How about entertaining your guests creatively with an ancient tea ritual? With its roots in Buddhism, Japanese tea ceremony involves far more than a tea party among friends. It is closer to a spiritual experience. The host strives to create the perfect atmosphere for his or her guests, called “wa-kei-sei-jaku” in Japanese, or “Harmony, Reverence, Purity, and Tranquility.” Therefore, the host must give extreme care to all details – the surrounding gardens, the paper walls of the teahouse, the stepping stone path leading to the tearoom, and of course, the tea set itself. On our own side of the pond, we may not have the Zen rock gardens or paper wall panels, but that doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate the details of a beautiful tea ceremony.
Since tea gained prominence in Japanese society and the mores of this tea ceremony tradition developed, artists strove to perfect the tea set, and so all over Japan, different localities have developed their own unique styles of teapots – different colors and designs, unusual handles, and distinctive embellishments have become trademarks of different regions. Whatever your taste, Japanese artists have created a nearly endless variety of tea set styles to choose from.
Like Japanese tea sets, the primary focus of Japanese tea ceremony is beauty. Guests and host alike sip their tea while commenting on the beauty of the season. Tea ceremony is often accompanied by admiring flower blossoms or other seasonal fauna. A purist holding a Japanese tea ceremony will invite his or her guests to a space free from distractions, where all can sit and appreciate nature’s beauty, so the ceremony may be held outdoors in the garden, or a dining room adorned with fresh flower arrangements and floral prints. The table can also include pieces of seasonal foliage, but most importantly, the most attractive side of the teacup must face the inside of the table. Hosts often customize their table settings, picking specific teacups for particular guests.
Once guests arrive and the tea has brewed, pour the tea for the guest on right first, and then continue around until all are served, making sure to serve your self last. Pick up the cup with your right hand, but then move it to your left hand, keeping your right hand on the rim of the cup – don’t forget to bow your head to express gratitude for the guests’ presence! As a guest, make sure to rotate the most attractive side of the cup towards yourself and appreciate its beauty – after all, the host picked that cup especially for you. Sip your tea, compliment its flavor, and once finished, wipe the rim with your right thumb and forefinger, but make sure never to set down a half-drunk cup of tea – doing so implies the tea doesn’t taste good, and so may be insulting to your host!
Of course, your own tea ceremony doesn’t have to be so formal. Modify the ceremony as you see fit, but remember that at its roots, the tea ceremony is a celebration of beauty, especially natural beauty. Make sure to compliment your host on the quality of the tea, the beauty of her home’s décor, and of course comment on the loveliness of the season.
The following video demonstrates traditional Japanese tea ceremony practice:
Whether you’re looking to quench a spiritual thirst in the Buddhist tradition, decorate your home with the adornments of a distinct piece of art, or hold an Asian-inspired tea party for friends, there are tea sets galore to complement your purpose. Japanese and Chinese tea sets range considerably in price and condition. A collectible or antique set may cost in the hundreds of dollars, whereas a newly made set or the work of a relatively unknown artisan may only run you fifty dollars. If you’re in the market for a genuine antique, a professional tea set appraiser would definitely be recommended, but for the rest of us, a decorative tea set for the home can easily be purchased in stores like Teavana, or from online vendors as well.
Whichever style tea set or ceremony you settle on, keep the roots of Japanese tea ceremony in mind while entertaining your guests. As the Japanese tea philosophy says, “We only have one chance to enjoy this present moment. Let’s do our best.” Whatever the price or style, a lovely Japanese tea set can bring beauty to any gathering of friends.
The following tea sets offer a variety of different styles for beautiful and quality, if not collectible pieces: