Chakai 茶会 – a Tea Gathering

On 15th July I attended a “Chakai”. Talking with the person that made it and her difficulty in translating the word into Italian, made me think about some translations that have been done incorrectly in the past and stayed to this present day – causing very often a misunderstanding of a whole concept. In specific, I’m talking about the concept of “Japanese Tea Ceremony”. In the West, we often translate “Chado” as the Japanese Tea Ceremony, while in fact it is not merely a single event or a performance. Its correct translation would be “The Way of Tea” and that explains a discipline that one follows and learns through his/her whole life and that has at its core the preparation, serving, and sharing of tea. The brewer, the tea master, would be the “Chajin 茶人”: literally “tea person”. If we talk of a single formal event based on serving tea to a small number of guests, that would be a “Chaji 茶事”.

What is then a Chakai 茶会? Let’s put it very simple: it is the Japanese term for tea gathering and refers to an informal event. The first time this term appears in written form is in the early fifteenth century in a book called “Letters on Drinking Tea” that describes how tea gatherings were organised at that time. Those were less formal functions than their subsequent Chaji of Sen no Rikyū’s time. The tea there played maybe a smaller role in between lavish banquets and alcohol drinking. Nowadays it refers to gatherings where tea is the main actor, with a flexible format and usually a limited but open number of guests.

The Chakai I attended was quite unusual. It was done outdoors in the nature. The teaware was a curious mix of different styles that blended perfectly together with the environment. There were silences but also a narrative – telling a story that went very well with the teas. The brewer played very fluidly with the teas and the different items, mixing traditions with modern twists and some very unexpected surprises. We were sitting on the ground, under the shade of trees and the lavender in bloom was in front of us. Bees and butterflies were buzzing around and brews of two different teas were alternated and given to us guests. Special sweets had been brought in from Japan while shiro anko had arrived all the way from London to complete delicious handmade cookies made with local ingredients and the very same lavender we were looking at. One of the two teas was a very special one: a white tea from Miyazaki prefecture – from a tea farmer that might sound familiar to all of you, Miyazaki Sabou. He has joined some of our events in the past, like the Japanese Tea Marathon and Meet the Tea Farmer: his teas never stop to amaze us. Usually white teas have a very floral aroma. Instead, this one was very fresh and reminded of the aroma of fresh harvested leaves. A delicate treat on a mid-summer day that left me with the feeling of walking away with my head in the clouds. 

The white tea (on the right) that was brewed with bowl brew method.

The tea person behind this chakai was tea enthusiast Marta Grespan; she lives in Japan, studies Senchado and Chado and is the founder of Leaves, powder, and…


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