Japanese Tea Ceremony

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

The tea ceremony, chanoyu (literally tea’s hot water), was brought to Japan as a Buddhist ritual by the Japanese priest Eisai (1141–1215), who had learned about it in China while he was studying Buddhism there. He also brought back seeds of the tea plant.

From its earliest days, the ceremony was associated with Zen Buddhism and was practised as one of the Zen ‘ways’, as those disciplines are called. In this context it was chado, the ‘way of tea’. The great Zen monk Ikkyu (1394–1484) thought that tea produced greater enlightenment than long meditation. And indeed the very high caffeine content of powdered green tea (matcha) was certainly taken advantage of to keep the monks from dozing off during religious exercises.