A common experience when studying tea is that, as soon as you start getting the hang of a procedure, your teacher throws some new variation at you. One is always kept on her toes, so to speak, with a constant feeling of inadequacy. Though a bit disconcerting (not to mention ego-shattering), this is actually an optimum educational technique; you’re always just outside your comfort zone, which means you’re always absorbing new things.
One reason why this method works is that each new Temae (formal procedure) don’t simply start it all over from scratch; they can mostly be learned as variations on a theme, changing some points in the overall stable pattern. However, one of the most drastic steps in the Urasenke curriculum might be the very second “full” Temae, namely the basic manners for Koicha “thick tea”. Just as the student started to get happy with the flow of his beginner’s Usucha “thin tea” procedure, he’s introduced to a new form that has small but important differences almost at every turn. Furthermore, when he gets back to Usucha, he finds his blossoming fluency is now ruined with interference from the new habits. Until his body manages to sort out what to do when, he’ll close doors when they should be open and skip water when it should be added, and vice-versa. He’ll be doomed to a long period of Chigau yo. Kyō Koicha desu kara. (“No, it’s the other way around, since today we’re doing Koicha.”)
As a kind of personal exercise, I tried to write down in a table all differences I could think of between basic Usucha and Koicha temae. The results follow below.
The thing about chanoyu (the “tea ceremony”—a mistranslation, really) is, there are many intertwined variables. The methods change not only with Temae, but also depend on the utensils used, on the setting, the season, the number of guests, etc. For this post, I tried to act like a scientist and fix all variables but one, Koicha vs. Usucha. (I’m actually learning Satsūbako forms at the moment, and these notes come from trying to separate which parts are specific to Satsūbako Temae and which arise simple from it being Koicha.)
However, the separation of variables can’t be complete: Koicha is typically done with Chaire (Chinese-style, ceramic medicine tea pots, with a small ivory lid), whereas Usucha normally uses Natsume (wide-mouthed tea caddies in lacquered wood). We must compare the prototypical forms, meaning some variations come just for the sake of different utensils. Nonetheless, the rest of the comparison is as close as possible. The table tries to list the differences between Usucha and Koicha temae in the following conditions:
- The Temae are the Hira “plain, basic” forms (not, say, the special procedures to serve nobility or handle Chinese treasures, etc.).
- The variation is Hakobi “bringing-in”, on tatami, without using shelves, boxes, tables, or trays.
- The season is the warm, using a Furo portable brazier on its standard place (to the front-left in the Temae-datami).
- The utensils are all of the basic kind.
In this way we focus on the differences that appear when one changes Usucha to Koicha temae. The two Temae are described in parallel columns, and contrasting keywords are highlighted. Sometimes I also add an identical passage to the two columns, for context; these have no highlights. I generally add translations to Japanese terms at first mention.
Please don’t use these student’s notes for anything serious; see disclaimers on bottom.
Before the Temae
Choice of utensils (dōgu)
|Powdered green tea (matcha)||Usucha-grade, made from the leaves of young tea trees.||Koicha-grade, from trees older than 30 years. (Some schools might use the same powder as usucha during training.)|
|Tea container||Typically Natsume, lacquered wood tea caddy with a wide mouth. Add tea powder to make mountain shape.||Typically Chaire, Chinese-style ceramic medicine bottle, with an ivory lid. Add three scoops of tea per guest (plus some extra?).
