Basic Etiquette for Japanese Green Tea

We are all taught basic table manners so as to make social interactions smoother. If we look at etiquette that way, wouldn’t it be good to know a thing or two about Japanese green tea? At the very least you could impress a Japanese friend!

Serving Japanese green tea

Japanese green tea etiquetteIf you brewed the green tea in the kitchen or somewhere that isn’t close to the table, it’s convenient to have a tray. Use a yunomi (湯呑み, a Japanese tea cup) and place a saucer underneath it for best results. The yunomi shouldn’t be filled completely, fill it to about 80%.

The saucer and yunomi must be facing you (in case they have some sort of picture or design on the front). If the saucer is wooden, then the grain of the wood should be horizontal.

Lower the tray at the edge of the table, or somewhere close in case that there isn’t enough space. Pick up the yunomi with its saucer, using both hands. Then place them to the front-left side of the guest (which is your right). This is assuming that there is something to eat (which should be served before the tea) in front of the guest. If not, place it closer to the guest’s center.

Now, pick up the saucer lightly and rotate it so that the front of the cup (if there is one) faces the guest, and put it back in the same place. Don’t slide the saucer on the table.

Drinking Japanese green tea

Now imagine that you are the guest. Once everyone has been served, the first thing to do is to bow slightly and say “itadakimasu”, which means “I will eat/drink” in a sense of gratitude. Skip this step if no one speaks Japanese :).

In case the yunomi comes with a lid (and mine don’t), open the lid with your right hand and turn it 90 degrees so that if there are any drops of condensed vapor, they will fall into your yunomi. Then place the lid on the table with the inside facing up.

Japanese green tea etiquetteHold the yunomi with your right hand while supporting it from below with your left hand. Men can have the index finger raised over the rim of the yunomi, but women must have all their fingers in their right hand below the rim.

As you might have noticed by now, using both hands is considered to be polite in Japan. The same principle applies to many situations, such as when pouring or being served alcoholic beverages and when giving/receiving a gift.

Drink the tea (while still holding it with both hands), without making any noise. If the tea is too hot, you shouldn’t blow on it. Wait until it cools downs a bit, but don’t wait too much because it could be considered rude!

Japanese green tea etiquetteIf you leave lipstick on the yunomi, use the index and thumb of your right hand to gently wipe it off. Now place the yunomi back in the saucer. When you are done drinking say “gochisousama deshita” meaning that you had a delicious treat.

Keep in mind that this is a basic explanation and it doesn’t apply to the tea ceremony. Now you only need to practice and have fun!

4 Comments

  1. Thelma Jones
    May 30, 2020

    I have been watching a lot of japan movies and have a ways wondered why the men always drink tea with one hand under the bottom of such small cup. I have my answer. And you made it clear. Thank you so much for the info. I am American black woman don’t know if i would ever visit this beautiful place. I like to learn new and exciting things.

    Reply
    1. Ricardo Caicedo
      May 30, 2020

      Hi Thelma

      Thank you for reading. Yes, even when exchanging business cards Japanese people use two hands to show respect.

      Reply
  2. Wen
    April 20, 2021

    Hi,
    If japanese tea is served with a base or saucer, do we lift the it together when drinking the tea? E.g. holding the base with left hand and holding the tea cup up to drink with right hand?

    Reply
    1. Ricardo Caicedo
      April 20, 2021

      Hi Wen

      For Japanese tea, the chataku (tea saucer) is not held. The teacup should be held with both hands.

      Note that this is because of Japanese culture and etiquette, but at home you can do it however you want 🙂

      Reply

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