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Le Cordon Bleu News, 01/13/2015
Tea, a key ingredient in Japan’s social life
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World Culinary traditions

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Tea, a key ingredient in Japan's social life
Tea, a key ingredient in Japan’s social life
In today’s world there are many traditions related to tea, especially in Japan where it has real social and cultural impact.

Buddhist monks brought tea leaves to Japan as early as the 6th century and green tea consumption spread throughout the land of the rising sun with the development of Buddhism. Tea plantations first made an appearance in the country in the 12th century. Tea drinking rapidly made a strong impression on Japanese social life, particularly with the invention of the tea ceremony by 15th century Zen Master Murata Shukô (1423–1502). Initially just for Buddhist monks, then the aristocracy, the tea ceremony was modified and popularized by Tea Master Sen no Riky? (1522-1591) who made the ceremony much simpler, removing any superfluous elements.

The tea ceremony was known as chanoyu in Japanese, which literally translated means “hot water for tea”. In the middle of the 16th century, the term chad?, in other words “the tea passage” in English, gradually took over from chanoyu, describing in more general terms the philosophy surrounding the ceremony as well as the numerous codes which govern the way in which tea should be made and served.

The tea ceremony focuses on harmony, aestheticism and serenity and encourages openness to the arts and nature.

Matcha green teaThere can be slight variations in the tea ceremony, depending on the tea master, the number of guests and where it is taking place. As a rule, the ceremony takes place in a special room, which provides an opportunity for meditation and is either empty or decorated with simple and unobtrusive art work. Following a very precise ritual, the tea master first of all sets up the room where the ceremony will take place, then all the equipment needed for the ceremony is cleaned using a silk cloth. Water is then heated to a precise temperature and poured onto Matcha tea, a finely ground green tea powder. The mixture is then stirred with a bamboo whisk so that it takes on an even jade green color and can be thick (koicha) or light (usucha) depending on how much green Matcha tea has been added. Froth will also appear on the surface of the tea. The tea will be evenly shared between the guests, without pretense. Guests, sat on tatami mats, then drink their tea. The peace and serenity of the occasion are perfect for meditation. The tea ceremony also contributes to personal and social fulfillment by encouraging humility and respect. At the end of the ceremony, the tea master often presents the different objects used during the tea ceremony and the artisans who made them.

The tea ceremony, which goes hand in hand with zen, has played a major role in the evolution of Japanese culture.


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