※ Chaire need a woven pouch, Shifuku. You’ll need to learn how to tie the cords of your model of Shifuku, and to memorize the traditional name of its woven design (kireji).
|Chawan bowl||Comparatively lighter, shallower, and more decorative (however, more Koicha-esque bowls might be preferred when cold, or depending on mood etc.)||Usually deeper and thicker (to keep hot the shared tea while it goes from guest to guest). More somber and formal. The standard style is Raku. (More details here.)|
|Sweets||Light dry sweets (higashi), usually two varieties. Bring more than one pair per guest, since in usucha the guests can ask for more than one serving. The total must amount to an odd number. (If there will be no Koicha in the day, it’s best to serve some omogashi anyway; for this reason, some schools just use omogashi even in Usucha lessons, more than one per guest, odd number.)||Larger, moist “main sweets” (omogashi), one per guest.|
|Sweets cointainer||A single bowl or tray (Kashibachi), with a single pair of O-Hashi chopsticks.||Stacked boxes of lacquered wood (Fuchidaka), one level per guest. Set Kuromoji picks diagonally on top of lid, one per guest. If on warm season, sprinkle cool water on lid to evoke freshness.|
Utensils on display before Temae
|Mizusashi cold water jar||No (at least in basic Hakobi-temae, without shelves).||Yes, on its usual place at the right of the Furo brazier.|
|Tea container||No (likewise).||Yes; set Chaire, in its Shifuku pouch, right in front of the Mizusashi jar.|
Bringing the sweets
|When to bring sweets||Just before starting the Temae, to be eaten during it.||During full Chaji event, at the end of the Kaiseki meal (before intermission, before Koicha). In tea classes, brought before the Temae as in Usucha.|
|Bow to offer sweets||To main guest, right after serving sweets tray to her. Get some distance by moving back your knees thrice, so as to avoid banging your heads or bending over the sweets; hold your knees with your hands while moving, to avoid opening the kimono flaps. Then say Okashi wo dōzo (or a similar phrase).||(In class) No set rule, since properly it should be part of Kaiseki? I was taught to bow silently at the sadoguchi entrance, just before closing the door.|
Hakobi (bringing-in) phase
|First object||Usually the Mizusashi cold water jar.||Usually the Chawan bowl (since Mizusashi is already on the tatami).|
|Initial bow||Right on sadoguchi entrance, just after opening door to bring in the first object.
※ Before opening, leave the object to your side on the tatami—you can’t bow with it in your way! The correct side is that of the door’s post, where it will be visible to the guests.
|Later, after setting down Hishaku laddle on Futaoki lid rest.
※ Since you don’t bow by the door, leave the first object in your front before opening it.
|Bringing the Chawan bowl||Usually brought with the Natsume tea container.||Usually brought alone (since Chaire is already on the tatami).|
|After crossing door with the Kensui pot (the last object)||Door may be left open in warm season.||Always close the door (turn, sit, put Kensui on tatami, close in usual manner, pick up Kensui, realign body, resume walking).|
|Sequence after sitting down with Kensui|
|Let Kensui touch the tatami wherever it is as you sit down.||Let Kensui touch the tatami wherever it is as you sit down.|
|Immediately take out the Hishaku ladle with the left hand.||Immediately take out the Hishaku ladle with the left hand.|
|Proceed to hold it in the “mirror” position. Pause for a moment as you look into it.||Proceed to hold it in the “mirror” position. Pause for a moment as you look into it.|
|Still holding Hishaku as mirror, take Futaoki lid rest with the right hand and set it to the left of the brazier.||Still holding Hishaku as mirror, take Futaoki lid rest with the right hand and set it to the left of the brazier.|
