Friday, July 18, 2014

Matcha affogato


Encounter with affogato

I was fascinated by encountering a dessert called “affogato”. It was probably one or two decades ago: I can’t remember exactly when. I knew ice cream and I knew espresso but pouring the espresso on ice cream was a shock. It was terribly good. Europeans know such cool way of enjoying ice cream. I tried it at home. I even enjoyed it with matcha instead of coffee. Nowadays, I’m into mixing Oreo cookies into ice cream. I think that it’s better than getting a ready-made cookies and cream. Anyway, I forgot about affogato lately. 

Reunion with new version

This spring, a new Japanese-tea house opened in my city. I found “koicha affogato” on their menu. This is it! I ordered the koicha affogato. The ice cream came with shiratama dumplings and anko (sweet been paste), and koicha came in a different cup. Koicha is a thickly prepared matcha, against thinly prepared usucha.  (Related link about Koicha and Usucha: http://everyonestea.blogspot.jp/2014/04/thick-tea-and-thin-tea.html) What I enjoyed in the past was one with thin tea, usucha. I have never thought of using koicha. This one is new to me. I poured koicha from the top of the ice cream. I like this new version better. I can enjoy rich flavor of green tea much better. Now I think that my affogato with usucha was a little watery and koicha goes much better with it.



I tried koicha affogato at home

I liked it so much and wanted to try it at home. I found the perfect thing at a supermarket. It’s dumplings on a stick with anko!

 It’s not shiratama dumplings but it’s similar. So I think that it’ll be all right. I didn’t have to buy a whole can of anko or make shiratamas from scratch.

I disassembled the dumplings and anko, and served them with ice cream in a bowl. I made koicha with the usual recipe (matcha:3.6g, water:36ml at 80C). 

It looks quite nice, doesn’t it?

The amount of koicha was too much for100ml (a half cup) of ice cream that I used.

It’s heaven

For the second time, I tried it with a half amount of koicha. It was perfect! The outer layer of ice cream was melted by the hot matcha. I scooped the melted creamy matcha sauce and lump of ice cream together with my spoon and put them in my mouth. It is wonderful to savor the cold part and the aromatic matcha sauce merging. I also put dumplings and anko into my mouth after dressing them with the sauce. It’s nice to have various change in temperature, texture and flavor. It is a very amusing dessert. Even if you don’t have dumplings and anko, it is going to be much more fun putting koicha on ice cream than just having ice cream only.

*If you try it, don’t use expensive matcha for koicha. Use inexpensive one. Bitter flavor goes better with ice cream.

My mixture
Vanilla ice cream: 100ml (a half cup)
Koicha: matcha 1.8g, hot water 18ml

 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Procedure of Tea Ceremony at Home (video)


The procedure is simple.

If you want to try Japanese tea ceremony, today’s post is perfect for you! Today, I’ll introduce the procedure of Japanese tea ceremony. I made a video that introduces the simplest way that you can try at home. Holding a ceremony is not difficult. They consists only of five steps. 
1.Bring the implements into the room
2.Purify the implements
3.Make the tea
4.Clean and put the implements together
5.Leave the room with implements
You do the things one by one, and after making tea, you just do everything backwards to put things away. How simple is that. You bring implements into the room, make tea and leave the room with implements. It begins from nothing and ends at nothing. I think that it is somewhat a Zen idea.

Benefit of making a video

I noticed some of my problems in my movements by taking videos from different angles. My fingers were not totally aligned at some points. Motion was not smooth and I had unnecessary‏ moves when I wiped the bowl. Noticing the problems is one benefit of making this video. I can make improvements on those parts.  

Just imitate

You might think the proper gestures are too complicated. But watch the video, just follow the basic steps and imitate the motions. Don’t worry too much about the detailed movements. The important thing is your attitude for devoting to serve tea. Enjoy!

*If you do it properly, check the links pasted on the bottom of this entry.  

