Ian Ropke writes:
For many tea connoiseurs, autumn is considered to be the finest time of the year to hold a tea ceremony; the stifling hot weather has passed, and the autumn mood is sublime. The basic form and aesthetic of today’s Japanese tea ceremony is largely credited to Sen no Rikyu (1522-1591), who was inspired to develop a form based entirely around natural materials native to Japan—earthen walls, tatami, wood, and bamboo. Rikyu’s way of tea stands as a refined, yet simple, ritual of perfection that incorporates virtually every Japanese art—flowers, ceramics, lacquer, food. At its highest levels the Japanese tea ceremony becomes a spiritual act reaching out with dignified stillness to calm and pacify the heart and mind.
When taking part in the Japanese tea ceremony, first bow (while seated) and then lift the chawan (tea bowl) set before you with your right hand, and place it on the palm of your left hand. Rotate the chawan clockwise 180 degrees with the right hand in three separate movements. Then, after a short pause, drink the tea in two or three stages. After drinking the tea, wipe the part of the chawan you touched with your lips with your right hand and rotate the chawan counterclockwise 180 degrees, and return it to the host. If you are served a sweet during the tea ceremony, it will always be before you are served the tea. When in doubt, observe those around you, or behave as calmly and dignified as you can. Do what comes natural to you, in the end, there are no fixed rules in the tea ceremony.
(Ed: Did Ian whet your appetite? If you want to try the tea ceremony WAK JAPAN and Nishijin Tondaya both offer organised courses. You can also enjoy traditional Japanese tea at the following tea rooms: En, Ippodo, and Toraya.
Ian Ropke is the author of the Historical Dictionary of Osaka and Kyoto, editor of Kyoto Visitors Guide, and director of Your Japan Private Tours. You can read his previous articles for Deep Kyoto here.)