osayu and kōsen

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When is it appropriate to serve (o)sayu [お]白湯 (plain hot water) versus kōsen 香煎 (aromatic infusion of something like preserved sakura petals or ground shiso leaves in hot water) to guests in the machiai at the beginning of a tea gathering, before the guests enter the tea room?

Does it depend on the availability of high-quality well water? On the formality of the gathering (chaji versus chakai)?

My Tankokai in the United States has always served kōsen to guests before their chakai. The group/school doesn’t support chaji, sadly, but when I held one once here I also served kōsen, with my teacher’s tacit approval. In Midorikai we always served osayu in the machiai at a chaji, and I can’t recall serving or being served either before a chakai.

Related: does the term kumidashi refer to either osayu or kōsen? Can anyone elaborate on its meaning?

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In my experience in the Ueda Sōko Ryū, serving o-sayu is the most common, but kōsen are served should there be a nice option available on the day. I have had kōsen with kombu strips at an autumn chaji. There does not seem to be a hard rule, but o-sayu is the most formal option.

If well water or spring water is not available it may be a good idea to serve a kōsen instead of boiled tap water. But perhaps simply boiling tap water from a cold state in a kama can make the o-sayu a little more oishii to the palate.

The term ‘kumidashi’ refers to the vessel you serve o-sayu in. The small cups used to serve many people at once are called ‘kumidashi’ 汲み = scoop/draw 出し = serve (in this case ‘dasu’ would be translated as ‘serve’ in English). You can use kumidashi for both kōsen and o-sayu.

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