He led us to an unassuming building to the right of a sprawling lake. When we entered, I got the feeling at that this was a meeting room area where large groups of people would meet for conferences or large gatherings. As I walked further in, I began to smell the familiar aroma of Matcha, powdered green tea. The guide led us around a corner and quickly exchanged words with a beautiful Japanese lady who ushered us to our seats.
The area was beautiful and yet simple at the same time. The furniture was a simpe black stained wood with a red tablecloth like fabric laid across the padded bench. We had a stunning view of the perfectly pruned garden out the window. A calm, serene environment to take in this event.
I later read that the atmosphere of a tea ceremony is supposed to be simple with a focus on nature. The tea garden should be an extension of the ceremony.
At the front of the room stood an older woman who was carefully tending to the tea. She carefully stirred and monitored the temperature and almost danced from one step to the next. A calmness settled over me just by watching her. She artfully mixed the tea until it was just perfect before skillfully pouring it into the cups, chawan.
I watched the hostess,Teishu, serve the people that were waiting in front of us. She did not just place the items down but was intentional about how the items were presented to her guests. The napkin was placed first, followed by the sweet treats. Each treat was put on the napkin so that the design on top would be observed before eaten. Last came the tea. The chawan was gently placed on the table and then turned so the carefully selected design could be appreciated by the guest. This is an art form and one that is taken very seriously.I have learned that the Japanese pay close attention to detail in all that they do...from putting items into your purchased bag, to handing you change after paying, all the way to serving their guests.
Matcha tea is not the lightly flavored green tea that I am used to drinking. It has a thicker, grainier texture that is concentrated with almost a bitterness to it. I am beginning to like it more and more the more I drink it but it is definitely something different. I have read that the sweet treats are given with the tea to help balance that bitterness with the sweet. This particular sweet treat had a brown sugar like interior with an almost powdered sugar like coating. After getting my taste in, my daughter took care of the rest. The outside of the treat almost melted on my tongue while the inner most portion had an almost chewy like texture.
After savoring each mouthful and carefully taking in the calm atmosphere, we stood from our seats and thanked our host for the beautiful ceremony. I have heard that ceremonies vary from temples and shrines from season to season. I am hoping to experience many more so I can see the differences for myself. I'm looking forward to sharing this experience with my tea loving mom when she comes to visit.