Fact Checked

What Is Chamei?

Meg Higa
Meg Higa

Chamei, translated in Japanese, is “tea name.” The same word is written in two different ways to refer to two different things. When a highly regarded tea plantation produces a crop or a blend, it is given a specific name. Additionally, when a person has mastered the protocols and the art of the traditional Japanese tea ceremony, he, too, is bestowed a name. The host and master of a tea ceremony has a chamei, and he may proudly announce the chamei of the tea being served to his guests.

For centuries, the Japanese tea ceremony has been a strictly defined, complex ritual. Many people attend years of classes to master it. A student’s progress is measured by a system of ranking in the form of graduating licenses to study successive levels of the art. Along with the philosophies and cultural significance of tea, a beginning student will be taught how to prepare and distinguish two types of tea. One is usucha, a thin or light tea, and the other is koicha, a thick or dark tea.


Both are green teas, produced specially for the ceremony in powdered form. Loose leaf teas are not served in a Japanese tea ceremony. Together with technical skills such as heating a pot of water to the correct temperature, the teas are prepared with the use of specialized tools such as a bamboo whisk. Some students may never graduate from this first level. The highest levels are called the okuden, or deep secret.

A student who completes these final levels must then apply to a governing body in Kyoto, Japan for the seal of Urasenke Oiemoto, or Grand Tea Master. If approved, the student’s license will include his new chamei, a name under which he is free to practice the tea ceremony on his own, perhaps to teach others. Most Masters choose a one-word name, in a style not unlike the signatures of ancient Japanese woodblock print artists. If pursued as a part time hobby, this may take ten years or more.

The tea that is served at a ceremony is called ma’cha. The dried green tea leaves are finely ground to a powder. Some farms in Japan which have been cultivating the plant for hundreds of years may regard a given year’s harvest and subsequent milling to be worthy of a chamei, a defining name. The name is always a poetic one, often inspired by nature. Translated examples of the names of specific ceremonial teas might be “Light of a Thousand Years,” or “Joyous Pine Trees.”

A Grand Tea Master is also allowed to name teas. In a fashion not unlike a winery which blends the grapes from several different vineyard sources, the Master receives powdered tea from select farms to create his unique personal blends. They are proudly given a chamei, and claimed to be his konomi, or preference. For some Grand Masters of singular reputation, it can be a significant source of annual income.

You might also Like

Discuss this Article

Post your comments
Forgot password?
    • Chef