Known as sadō or chadō (茶道, "The Way of Tea"), chanoyu (茶の湯, "tea water"), or otemae (お手前, お点前) when performed, it refers to the formal and ceremonial preparation and presentation of Japanese green tea (抹茶, matcha, powdered green tea).


At the end of the Kamakura Period (1185–1333), chaya (茶屋, teahouses) opened near the temples, spreading the consumption of tea among the Japanese population. Previously, tea had been reserved almost exclusively for Zen monks and aristocrats. The faithful often gathered in chaya; in these meetings, called cha-yori-ai (茶寄合), and later, during the Muromachi Period (1336 to 1573), tōcha (闘茶) or incha-shōbu, participants tried to guess the provenance of the types of tea served. The Taiheiki (太平記), a fictionalised historical chronicle from the fourteenth century, provides splendid descriptions of these gatherings. Other meetings, reserved for commoners, were more popular. However, they were often called unkyuku-chakai (雲脚茶会, "meeting of tea that leaves in a cloud"), because of the tendency of green-tea froth to evaporate.

In cha-yori-ai, warriors often surrounded themselves with extravagant luxuries. This trend soon turned to moderation and, thanks to the painter and poet Nōami (能阿弥, 1397–1471) and the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa, the art of drinking tea was refined to become a ritual of aesthetics. In the fifteenth century, Murata Shukō devised new rules, which were refined by Takeno Jōō (1502-1555) and his disciple Sen no Rikyū (1522-1591), who recognised that the notion of wabi (侘), or simplicity and restraint, should be observed.

Toyotomi Hideyoshi organised huge tea meetings with thousands of people from all walks of life. The ceremony was soon monopolised by the bushi (武士, warrior) class, following recommendations by Furuta Enshū (1544-1615), and was transformed into the daimyō -cha (大名茶). Following Furuta's teachings and those of his successors, Kobori Enshū (1579-1674) and Katagiri Sekishū, the tea ceremony became more spiritual and took the more appropriate name of sadō (茶道). Many tea-ceremony schools were founded based on the rules outlined by past grandmasters: Katagiri Sekishū's fumai-ryū, Sen-no Rikyū's senke-ryū, his grandson Sōtan's omote-senke-ryū, and Sōtan's brothers' ura-senke and mushanokōji-senke, among others.

At the end of the Edo Period, the tea ceremony was once again transformed under the increasing influence of the chōnin, and "classic" styles became formal and fixed. Other schools were founded, among them, the oribe-ryū, sekishū-ryū, and enshū-ryū. Due to the esotericism of their teachings, interest in the tea ceremony faded among the general populace, and it fell into disuse during the Meiji Era. After the Second World War, it was revived, and many foreigners came to Japan to learn about the art of chanoyu in one or another of the schools than active.


The tea used in chanoyu is powdered green tea (matcha) that is mixed in a tea bowl, the best vintage is the harvest of the year from Uji, Kyoto Prefecture (宇治茶 uji-cha).

The Ritual

The ceremony itself comprises various steps. First, the guests wait in the interior garden, having washed with water from the chōzubachi (手水鉢, basins made of stone or bronze, holding water for ablutions) and rested for a few moments on the stone or wooden bench called koshikake machiai (腰掛待合), set out to intensify the mood and the expectations of the guests. The host (茶人 chajin) fills the basin, washes, and invites the guests to do the same. Then the host enters the chashitsu (茶室, "tea room") to prepare; the others soon follow, crouching as a sign of humility as they pass through the nijiriguchi (躙口, "crawl-in" or "wriggle-in entrance", also known as nijiri agariguchi 躙上り口; nijirido 躙戸 and kuguriguchi 潜口). The host then bows to the tokonoma (床の間, a built-in recessed space in a Japanese style reception room), on which a kakemono (掛物, hanging scroll, also knows as kakejiku 掛軸). A vase of flowers have been placed, then takes his or her place near the square hearth while the guests sit facing the tokonoma.

