If you want to infuse a little history and a lot of tradition into your tea party, put a Japanese spin on it. Japan is famous for its long, choreographed tea ceremonies, the most serious of which can last four hours. Paradoxically, Japanese tea ceremonies are meant to encourage an unmaterialistic focus on the present, but were often practiced by members of the elite to show off impressive possessions and social status or reinforce social and political hierarchy. Mastering the ins and outs of a Japanese tea ceremony would take you years, but here are some basics that will give your next tea party a Japanese makeover:
Invite Your Guests:
Traditionally, tea ceremonies were a male affair. In the 1500s, as warlords fought for control over a divided Japan, tea ceremonies doubled as military negotiations for generals such as Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi. As Japan modernized, the tea ceremony became less important militaristically and more important as a platform for businessmen to interact. The art form became more female-driven as time went on, so now, no matter your gender, you can be a tea master or attend a tea ceremony. So break out your rolodex and invite whoever you please, political agenda optional.
Choose Your Hardware:
Traditionally, a host used his tea utensils to show off his wealth. Don’t have expensive artifacts from ancient Asia? Don’t worry. Bowls, cups, and teapots that aren’t perfectly crafted, symmetrical, or conventionally beautiful embody the Japanese concept of wabi, or, artless beauty and spontaneity. You should, however, be mindful about the hardware you choose. What kind of mood do they set? What kind of conversation and values do they encourage? Your hardware sets the tone, so be purposeful. Learn more about the various types of Japanese teapots here, and check out some old school hardware courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art here.
[Photo Credit: Public Domain]
Sit on the floor:
A traditional Japanese tea ceremony will take place kneeling on a tatami mat. If you don’t have a tatami mat but you’re really committed to the theme, buy your own set of tatami mats here. Don’t want to spend the dough? Spread a nice blanket on the floor and encourage your guests to kick off their shoes. You can take things up a notch by arranging a series of blankets in the “auspicious” pattern in which tatami mats are typically arranged to bring good luck:
[Photo Credit: Public Domain]
Prepare The Tea:
Surrounded by your guests, prepare green tea or matcha by whisking matcha and hot water in a bowl. Prepare a communal bowl of tea with a thick consistency. Pass the bowl around and have everyone take a sip, marking your bond as a unit.
[Photo Credit: Steenbergs from Flickr via Creative Commons]
Serve Something Sweet:
Balance the bitter matcha by serving dessert. Traditional Japanese sweets are called wagashi, and commonly use sweet aziuki bean paste as a base. Other main ingredients include rice, sesame, and chestnuts. Try making these mochi pancakes or follow Martha Stewart’s lead and make your own namagashi candy.
Prepare More Tea:
Treat your guests to individual cups of tea, this time with a thinner consistency. If you want to be authentic, keep conversation (and extraneous body movements) to a minimum. If not, sip and gab away.
Be Showered in Compliments:
Traditionally, the conversation at a Japanese tea ceremony was limited to lots of praise for the host and the hardware that he/she’s chose to show off. Feel free to tell your guests this is very important, and enjoy the ego boost.
[Photo Credit: mrhayata from Flickr via Creative Commons]
Achieve Inner Peace (And Maybe World Peace, Too):
A Japanese Tea Party was meant to spread the values of wa, kei, sei, and jaku (harmony, respect, purity, and tranquility.) Kristin Surak, a professor of Japanese politics at the University of London and the author of Making Tea, Making Japan told NPR, “The claim is that everyone in the world can understand those things, and if everybody sat around and had a bowl of tea, we could create world peace.” Hopefully, by the end of your tea party, you’ve achieved wa, kei, sei, or jaku. And if we’re all lucky, you’ve eradicated war.