|Set down Hishaku on top of Futaoki, holding it so that the bottom of the cup is horizontal. Let it knock lightly as they touch. Bring the Hishaku handle down and let it fall from a couple centimeters.||Set down Hishaku on top of Futaoki, holding it so that the bottom of the cup is horizontal. Let it knock lightly as they touch. Bring the Hishaku handle down and let it fall from a couple centimeters.|
|Initial bow between Teishu (host) and all guests.|
|Move the Kensui forward to the line of your knees.||Move the Kensui forward to the line of your knees.|
|Adjust your posture and kimono (izumai wo naosu), breathe, and concentrate for a moment.||Adjust your posture and kimono (izumai wo naosu), breathe, and concentrate for a moment.|
|Cleaning the tea vessel||Fold the Fukusa silk napkin in the simple manner (Sō Fukusa-sabaki)||Fold the Fukusa silk napkin with the four directions method (Yōhō-sabaki)|
|Natsume purification method (far side circular, near side circular, enter from right, spread, exit to right.)||Chaire purification method (line in far side, line in near side, fall right to shoulder height, spin thrice, exit down.)|
|When & Where to rest Chakin white cloth||
|Detailed sequence after cleaning Chashaku bamboo scoop||Holding folded Fukusa in the left hand, take Chasen bamboo whisk from Chawan and put it in front of Mizusashi, to the right.||Holding folded Fukusa in the left hand, take Chasen bamboo whisk from Chawan and put it in front of Mizusashi, to the right.|
|If the Mizusashi lid is lacquered (Kaebuta, “substitute lid”), clean its frontal part in two strokes of the Fukusa (to receive the Chakin cloth later.)|
|Move Chawan with Chakin closer.||Move Chawan with Chakin closer.|
|Leave Chakin inside Chawan as long as possible.||Move Chakin to Mizusashi lid.|
|Hold Hishaku and open Kama kettle lid.||Hold Hishaku and open Kama kettle lid.|
|Move Chakin to Kama lid (out of the way).|
|Add hot water and perform Chasen purification (Chasen-tōshi).||Add hot water and perform Chasen purification (Chasen-tōshi).|
|After wiping Chawan with Chakin||Chakin is put again on Kama lid.||Chakin is put for the first time on Kama lid.|
Tea preparation phase
|When to offer sweets||Just after holding the Chashaku scoop to get tea powder.||(In class) No set rule, since properly it should be during Kaiseki? I was taught to just let the guests decide, or, if in Hantō assistant role, invite them earlier.|
|Setting down the tea container’s lid||Natsume lid usually goes in front of right knee.||Chaire lid usually goes to the right of Chawan.|
|Chashaku, held with Natsume lid near the knee, points inwards .||Chashaku, held with Chaire lid near the Chawan, points outwards.|
|How to add tea powder to Chawan bowl||Add two scoops.||Add three scoops.|
|Rest the Chashaku on the Chawan, to the right, facing up.|
|Spin the Chaire to add all the tea.|
|Wipe the mouth of the Chaire, clean your fingers, close the Chaire, and return it while the Chashaku rests.|
|Hold the Chashaku again and draw three lines 三 in the tea powder.|
|Still holding the Natsume in the left hand, knock the Chashaku lightly to dislodge tea powder.||With the Chaire already returned, knock the Chashaku lightly to dislodge tea powder.|
|Still holding the Chashaku in the right hand, close and return the Natsume, then return the Chashaku.||Return the Chashaku.|
|Pre-cool kettle?||No. Before taking hot water for tea, do open the Mizusashi (cold-water jar), but just open; don’t take any cold water.||Yes. Before taking hot water for tea, open the Mizusashi and add cold water to kettle (is this because the ideal temperature for koicha is lower?).|
|How much hot water for tea||One-third to a half cup.||Depends on number of guests, since all partake of same bowl, but it’s less than usucha (per guest). Hard to measure; beginners tend to add too much. Consistence should be dense, like thick cream. When in doubt, use little hot water; you can add more later.|
