Chado: the Basics

Know that chanoyu is a matter of simply boiling water,
making the tea, and drinking it.

By these words, Sen Rikyu established an essential concept in chado, the way of tea. Chado has developed over the more than four hundred years since the time of Rikyu so that host and guests might share a bowl of tea in a comfortable atmosphere conducive to mutual exchange. Based upon a prescribed set of movements, unique utensils, and Japanese traditional history and culture, participation in tea gatherings can certainly appear daunting. However, as long as the guests can appreciate and enjoy the moment shared over tea with the host, then the tea gathering is a success. From four hundred years ago until today, all over the world, such gatherings occur. The exact method and style varies depending on the host, location, and season, yet the fundamental purpose remains unchanged.

Attending a Tea Gathering
A tea gathering, or chakai, is where a host invites guests and makes tea for them according to methods established in the practice of chado. Such gatherings are often held to celebrate seasonal phenomena (the harvest moon, cherry blossoms, etc), traditional holidays (Tanabata, Setsubun, etc) and special occasions. A formal tea gathering is known as a chaji, and includes a kaiseki meal, an omogashi (moist sweet), koicha (thickly blended matcha tea), and then higashi (dry sweets) and usucha (whisked matcha tea). In most situations in this modern age, chakai consist of the host serving the guests a sweet and usucha.

Let us see what the general etiquette is for guests at a typical modern-day chakai.

When you first enter the tea room, first go to the alcove to view the scroll and flowers. The alcove is considered a place of honor and is where the host has carefully chosen and placed the items inside to set the tone of the chakai.

If the situation permits, also go to the tea preparation area to view the kettle, brazier, and any other implements set out. Proceed to your seat from here.

Once you and the other guests are seated, the host enters, bringing in the necessary utensils for making tea. These items include the chawan (tea bowl) and chasen (tea whisk), two unique and key utensils in making matcha.

The host starts the temae, the tea-making procedure.
Basically, temae consists of preparing the utensils to be used, making the tea, and then returning the temae space to its original state according to a prescribed order. This order allows the host to focus on preparing tea for the guest, striving to maintain a state of attentiveness, mindfulness, and awareness.

Once the utensils are prepared for making tea, the host picks up the chashaku (tea scoop) and says "okashi o dozo" (Please take the sweet).
In chado, the sweet is consumed completely prior to drinking tea. This sweetens the palate and enhances the flavor of the matcha.

If you are the first guest, bow and reply, "chodai itashimasu" (I will partake of the sweet), then turn to the next guest and says "o-saki ni" (Excuse me for going before you). Then, take the sweet and eat it.
When having usucha (whisked tea), it is standard to have higashi (dry sweets), but sometimes omogashi (moist sweets) are also served.

The host focuses their concentration and energy into whisking the tea for the guest. The tea is whisked until a light, dense froth is made.

When the tea is ready, the host puts out the tea for the guest. The host carefully rotates the chawan so that the front faces the guest.

Place the chawan between the next guest and yourself. Bow and say "o-saki ni" (Excuse me for going before you).

Place the chawan in front of you. Bow to the host and say "o-temae chodai itashimasu" (Thank you for the tea).

Place the chawan on your left palm and steady the chawan with your right hand. Bow your head slightly to express thanks.

Turn the chawan to avoid drinking from the front. Not drinking from the 'best' side of the chawan is an expression of modesty and respect. Drink the tea to the last sip.

With your thumb and index finger, wipe the rim where your lips touched the chawan. Wipe your fingers on your kaishi ('pocket paper' used at chakai). Turn the chawan back so that the front faces you.

Place the chawan in front of you and view its overall design. You can then pick up the chawan carefully and look closely at its distinctive features. To return the chawan, turn the front to face the host.
The following guests follow the same procedure.