 


This is the script of this video for ones who want to review the steps.

What you need

Hot water in a thermos jar, tea bowl, linen cloth, tea whisk, tea scoop, matcha, waste-water receptacle, sweets

1. Bring the implements into the room 

Serve sweets
Bring the Jar, the tea bowl and the match, and then a waste-water receptacle in turns

2. Purify the implements 

Purify the tea container and tea scoop
Take out the tea whisk and linen cloth from the bowl
Purify the tea whisk
Warm up the bowl and wipe it.

3. Make the tea 

Two scoops of matcha, 50ml of hot water
Whisk them to mix well
(The guest partakes the tea)
Rinse the returned bowl
Repeat making tea for the next guest
Rinse the returned bowl

4. Clean and put the implements together 

Rinse the tea whisk
Put the linen cloth and the tea whisk into the bowl
Clean the tea scoop

5. Leave the room with implements 

Take out the waste-water receptacle, the bowl and matcha, and then the jar
Leave the room with the plate for sweets

Related links
If you want to do it properly, check the uncut version of this video. 
Procedure of Tea Ceremony (uncut) http://youtu.be/l6ypZjjhjZU
I also have other videos to explain each steps specifically.
How to fold CHAKIN linen cloth http://youtu.be/Uv-wxLKVxuI
How to fold FUKUSA silk cloth http://youtu.be/kpIw1dvbcE8
How to purify NATSUME tea caddy http://youtu.be/i6VlPaRe7oc
How to purify CHASHAKU tea scoop http://youtu.be/-uX3xblTSek
How to purify CHASEN tea whisk http://youtu.be/aA5ydrmR4EY
How to wipe the tea bowl http://youtu.be/27vPiocBVxo

Monday, June 30, 2014

Tea Ceremony at Home (video)


Pleasure in serving tea

When you have company coming over, the tea ceremony is a perfect way to welcome them. Sharing a calm moment over tea has some magical effect. The time runs calmly but at the same time, you can feel some kind of excitement. I as the host, can tell the fascination in my guests’ eyes from the exotic tea serving. I also feel elated by seeing a joyful look on them. It is like watching a good film together and sharing the same excitement. 

Video of casual tea ceremony

I made a video about holding a tea ceremony at home. I’m an amateur on making videos so I could not express the fascination in the footage. However, I will be glad if you can imagine what a tea ceremony is like and learn what we do.





Friday, June 20, 2014

Cold Gyokuro, A Substitute to Cold Sencha

 

Cold tea at the office

I want cold tea when I work at my desk in this season. It can be a cold mugicha (barley tea) or sencha. The other day, I wanted cold sencha but I didn’t have any sencha on my shelf. What only I had was gyokuro. This situation tantalizes my curiosity about tea. Can you brew a “sencha-tic” cold tea out of gyokuro?

 

I tried making sencha-tic cold tea with gyokuro

Gyokuro has mild bitterness compared to sencha. If you brew tea with high-temperature water, you can extract bitterness. I put a heap teaspoon of gyokuro into a teapot and added boiling water. A few minutes later, I poured the hot tea into a glass filled with ice. It was very easy to make, and the taste was excellent. It was much better than I expected. It had good amount of bitterness like sencha and at the same time, it provides abundant pleasing sweet flavor of gyokuro’s umami. It was very refreshing.



Trial and error for three weeks

I loved the sencha-tic cold tea with gyokuro, but the bitter flavor exceeds my expectation a little. So, I made it every day to adjust and improve the recipe to my taste. I tried many different mixtures with boiling water, but it was difficult to make the tea without strong bitterness. What I got after three weeks of trial and error is the recipe as follows;
- Water: 125ml/75C (4.4oz/167F)
- Gyokuro: 5g
- Brewing: 1min
- Ice: full in a glass
You pour 125ml of boiling water into an extra cup to cool it down. You leave it as you add tea leaves in your teapot and ice cubes in your glass. Then, the temperature will get around 75C and pour it into the pot. You brew the tea for 1min and pour the hot tea into the glass with ice. That’s it.
This tea is not strong and it has the delightful umami flavor of gyokuro. You can enjoy the gentle sweetness with a hint of fresh green note. 