|Mixing tea||Whisk briskly with Chasen bamboo whisk to create foamy, refreshing drink.||Knead steadily with Chasen to dissolve powder into thick, dark cream.|
|Rest Chasen to the left side of Chawan bowl.|
|Clean the Chasen tines with more hot water. You can adjust for consistency here: if the tea seems already thin, add next to nothing, and if it’s too powdery, add more.|
|Draw a no の, take away both hands making a ha ハ、 and put away Chasen.||Draw a no の, take away both hands making a ha ハ、 and put away Chasen.|
|Chasen whisk after mixing||Tines topped by soft clouds of bright green foam!||Tines topped by muddy snowpeaks in dark green!|
Guests: Partaking sweets
|When to take sweets||When the Teishu (host) invites, just after he holds the Chashaku to take tea powder.||(In class) No set rule? I was taught to eat them earlier, about the time when the Teishu starts wiping the Chawan.|
|How to take the sweets||Bow (semi-formal, gyō) to the next guest saying O-Saki ni (“[excuse me for] going first”).||Bow (semi-formal, gyō) to the next guest saying O-Saki ni (“[excuse me for] going first”).|
|Lightly raise tray with both hands, in a subtle bow of thanks.||Lightly raise Fuchidaka stack with both hands, in a subtle bow of thanks.|
|Rotate the top of the stack, except the bottom box (yours).|
|Take one Kuromoji pick from the lid and insert it in bottom box.|
|Pass the top stack to the next guest.|
|Set down your Kaishi paper napkin to your front, inside your tatami.||Set down your Kaishi paper napkin to your front, inside your tatami.|
|Take O-Hashi chopsticks in the standard procedure, hold the sweet, and bring to Kaishi.||Take Kuromoji pick, pierce the sweet, and bring to Kaishi.|
|After taking sweets||Clean and return O-Hashi, since other guests will use it. Use the top left corner of your Kaishi to wipe it.||Properly, take the Kuromoji pick home as a souvenir. In class, here at least, the custom is to replace it inside your box, diagonally.|
|Pass the tray to the next guest.||Stack your box on top of previous guest’s (if any) and pass this new stack to next guest.|
|Shōkyaku (first guest): Receiving Chawan tea bowl||If there are more guests: Put bowl down inside the tatami, between you and next guest, and bow to next guest while saying O-Saki ni.||If there are more guests: Put bowl down inside the tatami, between you and next guest, and bow to all guests, silently; they bow in unison.|
|Put down the Chawan to your front, inside the tatami, and say O-Temae chōdai itashimasu “excuse me for receiving this Temae”.||Take the Chawan in your hands directly.|
|Other guests: Receiving Chawan tea bowl||If there are more guests: Before getting the shared Chawan, while the previous guest is still drinking, bow to next guest while saying O-Saki ni. (→ Since you don’t rest the Koicha Chawan on the tatami, it would be awkward to O-Saki ni after getting it.)|
|Put down your own Chawan inside the tatami , between you and previous guest, and say O-Shōban itashimasu “I’ll join in” while you bow.||Turn towards previous guest, take the shared Chawan directly from their hands, silently, and bow.|
|If there are more guests: Put down your own Chawan inside the tatami, between you and next guest, and bow to them while saying O-Saki ni.|
|Put the Chawan to your front, inside the tatami, and say O-Temae chōdai itashimasu “excuse me for receiving this Temae”.||Take the Chawan directly.|
|Teishu and Shōkyaku: After first sip||Teishu asks about the taste, O-Fuku-Kagen wa. Shōkyaku holds bowl in palm of left hand and lightly bows while replying Kekkō de gozaimasu “it’s perfect” (or similar).|
|Teishu then turns diagonally towards the guests, in preparation to tea questions.|
|Teishu and Shōkyaku: Tea questions||
|Guests: Cleaning the rim after drinking||With your fingers, twice.||With your small Chakin napkin, or, alternatively, with a folded Kaishi paper napkin, multiple times.|
