Traditional Culture of Japan - Traditional crafts and culture

Japanese sweets and the Way of Tea


Sweets are always served at a tea ceremony. At a tea ceremony, one does not only drink matcha. Japanese-style sweets are normally eaten before drinking the matcha.


Drinking delicious tea is not the only pleasure in the tea ceremony. Eating sweets is an important element in tea ceremony, because sweets enhance the flavor of matcha. Naturally, Japanese-style sweets are usually preferred.


  Types of Japanese confectionery used in tea ceremony
The role of the Japanese sweets is not only to make the tea taste better. They also give a sense of the season. The four seasons are clearly defined in Japan, and the tea ceremony is devised to give participants a sense of the seasons. This is true of the sweets as much as any other aspect of the ceremony.


For example, in Japan, April is the month when cherry blossom trees are in full bloom. Sakura-mochi is a Japanese confectionery which uses leaves of the cherry blossom tree. Used in a tea ceremony, this type of sweet can vividly convey the time of year as you enjoy the tea.


  Japanese sweets and the Way of Tea    Japanese sweets and the Way of Tea


Japanese sweets used in tea ceremony are divided in 2 main categories.


The first is called “omogashi.” This type of Japanese confectionery includes sweets such as manjū and dango (sweet buns and dumplings). They are used at tea ceremonies where participants drink “koicha” (matcha tea of a thick consistency). Before drinking koicha, omogashi are served. Omogashi can be described as a relatively substantial type of confectionary.


  Japanese sweets and the Way of Tea    Japanese sweets and the Way of Tea


The second type is called “higashi.” Higashi are dry sweets such as senbei (crackers). Higashi are served before drinking usucha (a type of matcha that is much thinner than koicha).


There are many types of sweets prepared for each season. Sweets made in the shape of cherry blossoms give you a sense of spring, while sweets in the shape of red and yellow leaves remind you of autumn. However, apart from higashi, other types of sweets may be served with usucha.


  Japanese sweets and the Way of Tea    Japanese sweets and the Way of Tea


  Why Japanese-style sweets are so perfect for tea ceremony?
Tea ceremony is a traditional cultural practice that has developed in Japan over centuries, and over the same period, Japanese people have grown accustomed to the traditional sweets of Japan. Thus, the tea ceremony and traditional sweets have evolved together so that they are compatible with each other. Also, the fact that Japanese sweets do not use ingredients such as butter, cheese, and oil is another factor that makes them well suited to being eaten with matcha tea.


The flavor of sweets used in the tea ceremony can change over time. Higashi can be kept for a long time, but omogashi such as sweet buns and dumplings must be consumed while they are fresh.


When sweets are chosen for a tea ceremony, how long it takes to eat them must be taken into account, because the flavor of the sweet at the moment it is put in the mouth is an important consideration.


Simple sweets with an attractive flavor, shape, color, and aroma are preferred. So, traditional Japanese-style sweets, which are pleasing in terms of both appearance and taste, are ideally suited to the tea ceremony.


There is no need to buy sweets with a famous brand name. The most important consideration is to convey to your guest that you want him or her to be delighted with the sweets you serve.

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