The second brew

Right after the first brew, I put some ice cubes and cold water directly into the teapot. I leave the pot in the refrigerator for one or two hours while I enjoy the first glass. The second brew is surprisingly delicious with mild bitter flavor. There are some benefits in brewing with iced water. First, it’s very easy to prepare. Slow extraction will be good for tea at work, and the next brew is ready about the time when I want it. From the hygiene perspective, you don’t have to worry leaving the pot with used tea leaves in a hot room on a summer day and using it a few hours later for the second. The most significant advantage is about its taste. Brewing in cold temperature doesn’t extract bitter flavor so the taste gets extremely mellow and sweet.


As I did a series of test, I realized the great potential of gyokuro and I started to think not only I could brew a sencha-tic tea but one with a mellow sweet taste as well.

Friday, June 6, 2014

A Friend from Singapore


Meeting a new friend
Once I received a mail from one of my blog readers. He asked me if I knew any place where he can take a week of intense course to learn the tea ceremony during his trip to Japan. I didn’t know any, so I offered to serve him a bowl of tea if he can visit me. Here he came from Singapore last weekend! 

I found out that the tea room where I had tea the other day at our town festival is a city’s property and anybody from the area can rent it. It’s a small thatched hut and perfect for holding a private tea gathering for us.


Exclusive tea ceremony
From the preparation room, I heard that he and other two guests got in the room from the crawl-through doorway. Then, I opened the door of the host’s entrance and I saw him sitting nicely with his settled posture. The room was filled with a comfortable light from the paper windows and a bit of tension. Maybe it is because of the classic tatami room, utensils and me wearing kimono. The proper arrangement of The Way of Tea has some kind of magical effect to create the special atmosphere. I felt his gaze once I started preparing tea. With his both hands, he carefully held the bowl, which I served. As if he was trying to make sure of every essence of the tea, he thoroughly relished the bowl sip by sip. At the moment, we were isolated. There might have been some sounds of car outside but I didn’t hear them. I concentrated into the moment just for us. I cleaned the utensils as usual and left the room. I could see his fascination and excitement in his smile after the ceremony. I felt certain that he truly enjoyed this gathering. We went back in the tea room again and spent a relaxing moment, taking pictures and telling how to prepare matcha. Then, he served a bowl of tea for me. It was so much fun.



Limit of words
Once I saw a TV program about sado (The Way of Tea). An instructor explained reasons why we do this or that in the ceremony. His words didn’t appeal to my mind. The grand master of our school says that there are reasons for every single movement in the ceremony but he doesn’t like to give the explanation for everything. When I started learning sado, I wanted to know those reasons. But now, I’m kind of getting what the grand master was saying. Words cannot describe everything and even create a limit on things. When you watch a Picasso drawing or listen to a Mozart symphony, you don’t need someone’s explanation. You just feel and discern it, then you will find an overwhelming sensation. If you try to express it in words, it loses its profoundness. 



Fellowship
I and the friend from Singapore were together only for a half day but we could get on personal terms. It is because of the tea ceremony and the benefit of it. It’ll be vain if I say it in words that the tea ceremony is to escape from daily life and enjoy the fellowship. However, I’m sure that he realized the reason after experiencing it why Japanese do the tea ceremony. He mailed me a short massage the next day, “Words cannot describe my gratitude for a perfect day.” I totally understand what he means. 


Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Evolution of Bottled green tea


Decaf culture
There was a thing that surprised me when I went to the United States about one and a half decades ago. At coffee shops, some people were ordering a kind of coffee that I’ve never heard of. It was decaffeinated coffee, which was not common at all in Japan. It was difficult to understand the existence of decaf coffee for the person like me, who can enjoy thick matcha. Today, I checked the Starbucks Japan website. I still couldn’t find decaf coffee on their beverage menu. (Some people say that you can get a decaf at Starbucks even if it’s not on the menu.) I have to say that our decaf culture is still a few decades behind than American’s. Even if I say so, it’s also a fact that the decaf drinks are finally getting attention in Japan these days. Kirin released a new product, Decaf Namacha. It’s the world first bottled decaf green tea.


Decaf Namacha

Added Value Tea
The market of bottled green tea in Japan is quite competitive nowadays. Many products come in the market and fade away. Makers try to launch new products with added value like the decaf green tea. Here are two more examples. One is Shokumotsusenni-ga-oishikutoreru-ocha or Green tea with fiber from Itoen. You can intake 7.5g of dietary fiber out of a 500ml bottle. Another example is Iyemon Tokucha from Suntory. It is a green tea that takes off your body fat. This tea contains an amount of quercetin glycoside, which is equivalent to the amount that can be found in three onions. It is a kind of polyphenol that helps to break down fat. We may be a primitive nation regarding decaf coffee but we might be the most advanced country regarding bottled green tea. If you have a chance to visit Japan, it’s fun to try some of our latest green teas!


Green tea with fiber


Iyemon Tokucha

Review of the Decaf Namacha
The original Namacha is one of my favorite brands. Its flavor is very mellow and aromatic. It has less bitterness than other brands so you can guzzle it when you are thirsty. Now, let’s try the decaf Namacha. At first, I noticed that it smells really good. It smells sweet like freshly-picked young tea leaf, which I can only find in high-grade sencha. Its taste also has the same note. It’s not bitter at all and the mellow sweet flavor of young leaf fills your mouth. This is totally different from other brands, which have bitterness in some degree for refreshing taste. Namacha preserves mellowness but it could be too mellow for some people. One disappointing thing is that a flavoring ingredient is added, but I really like this tea after all.


Following sites are all in Japanese.

Kirin Decaf Namacha:
http://www.kirin.co.jp/products/softdrink/namacya/about/yasashisa/index.html

Itoen, Green tea with fiber:
http://www.itoen.co.jp/news/detail/id=23209

Suntory, Iyemon Tokucha:
http://www.suntory.co.jp/softdrink/iyemon/tokucha/index.html


Monday, May 12, 2014

Things to ponder on when attending a tea ceremony


Learning from other’s behavior
We have a saying “人の振り見て我が振り直せ” or “Look at how other people behave, and then take a good look at yourself.” I always have a lot of things to learn when I attend a tea ceremony. The other day, I saw a middle-aged lady in a ceremony. She looked sophisticated wearing a white shirt with the collar turned up. She sits and bows nicely. I could tell that she is experienced and knows the manners of tea. It’s hard to criticize her. However, I sensed a slight oddness in her presence. I realized that there is something wrong with her sitting posture. She sat with her back straight and chin down. That is good, but she was too conscious to sit straight. I could see she was trying so hard with her posture‏. So, she didn’t look natural. Sitting straight is a good thing but being natural is more important. Lately, I care about my posture, but I try not to overdo it.


I didn’t know that there is such a nice tea hut in my neighborhood park. 

Narrow-minded me
At a festival in my town, tea ceremonies were held. Anybody could join them and enjoy matcha and sweets casually. I saw an elderly couple with two young kids at one of the ceremonies. They went into the tea room offhand even though there were some other people waiting since before they came. The kids were restless and sprawled in the middle of the small room. They were kind of blocking others from getting in. Finally, they were seated and the man among the elderly couple took the main guest's position‏. The main guest has important roles and how the ceremony goes can depend on the skills of the main guest. I was looking forward to see and learn those skills, but the old man didn’t seem to know anything about tea ceremony. I was disappointed and unhappy with the kids and the one who assumed the main guest’s position. However, I realized how narrow-minded I was. This is a causal ceremony that anyone can attend. It’s not only for the experienced. This is how it is. I’m ashamed of myself that I had a negative perspective even just for a moment. I should enjoy the time with these people. As I started to think that way, the kids relishing the sweets looked adorable. How I can enjoy the ceremony totally depended on my state of mind. I reflected.