|After last guest’s last sip, the Teishu…||Turn back from the diagonal position and add cold water from the Mizusashi to the kama kettle.|
|If Fukusa napkin is still on tatami, hang it on obi belt.||If Fukusa napkin is still on tatami, hang it on obi belt.|
|Guests: Examination (haiken) of tea bowl||Each guest examines his, right after drinking, turning the Chawan to face himself and setting it outside his tatami.||The Shōkyaku (first guest) may ask the Tsume (last guest). The Tsume cleans the Chawan and hands it to Shōkyaku. All guests then examine it, one at a time.|
|Guests: how to return the Chawan bowl||Each guest returns his.||First and last guests meet, moving diagonally and outside. Then Tsume turns the Chawan towards Shōkyaku, hands it, and Shōkyaku returns it to Teishu.|
|After guest returned Chawan bowl||Teishu can take it immediately (don’t rush it though).||Teishu has to wait for guest to sit in his place, since there will be a Teishu-and-guests bow right after.|
|There is no bow before hot water for Chawan.||Group bow before hot water for Chawan, just after taking the used bowl (you did wait for the guest to return, didn’t you?). Then add hot water.|
|Teishu and Shōkyaku: Questions about Chawan||Usually no?||If the Shōkyaku asks; if so, it will be right just after the group bow, after guest returned the Chawan.|
Oshimai (closing) phase
|When to start Oshimai (closing) phase||If the guest asks while you throw the hot water. As she asks, bow lightly (sō) with the right fingertips on tatami, holding the Chawan in the left palm. If she doesn’t ask, it means you must make another bowl.||The guest doesn’t ask (meaning there will be no sō bow holding Chawan). In koicha there is always only one serving.|
|After throwing the hot water, if the guest asked to finish, bow and say Oshimai itashimasu (or similar phrase).||After throwing the hot water, bow and say Oshimai itashimasu (or similar phrase).|
Haiken (observation) phase
|Shōkyaku asks for…||O-Natsume, O-Chashaku no Haiken wo.||O-Chaire, O-Shifuku, O-Chashaku no Haiken wo.|
|When purifying the tea container, the Teishu should…||Keep holding the Fukusa even as he holds the lid of the tea container.||Put down the Fukusa before holding the lid.|
|Purification procedure, detailed:||Do a simple (sō) Fukusa-sabaki and clean as usual.||Do a simple (sō) Fukusa-sabaki and clean as usual.|
|First put down the Fukusa.|
|While holding the Fukusa, open the lid, look, and set it down.||Open the lid, look, and set it down, outwards from the Fukusa in the tatami.|
|Clean the open mouth.||Take the Fukusa and clean the open mouth.|
|Still holding the Fukusa, grab the lid and close the tea container.||Putting down the Fukusa again, grab the lid and close the tea container.|
|Offering objects||Natsume, then Chashaku.||Chaire, then Chashaku, then Shifuku.|
|Sample Shōkyaku questions & Teishu answers||
O-Natsume no O-Katachi wa.
“What is the shape of the Natsume?”
O-Chaire no O-Katachi wa.
“What is the shape of the Chaire?”
Rikyū-gata no Chū-Natsume de gozaimasu.
“It’s a middle-sized, Rikyū-shaped Natsume.”
Kata-tsuki de gozaimasu.|
“It’s a shouldered [model].”
“And the lacquer?”
“And the kiln [=ceramic style]?”
|Nakamura Sōtetsu de gozaimasu.||Seto de gozaimasu.|
O-Chashaku no O-Saku wa.
“[What about] the making of the Chashaku?”
O-Chashaku no O-Saku wa.
“[What about] the making of the Chashaku?”
|Zabōsai-o-Iemoto no Saku de gozaimasu.||Zabōsai-o-Iemoto no Saku de gozaimasu.|
“And its name?”
“And its name?”
◯◯ de gozaimasu.
“It’s such and such” [Use actual name if known, else improvise a seasonal word, preferably yamato-kotoba i.e. native Japanese.]
◯◯ de gozaimasu.
“It’s such and such” [Use actual name if known, else improvise a seasonal word, preferably kango i.e. Sino-Japanese.]
O-Shifuku no Kireji wa.
“[What’s] the fabric of the Shifuku?”
◯◯ de gozaimasu..
[Learn it beforehand!]
“And the sewing?”
|Yūko de gozaimasu.|
Reviewing some points
Some miscellanea below.