The host then serves a light meal ( 懐石 kaiseki or 茶懐石 cha-kaiseki) that has been prepared in an adjoining room (水屋 mizuya, "water room"), accompanied by sake and vegetables in brine (香の物 kōnomono, pickled vegetables). Once this meal has been eaten, the host lights the charcoal fire, using special tools, and sets the water to boil for the tea: this is the first part of the ceremony, called sumidemae (炭点前).

The second part consists of offering sweets. Once the sweets have been eaten with bamboo chopsticks, the guests leave the chashitsu and go to the garden to rest and rewash their mouths and hands. This part called omogashi (生菓子), is followed by a "second entry" (goirigoza). While the guests retake their places, the tea master prepares the matcha (also called 濃茶 koicha in its "thick" variation) for each of them. Then the tea is presented (濃茶点前 koicha-demae): the host pours hot water onto the powdered tea, mixes it with the hishaku (柄杓, a long bamboo ladle), and whisks it to a froth with a chasen (茶筅, a bamboo tea-whisk carved from a single piece of bamboo), then offers the chawan (茶碗, tea bowl) of frothy tea.

Each guest is expected to lift the bowl to chest level, then to turn the chawan with the right hand clockwise two times so that the shomen (front side) comes to the left, and to raise the chawan a little higher with a simultaneous nod to the host to indicate one is about to start drinking. Koicha is shared with three other people. Therefore guests are supposed to take about three sips to leave enough for the two other guests. This called the itadakikata (いただき方, degustation). The bowl is then passed on to the next guest, who does the same, wiping the rim of the bowl with a kaishi (懐紙, paper napkin) before taking a sip. Once everyone has taken a sip and praised the beauty of the bowl and the excellence of the tea, the various utensils used to prepare the tea are examined in what is called the dōgu-haiken ("appreciation of the tea utensils"). The guests can relax for a while being offered higashi (干菓子, dry sweets and sugar cakes).

Then, the tea master, having been thanked with a bow, serves a lighter tea (薄茶 usucha) while the participants admire the other utensils. The host and the guests then go out into the garden. The host bows deeply to the guests, who return the courtesy, which concludes the ceremony. It is customary for the guests to return the next day to thank the host.


Chasen (茶筅 whisk)Hishaku (柄杓 ladle)Chawan (茶碗 tea bowl)Chashaku (茶杓 tea scoop)
Tea-whisks are carved from a single piece of bamboo.Long bamboo ladle with a nodule in the centre of the handle. It is used to transfer hot water from the iron pot (kama) to the chawan when making tea.Available in a wide range of sizes and styles, and different styles are used for thick and thin tea. Shallow bowls, which allow the tea to cool rapidly, are used in summer; deep bowls are used in winter to keep the green tea hot for a longer time.Carved from a single piece of bamboo or ivory. It is an important utensil to get the matcha proportions correct.
Chanoyugama (茶の湯釜)Furo (風炉)Dashibukusa (出帛紗)Furo (風炉)
Iron pot or kettle used to heat water to prepare the tea. The kama is made of iron or copper.Portable brazier used in the spring and summer seasons. They have various shapes, and the earliest ones were made of bronze, but later iron and clay braziers became common.Silk cloth carried by the host and the guests; sometimes used by guests to protect the tea implements whilst examining them.Portable brazier used in the spring and summer seasons. They have various shapes, and the earliest ones were made of bronze, but later iron and clay braziers became common.



  • Elison, George/ Varley, H. Paul, The Culture of Tea: From Its Origins to Sen no Rikyū, in Warlords, Artists, and Commoners - Japan in the Sixteenth Century; University of Hawaii Press 1987



Seventy-one Poetry Matches on the (142) Occupations: an open tea house serving matcha (ippuku issen 一服一銭 (Image credit)


Utagawa Kunisada (歌川国貞,1786-1865), a woman performing the tea ceremony