Everywhere else in the world, matcha is just a drink. In Japan, matcha is the focus of a centuries-old ritual that is still practiced today, and a huge part of Japanese culture. Known to most people as the Japanese tea ceremony, “sado”, as it is called in Japan, is a practice that wouldn’t exist without matcha.
What is Sado?
Making and drinking tea is something a lot of us don’t give too much thought to in our day-to-day lives. Sado on the other hand, makes the process of drinking matcha a special event.
The history of sado can be traced back to ancient times, when matcha was first introduced to Japan. Because the drink was primarily consumed by monks in monasteries, sado first emerged as practice in Zen Buddhism. As one might expect, there is a great emphasis on mindfulness and simplicity, instead of embracing abundance. Practitioners of sado therefore take great care in every step of the brewing process, and attention is given to everything and everyone involved, down to the seating position of guests and decorations within the tea room.
The Process of Sado
Sado is always performed by a host who welcomes their guests into a tea room, usually a traditional Japanese room with screen doors and tatami mats. In Japan, the host is always dressed in traditional clothing, such as a kimono for women.
The tea room is decorated with seasonal flowers and ornaments, and guests are invited to view them while the host prepares for the ceremony. In preparation, the host will ritually cleanse every utensil used for the ceremony, such as tea whisks, scoops, and bowls. Then, the host begins the tea preparation. Water is boiled in a cast-iron kettle, and matcha powder is carefully measured into tea bowls. After adding hot water to the bowls, the host carefully whisks the mixture with a special tea whisk and serves them to their guests. The tea is usually accompanied by wagashi, which are Japanese sweets.
The host will engage guests in conversation during the whole ceremony, some of which may last up to several hours.
What Sado Teaches Us
In our fast-moving modern world, the most valuable thing the Japanese tea ceremony can teach us is perhaps the appreciation for simplicity, living with intention, and taking it slow. The room in which sado takes place is always simple, yet great care is taken in selecting furniture and decorations that guests use and see. When superfluous items are taken away, then the beauty of every object left shines through.
Then, by taking great care in making, serving, and drinking tea, one is able to find pleasure in the process, and savour the resulting flavours. If you’re ever in Japan, why not try out a sado experience for yourself? And even if you’re not travelling any time soon, you can incorporate elements of sado to your every day as well just by remembering to be mindful when you make and drink your daily cup of tea!