If the gather is to be held at a tea house having a waiting bench along the roji (dewy path), the guests will wait at the bench until summoned by the host. They ritually purify themselves by washing their hands and rinsing their mouths with water from a small stone basin, and proceed along the roji to the tea house. Guests remove their footwear and enter the tea house through a small door, and proceed to the tokonoma scroll alcove, and are then seated seiza-style on the tatami in order of prestige.
The host may build the charcoal fire in the presence of the guests, to heat the water for making the tea. This is done in a prescribed manner.
Guests may be served a light, simple meal called a "tenshin", or a full-course meal called "kaiseki" or "chakaiseki". The full-course meal comes with sake, Japanese rice wine. They will then return to the waiting shelter until summoned again by the host.
If no meal is served, the host will proceed directly to the serving of a small sweet or sweets. Sweets are eaten from special paper called kaishi, which each guest carries, often in a decorative wallet or tucked into the breast of the kimono.
Each utensil - including the tea bowl, whisk, and tea scoop - is then ritually cleaned in the presence of the guests in a precise order and using prescribed motions. The utensils are placed in an exact arrangement according to the particular style of tea-making procedure (temae) being performed. When the preparation of the utensils is complete, the host will place a measured amount of green tea powder in the bowl and add the appropriate amount of hot water, then whisk the tea using set movements. When each bowl of tea is ready it will either be served to the guests by an assistant or the guests will retrieve the bowl themselves in the order in which they are seated.
Bows are exchanged between the host and the guest receiving the tea. The guest then bows to the second guest, and raises the bowl in a gesture of respect to the host. The guest rotates the bowl to avoid drinking from its front, takes a sip, and compliments the host on the tea. If it is thin tea, the guest drinks all the tea and the bowl is returned to the host, who prepares tea for the next guest in the same bowl. If it is thick tea (koicha), the guest takes two more sips before wiping the rim, rotating the bowl to its original position, and passing it to the next guest with a bow. The procedure is repeated until all guests have taken tea from the same bowl, and the bowl is returned to the host.
If thick tea (koicha) has been served, the host will then prepare thin tea, or usucha, first bringing in a smoking set (tabakobon) and different kind of confections, referred to as higashi (dry confections), to go with the thin tea. The tea is served in much the same manner as for koicha, but in a more relaxed atmosphere. For example, during the thick tea serving, conversation basically is limited to a few formal comments exchanged between the first guest and the host. In the thin tea serving, after a similar ritual exchange, the guests may engage in casual conversation.
After all the guests have taken tea, the host cleans the utensils in preparation for putting them away. The guest of honour will request that the host allow the guests to examine some of the utensils, and each guest in turn examines each item, including the tea caddy and the tea scoop. The items are treated with extreme care and reverence as they may be priceless, irreplaceable, handmade antiques, and guests often use a special brocaded cloth to handle them.
The host then collects the utensils, and the guests leave the tea house. The host bows from the door, and the ceremony is over. A tea ceremony can last up to four hours, depending on the type of ceremony performed, the number of guests, and the types of meal and tea served.