This weekend I attended a Japanese tea ceremony (tencha, 点茶). The process of the tea ceremony is a long and precise one in which the participants prepare and drink tea in a large group. In Japan there are two main types of tea ceremony, the process for each differ slightly, as does the thickness of the tea produced. When the matcha (powdered tea) is whisked quickly with hot water to produce a frothy drink, this is called usucha, the style we used on the day. The other is koicha, and produces a thicker beverage.
Traditionally the entire process is done in seiza, the kneeled position. For the average Japanese person this isn't too much of a struggle, but for a westerner this can be somewhat painful after just a few minutes. Thankfully we were granted to sit cross-legged, except when actually drinking the tea. The ceremony takes places is a tatami mat room, complete with tokonoma (hanging scroll) on the wall and a flower arrangement beneath it.
Afterwards it was explained to us that the ceremony was developed hundreds of years ago when tea was introduced to Japan from China. Originally powdered tea was taken by the upper classes, samurai's etc, but slowly filtered down through the class system. During this time the ceremony was developed into what is practiced today.