When to bow (Teishu)
|(In class) Asking the teacher||Yes||Yes|
|Initial sweets offering||In front of main guest, right after serving sweets tray, taking some distance, speaking.||Back at the entrance, and silently.|
|Starting bow||At the entrance, with first object to the side.||On Temae-datami, after setting down Hishaku on Futaoki.|
|Tea drinking bows||The guests lead, saying O-Temae chōdai itashimasu to Teishu, always before their first sip.||
|“Receiving the Chawan” bow||The Teishu starts bow to all guests, always before throwing the hot water, with the used Chawan still on tatami.|
|“Asking for Oshimai” bow||The Shōkyaku starts bow (if she doesn’t want more tea), after the Teishu throws the hot water, while he’s still holding the Chawan in hand.|
|“Oshimai itashimasu” bow||After throwing hot water and setting down the Chawan.||After throwing hot water and setting down the Chawan.|
|Closing bow||After finishing haiken, at the door.||After finishing haiken, at the door.|
|(In class) Thanking the teacher||Yes||Yes|
When to close the door
|(In class) Before asking the teacher||Yes||Yes|
|(In class) After asking the teacher||Yes||Yes|
|After leaving sweets to guest, and exiting||Yes||Yes|
|After bringing in last hakobi object (usually Kensui) to start Temae||Maybe?||Yes|
|After exiting to let guests do haiken||Yes||Yes|
|After final bow, with haiken objects to side||Yes||Yes|
|(In class) After thanking the teacher||Yes||Yes|
When to add cold water to the kettle
There are three points where cold water may be added to the kettle, but standard Usucha uses only the last one.
|Just before taking hot water for tea, to cool kettle||No||Yes|
|After loud last sip by last guest||No||Yes|
|Before closing Mizusashi lid (after striking Fukusa over Kensui)||Yes||Yes|
Things you must know before starting
|Craftsperson (O-Saku) and poetic name (Go-Mei) of Chashaku scoop. For classes, research beforehand on a seasonal poetic word (kigo) of your choice. My teacher recommends native Japanese (yamato-kotoba) kigo for usucha.||Craftsperson (O-Saku) and poetic name (Go-Mei) of Chashaku scoop. For improvised names during koicha, my teacher prefers Sino-Japanese (kango) kigo.|
|Model (Katachi) and lacquerer (O-Nuri) of Natsume.||Model (Katachi) and ceramic style (Kamamoto) of Chaire.|
|Design (Kireji) and craftsperson (Shitate) of Shifuku pouch.|
|Name (Cha-mei) and origin (Tsume, “packer”) of matcha tea powder.|
|Information about Chawan (unless your class omits this haiken).|
- With Tomo-buta “Matching lid”: The original lid, in matching ceramic etc. Doesn’t need purification.
- With Kae-buta “Substitute lid”: A black lacquered wood replacement. Needs purification to receive Chakin in Koicha (after cleaning Chashaku and placing Chasen to the right, and before bringing the Chawan closer).
- Certain Koicha Chawan require the use of Kobukusa, the thick, smaller woven napkin (Raku doesn’t).
Don’t try to memorize text! Tea is a physical skill, like swimming or dancing. Sometimes the effort to translate your moves to words helps to settle down the day’s practice—but don’t rely on it; words are at best a complement, and at worst a hindrance. You need to internalize this by training; there’s no shortcut.
I’m not a tea teacher, and I probably have made mistakes in my notes. Even within a single style (like Urasenke), different study groups develop different habits, and some of the above will probably differ from yours (in which case your school is right, not me).
- Chanoyu Quarterly nos. 14, 15, and 57.
- Chanoyu: Arte e Filosofia and Chadô: Introdução ao Caminho da Cerimônia do Chá (Urasenke Brazil manuals)
- My teachers through the years :)
Any errors are mine only. Corrections and suggestions welcomed.