considered deeply offensive, not only towards the host but towards Japanese culture as a whole.
  • Wear shoes inside the tea ceremony room

You will be provided with slippers that you can wear by your host. However, you have to remove your shoes outside and preferably wash your feet before you enter the room.
  • Decline to eat something that has been offered

Just as each movement is choreographed and has a deep meaning, each item of food or delicacy offered has a genuine role to play in the ceremony. Declining to eat something is considered rude because it implies that the host has been either ungracious or neglectful.
  • Seat yourself

Let the host seat you. This is significant because the person seated closest to the host is called the ‘Shokyaku’. The Shokyaku plays the important role of communicating with the host. It is best to let the host decide who should play the role. Usually, it is someone who is likely to understand the language and significance of each ritual.
  • Talk during the ceremony

It is important to pay attention to the ceremony and take in not just the rituals but the surroundings which have been curated with love and care. Conversations amongst the guests are considered rude and distracting.

Where can you find premium Matcha Tea?

Whether it's ceremonial matcha or a simple brew you can enjoy on your own, there is something for everyone. These are brands that provide matcha of quality that you would happily invest in for their incredible health benefits, aroma, and taste. 
Matcha Green Tea
  • IKKYU Tea

IKKYU offers premium grade teas which are handpicked with love and care from different parts of Japan. Headquartered in Japan, they specialize in a wide and diverse range of Japanese green teas. But, they are best known for their ceremonial-grade organic matcha teas. The teas are infused with subtle sweet and chocolaty, creamy flavors to counteract the slightly bitter aftertaste of matcha.

Price: $11-32 plus shipping charges. 

Package: Airtight aluminum tins or resealable vacuum bags to preserve the tea. You can also choose to have the tea washi wrapped if you want to give it to a friend or family member as a gift.

Ships: IKKYU teas are shipped worldwide through FedEx to the United States of America, France, and Britain to name a few.


Matcha Green Tea


  • Teakruthi  

Organically sourced from pure Ceylon green tea leaves, Teakruthi’s Ceylon Matcha is a unique and fresh spin on the traditional Japanese brew. Delicate and fresh it offers a sweet aftertaste with a subtle aroma. It is perfect for those who want the health and mood booster benefits of Matcha tea without the elaborate ceremony of preparing it.

Price: $20-60

Package: Reusable or recycled materials are used for the packaging of all Teakruthi teas in order to control environmental impact.

Ships: Teakruthi delivers to countries worldwide within 10 days. The express delivery option guarantees delivery within 5 days.

  • Kimikura

More on the high end of the price spectrum, Kimikura as a company is deeply steeped in Japanese tea tradition. The tea leaves are handpicked, immaculately roasted and blended to perfection. Kimikura also has Tearooms across Japan that offer authentic Japanese tea ceremony experiences. In the 90 years since its foundation, Kimikura teas have won multiple awards for its excellence and offers some of the premium Matcha teas in the world.

Price: $23-50

Package: Resealable, airtight vacuum bags are used to package the teas to preserve their freshness.

Ships: Kimikura teas are shipped worldwide, however international shipping charges apply and are subject to change. You can also order Kimikura teas through Amazon, though the options available on the online marketplace are limited.

About the author

Neha Sen

Neha Sen

Contributing author

Born in Assam, India, Neha spent her weekends growing up drinking endless cups of tea with her grandmother who read Ruskin Bond to her in between sips. Voted ‘least likely to dance at a party.’ A lifelong admirer of all things tea and literature. The day starts with a cup of tea and ends, well… a cup of tea, and a book.

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