Chagashi - Tea Sweets
One of the first things to occur in a tea ceremony is the serving of chagashi, or ‘tea cakes.’ This traditional confection, enjoyed in a few bites before the tea is served, is actually a sweet seasonal delicacy made from any of an assortment of ingredients – but primarily a flavor of the present season. Thus, one enjoying the tea ceremony in the summer might be served a treat containing peach or plum, both summer fruits, while a confection served in the fall would be more likely to contain chestnut or persimmon, both autumnal flavors. Each season has its particular harvest, a fact appreciated by Japanese culture in general, and reflected in the Tea Ceremony in particular.
The sweetness of the chagashi prepares the palate for the somewhat bitter flavor of the matcha, which is being prepared by the host while the guest is enjoying the treat. At this time the guest should feel free to comment on the chagashi, or ask about its ingredients. This is a natural topic of conversation. The host will always know the answer, and might add a comment about the confection’s source, or its history, or the symbolism of a decorative element.