Tea Ceremony for Dummies

I have an interesting book that outlines the steps involved in the tea ceremony… the manual details 331 steps! But actually you can partake of the tea ceremony in just six little steps: 1) heat water, 2) put tea leaves in a pot, 3) pour hot water in the pot, 4) pour tea in a cup, 5) offer the tea, 6) drink the tea. Or even just these three: make – share – drink!

At the heart of the tea ritual is the practice of awareness and sharing, of being totally in that moment of tea-making, without thinking about other things that are going on in your life or what you have to do afterwards. Just making tea. And once the tea is prepared, offer a cup to your friend with a loving heart, or offer it to yourself with a loving heart! And when you sip the tea, as I mentioned before, ponder on the journey that the tea has taken to be here in this moment, in your cup, in your mouth. Taste the earth, taste the sunshine – doesn’t that warm your soul?

Traditionally, tea ceremony is held in a small single-room hut, shut away from the mundane world in a peaceful garden, in which you can enjoy a cup of tea prepared carefully, mindfully, and lovingly by your host. The ritual involves the offering and receiving of tea, of sharing a moment, both persons experiencing this quiet moment together. Stillness, warmth, sharing a moment far from the madding crowds. How wonderful!

The lengthy training required and the 331 steps described to create that experience is the Way of Tea: just as in learning any skill or a martial art or any kind of art, to excel and be able to smoothly and effortlessly prepare tea with an open heart in full awareness requires time and discipline. However, the essence of sharing a cup of tea is to just keep practicing being in the moment of tea-ness, every time you make a cup of tea. So, when you put tea in the pot, just put tea in the pot; when you pour in the water, just pour in the water…. you get the gist! It sounds so simple but how difficult this actually is! As soon as we are doing something repetitive our minds just seem to drift off to all kinds of other things that are happening around us. But if you can remember to just watch the movement of your hands as you prepare the tea, hear the water boiling, smell the delicate scent released by the leaves, then this process becomes a gentle meditation that is very restful and, like the traditional tea ceremony, casts away that stresses of everyday life.

The Japanese Zen master, Soen Nakagawa, who was one of the first Zen teachers in America, is famous for making ‘tea ceremony’ using instant coffee and a styrofoam cup! He always taught his students that what mattered most is your pure intention and the importance of offering your heart with humble respect.

Here are a few tips about making delicious green tea…
1) The water shouldn’t be boiling for green tea, so after the kettle has boiled pour the water into a separate cup so that it can cool a little
2) Use about a heaped tablespoon of tea leaves – although that seems a lot, you can use it three times
3) Steep the leaves for only one minute
4) Pour a little tea in each cup and alternate cups as you pour – this helps to make each cup of tea the same strength
5) For the second and third cup, use hotter water