I have heard about the Japanese tea ceremony a lot but have not actively sought out and have not had the opportunity to interact with knowledgeable people. Luckily, I was able to get acquainted with Hanna – a Vietnamese living in Japan and Oshima – a Japanese. Both of them are instructors who teach Ikebana (flower arranging art) and the Japanese tea ceremony.
Yesterday, we had a nice small tea party at home. Everyone was guided by the two women to make dry cakes, to experience and learn more interesting knowledge about the Japanese tea ceremony. I made short notes as usual so this goldfish brain has something to remember!
The two types of cakes we learned today were very quick and easy to make. Those were made from sugar, glutinous flour, tapioca, and food coloring. One cake was as soft and fragrant as the Vietnamese snow skin mooncake dough but was rolled out, cut into cute little pieces of different shapes. This type of cake can be used immediately, but if left overnight, they will become crunchy. The remaining type of cake was like printed cake, but the main material was sugar. However, the type of sugar used to make that cake was as smooth as salt grain but more iridescent, was tenderly sweet, so although the printed cake was made of sugar, it had a slight sweetness.
The type of tea associated with the tea ceremony was matcha (well, this word is pronounced “mat cha”, hihi).
Why did they instruct us to make cakes? Normally, at every tea party, each guest will have a main cake prepared by the host (for example, today, the main cake was mochi), and there are also supplementary cakes (the types we made together). The cake will be used before enjoying tea. The best time for guests to eat the cake is when the host starts to use a whisk to stir the matcha. The sweetness helps balance the bitterness of the tea. Cake first, tea later!
There are two types of tea: dark tea and light tea. With dark tea, everyone will share a cup of tea. With light tea (like which we enjoyed today), each person will drink one cup but not at the same time. The host will make a cup of tea and give each person one in turn, so the cakes will also be passed to each person when it’s his turn to enjoy tea.
Upon receiving the cup, the two bow their heads in gratitude. The teacup is delivered to the tea drinker with the front facing the tea drinker (usually the patterned side). The guest will have to rotate the cup of tea 2 times, each time 45 degrees to turn the front out before drinking.
Each person takes three sips. The last sip of tea drinkers sucked in a chilling sound to express the meaning, “The tea is so delicious, I drink to this last drop”.
After drinking, the guest can rotate the cup of tea to admire. When returning the cup to the host, the front of the cup must be rotated towards the host.
The host or party owner who makes tea will make one cup after another until another person who is coordinating the tea party says “we’ve had enough, thank you” so the host will stop making tea.
While enjoying tea, people do not talk about life, economy, politics at all but just talk about tea. However, people will not comment whether the tea is good or bad, but just ask which brand this tea is and which region it is from; or express interest in looking more closely at specific tea set’s stuff (teapot, tea jar, water bowl, teacup, stirring whisk, etc.). The selected tea set is usually suitable for the season, the weather and the theme of the tea party, combined with paintings, decorative objects in the tea room to create a harmonious and sophisticated overall.
Hanna and Oshima are currently living in Japan. They sometimes come to Vietnam to open classes but now they only have classes in Hanoi. Hopefully, after we try to invite them, they will open classes in Saigon for everyone who loves Japanese culture to have more opportunities to learn. Is there anyone here in the “studious club” and loves beauty? Raise your hand to check this out. ^. ^