The Japanese tea ceremony is one of the most famous examples of tea culture from around the globe. The tradition has antiquated precedents but what many know and recognize today was a tradition that began and developed with the first interactions between Japanese culture and tea culture in the 9th century A.D. The ceremony is known in Japanese as the Chanoyu, Sado, or Chado and is usually translated as the "Way of Tea." The service itself revolves around the preparation, serving, and enjoyment of matcha. The ceremony itself is deeply rooted in Japanese Zen Buddhism and is practiced as a spiritual and meditative experience. Tea is not the only thing enjoyed or emphasized during a tea ceremony. Often flower arrangements and calligraphy will also serve as talking points and areas of spiritual focus and meditative awareness. Space is small and meant to be intimate.
Originally tea houses were large, baroque buildings that emphasized wealth, materialism, status, power, and grandeur. But with the introduction of the more modest and humbler Zen Buddhism, the tea house was transformed into little more than a rustic shack. These huts would be built in the style of shed lived in by exiled scholars and bureaucrats or Taoist and Buddhist poets of the Tang and Song eras. Tea houses would often be situated off a beaten path away from more populated or busy areas. The walkways to the tea house would intentionally meander, to loosen the approaching guests' preconceived sense of importance and personal grandeur in favor of admiring the artless appearance of rustic nature and contemplate their mortality and emptiness.
Once inside, the doorways to the tea house would be fashioned to be intentionally too small and narrow for samurai and warlords, like Hideyoshi Toyotomi for example, from entering the tearoom with their heads held high and girded with swords. The entrance would force all guests, even mighty warlords like Hideyoshi to bow. And disallowing swords or weapons in the tearoom created an atmosphere of peace. The tearoom is meant to serve as a world of its own, where there are no people of higher or lower status, and individuals are of no threat to one another.
Once inside the ceremony will take place. Everything is standardized and ritualized. The tea master will remark and talk about each of their tea utensils, of which there are also many. Each appliance may have a history and a story or may have been handed down through generations by a historically significant master. As the water is boiled, the matcha is also prepared, scooped, filtered, and measured, each with different specific utensils. Once the matcha is ready to have the water poured in, the master will whisk and whip the mixture with a bamboo whisk until the surface has an almost opaque layer of foam. The tea is often poured into one bowl, or individual bowls for each guest, the bowl is rotated so not to be shipped from the front. The guest will complement the tea master on the tea, and then confectionary treats like rice cakes are enjoyed. The tea ceremony itself can have variations based on many factors, but the season is one of the constant rotating factors that will cause a tea ceremony to have some different steps and practices. The different seasons determine what incense may be used, what flowers will be arranged, what calligraphy will be presented and what color patterns and motifs will be used for the tea ware and décor of the tearoom.
The matcha used in tea ceremonies is of a particular ceremonial grade. Any matcha used for retail or purposes like preparing bottled tea for retail exists on one of two other different grade scales. These grades are referred to as premium grade and culinary grade. The quality of ceremonial grade is higher than a culinary and premium class, and so is the price of the tea. Though, there does not seem to be any industry standards or definitions that exist to demarcate these distinctions.