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More than Just a Cup of Tea

by Caroline Seawright


Cha Means 'Tea'

As a little bit of background, the word 'chai' actually means 'tea'. Around most of Asia, a word sounding similar to 'chai' is used - in Japan and China, it is 'cha'.

When the Indians, Russians and Portuguese traded with China, they took up the usage of this word, which became 'chai'.

South Asian and Arab countries also have a version of this, using variations of 'chai' or 'shai'.

So how did we come to use the word 'tea' when the rest of the world (almost!) uses 'chai'?

In one province of Japan - the Fujian province - instead of using 'cha', they used the word 'te'. The Dutch traders who worked in that area, adopted that name and, with slight pronunciation changes, sold it as 'tay' through Europe.

Somewhere along the line, the English decided to change that pronunciation, and used 'tee' instead. And so we ended up with the way we pronounce it today!

  • Arabic-Shai
  • Iran-Cha
  • Turkey-Chay
  • Russia-Chai
  • Afghanistan-Chai
  • India-Chai
  • Hindu-Cha
  • Thai-Cha
  • Japan-Cha/Te
  • Denmark-Te
  • Spain-Té
  • France-Thé
  • Malay-Tey
  • Hungary-Te
  • Korea-Ta
  • Latvia-Teja
  • Germany-Tee
  • England-Tea

Tea Ceremony

While I was at university, I was fortunate enough to be able to do a few classes to learn the Japanese tea ceremony - 'cha no yu' (hot water tea) or 'chadou'/'sadou' (the way of tea).

Photos of the implements are linked to the implement names below. The photos will open up in a new window.

Tea came to Japan from China, where the Japanese made an art out of drinking tea. It wasn't just a drink, it was a spiritual quest!

The tea ceremony is very elaborate - there are proscribed ways of not only making and drinking the tea, but of the whole setting of where the ceremony is performed. From the gardens and surroundings to the special tea house itself, from the number of 'tatami' mats that determine the size of the room, to the decorations used. Even the way of handling the tea objects before, during and after use has been proscribed.

Generally, the host invites a few guests to the ceremony. The guests, too, have proscribed ways of behaving during the ceremony, as does the host.

When entering the room, the guests, one by one, kneel and move into the room (the entrance is usually very short, so people bow when coming in, or crawl (as some people put it)), then move over to admire the one decoration in the room - maybe a scroll, or an 'ikebana' display - before moving to kneel at their designated place on the 'tatami' mat.

Once the guests are seated, the host brings in the tea implements on a tray, and sets them up before the guests, nearest to the first (head) guest.

The implements are ritually cleaned with a 'fukusa' silk cloth (mine is red - men use purple), in front of the guests. (Of course, the implements were well cleaned before hand!) The use of the cloth over the various implements is fixed, and takes a lot of practice before perfecting the movements. Each movement is slow, the arms are rounded, movements somewhat circular. One should be at peace.

Once this has been complete, the tea is prepared. The water is boiled in a metal or pottery kettle or pot. When ready, hot water is either poured, or scooped (with the 'hishaku') into the 'chawan' (tea bowl). The 'chasen' (tea whisk) is checked in the proscribed method before being used to whisk the hot water. The whisked water is then poured out into another bowl, the 'kensui', then the tea bowl is cleaned with a 'chakin' (linen cloth). This is done to cleanse the bowl after each guest has their tea, as well as part of the ritual cleansing process.

The guests are then offered some sweets, who use 'kaishi' paper for the sweet to rest on, while eating.

Once cleansed, a small amount of tea (a special powdered green tea - 'macha') is scooped with the 'chashaku' (tea scoop) out of the 'natsume' (tea caddy), into the tea bowl. Hot water is then poured or scooped into the tea bowl. The tea and water are them whisked quickly, making a frothy, light green coloured tea for the first guest.

The guest is offered the tea by the host, who turns the tea bowl to the right, twice, so the front faces the guest. (The front is noticeable by the design on the tea bowl.) Taking the tea, the guest places the tea bowl on the left and apologises to the next guest for drinking first, then thanks the host for the tea. The tea bowl is picked up with the right hand, rested on the left palm and the bowl is then turned twice in a clockwise direction. One drinks the tea in three sips, slurping on the last. With the fingers, the guest wipes the bowl where the lips touched the rim. The bowl is turned back, twice, in an anti-clockwise direction and is then admired by the guest. The guest admires the way the bowl was made, its designs and even the pattern of the froth on the inside of the bowl. The bowl is then placed in front of the guest, and the host is thanked.

Taking back the tea bowl, the host goes through the hot water cleansing process, and serves the remaining guests their tea in the same manner.

The bowl and whisk are cleansed for a final time, and the other implements wiped with the silk cloth, then everything is returned to its proper place on the tray.

The host bows to the guests, who bow back and thank the host and then host watches the guests depart from the tea room.

There is actually a lot more to it than I can describe here - every item has a proper place for every stage of the ceremony, and every motion is specified both for the host and the guests. It's not just making tea, it is also a way to find enlightenment.

Tea Ceremony by Saori Kiryu is a wonderful site to find out more about the tea ceremony.
Japanese Tea Ceremony Utensils has many more details about the utensils used during the tea ceremony. All images of the utensils linked to by this page are © Japanese Tea Ceremony.

© Caroline 'Kunoichi' Seawright 2001 - present

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