The tea ceremony, known in Japan as chanoyu (hot water for tea), is all about the host entertaining guests with a bowl of tea prepared with utmost care. The rational sequence of the procedure in preparing and tasting tea has been refined to an ultimate sophistication, where every single maneuver is an absolute essential and is seamlessly and beautifully executed. "Let it be understood that chanoyu consists in boiling water, preparing tea, and drinking it and nothing more." This dictum attributed to Sen no Rikyu is probably the best expression of the spirit of Wabi-cha, which has been handed down through the generations.
The practice of drinking powdered tea (matcha) was originally transplanted to Japan from Song dynasty China toward the end of 12th century along with Zen Buddhism. In the Muromachi period, this practice found patrons in ruling warrior class elites and took on ceremonial character, eventually developing into uniquely Japanese cultural phenomenon. The Azuchi-Momoyama period saw Sen no Rikyu (1522 - 1591) infusing the tea ceremony with a new aesthetics and spirituality, thus establishing the chanoyu as we know it today (Wabi-cha). Wabi aesthetics reflects the pursuit of spiritual fulfillment and beauty in the face of material deprivation. It is only with the heart that one can see the true beauty, as it is invisible to the eye.
To help set the scene for a truly unique Ichigo-Ichie (once in a life time encounter) experience of chanoyu, the host meticulously prepares tearoom, guided by this aesthetics, which manifests itself in the forms of flower arrangement, calligraphy, architecture and gardening, ceramics and other hand crafts, cuisine, and social etiquette. That is why chanoyu is considered to be the comprehensive and quintessential expression of traditional Japanese art and life style.
From its inception, chanoyu has always developed in close association with Zen Buddhism. Strict adherence to procedure sequence and manners, formalized by Sen no Rikyu and his successors, served to further heighten the ambient tensions of the occasion and gave deeper spirituality to the unique experience shared between the host and the guests over a bowl of tea.
More than 400 years after Rikyu's passing, the spirit of chanoyu he perfected lives on, handed down through generations of Rikyu's direct descendants, the three Sen families of Omotesenke, Urasenke, and Mushanokojisenke.