My mother recently visited and I was happy to be able to honor her with a Japanese tea ceremony. Thanks to my Sensei, I was able to hold the gathering at the traditional tea house in the Portland Japanese Garden.
Guests arrive and enjoy a welcoming hot water in the waiting area. Next, the host will silently bow to the guests, signifying that s/he is ready. The guests walk on a stone path, through the beautiful tea garden (shown below), to the tea house. Guests rinse their hands, symbolically purifying themselves, before entering the tea room.
Upon entry, guests appreciate the scroll, the flowers and the kettle. The scroll below is Ichigo Ichie, often translated as "one lifetime, one meeting." It emphasizes the importance of the present experience, never again to be repeated.
Flowers for a summer tea ceremony are often presented in a basket. Tea flowers are always freshly picked and are in the spirit of wildflowers. Fancy hybrids or flowers with strong fragrance are avoided. The host (in this case, me) arranges the flowers "as they grow in the field." Here we have a late summer grass, brown-eyed Susan, scarlet flax, white balloon flower, Rose of Sharon and morning glory.
Once the guests are settled, the host offers official greetings and serves the sweets. I served a moist sweet made from sweetened bean paste (it's delicious!), that looks like the Japanese balloon flower. My mom had helped me shape these sweets, which was extra special. It takes some practice! I also served a pineapple ground cherry (cape gooseberry).
Next, I made tea for the guests. This is the high point of the experience. The goal is for the guests to feel a spirit of shared heart with the host and other guests.
The host and guests share conversation about the tea utensils and their history, and other things in the tea room. Every item has been specifically chosen. The host considers the season, the guests, the setting, etc., as s/he chooses the scroll, the flowers, the utensils and even the specific tea-making procedure. It's part of the idea that no two gatherings are the same.
It's hard to see in the photo above, but there is a hosta leaf on the top of the water urn, above my right knee. I chose the Habuta procedure, which uses a leaf as a lid for the water urn. It's a special procedure for summertime.
After the discussion regarding the tea utensils and final thanks, the meeting adjourns with a bow.
Tea, in all its forms, offers so much beauty. I hope we all can pause to enjoy the peace that comes with a bowl (or cup) of tea.