Peaceful moment
The host asked the couple if he should prepare the tea light for the kids. They said yes. I was pleased with the host’s consideration. Moreover, four bowls of tea were served for the couple and the kids. They seemed to pay the admission only for two, and they were thinking to share the tea. But, with the special arrangement of the host, they got one bowl for each. How nice! Everybody in the room felt happy at that moment. I want to emulate that kind of grace.


I love the flower arrangement at the ceremony.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

I tried making koicha with different amounts of water.


My dilemma on making koicha, thick tea
The distinction on the way of making koicha is that you add water twice. A typical instruction is something like this;
Put three scoops of matcha into the bowl and add a little amount water.

Blend them by moving the whisk slowly to a make smooth paste of tea

Add appropriate doses of water and mix it well with whisk.

Koicha, thick tea

This is what I learned at my tea school and you will also find a similar instruction on many books. I think that it is very ambiguous for first-time learners. I'm still not sure how much the appropriate doses are. I wish if there was guide on how many grams of tea and how much milliliter of water should be used.


Informations that I collected from books
Not many books explain the way of preparing koicha with specific amounts. However, I found some informations in some books and I'll introduce them here;
Amount of tea
- 3.75g (Sen Soshitsu XV)
- 3.4g (Note on the instruction manual for a tea sifter)
Amount of water
- The same as usucha, thin tea, Three-and-a-half swallows (Sen Soshitsu XV, Tankosha)
- First water: 25ml (Tankosha)
- First water should be 30-40% of entire water. The amount of water should be enough to get the tea powder to float slightly. (Horiuchi Soshin)
Each author or publisher has their own way and there is no coherence among the above-mentioned information.


Weird result
To study for myself, I tried making koicha with different amount of water. I used 3.6g of matcha on each brewing.
 60ml - Too thin
 40ml - Too thin
 35ml - Good thickness
 38ml - Good thickness (slightly thin)
I didn't find a big difference in thickness between the 60 and 40 tea even though there was certain difference on the amount of water (20ml). On the other hand, the 38ml tea had a quite good thickness compared to the 40ml tea. Only 2ml made a big difference. I was very curious how it happened. In the beginning, I wanted to know the best amount allocation on the first and second water. I made some adjustments on each brewing in the amount of the first water. Maybe, the way of how I moved the whisk was not consistent either. These caused the weird result. The thickness can be affected by how you move the whisk and the proportion of the first and second water. I actually experienced and learned it.


Ten times of water
I will skirt around the issue of the water allocation and the way of whisking this time. I'm going to focus only on the entire amount of water. From the previous experiment, I made an educated guess that my ideal amount of water will be about 10 times of tea. I fixed the amounts of the first water at 18ml and the tea at 3.6g, and did the test again. I tried three different amounts;


My assumption was quite correct! I was satisfied with the thickness of all the three teas. The 9-time tea had good thickness and it still runs smoothly. The 11-time tea was light but I could still enjoy the significance of koicha. To conclude, I can say that my guide is about 10 times the amount of water against the tea.


Numbers are useless
You need to adjust the amounts depending on seasons and guests. Also, the numbers are useless once you are in the tea room. I think that is why there is no specified amount of ingredients on books or taught at schools. I believe that you have to learn it on your own by carefully watching the amount of tea on your scoop and the water poured into the bowl.


Friday, April 25, 2014

Thick Tea and Thin Tea


Two ways of preparing
There are two ways of preparing matcha; one is usucha, thin tea and the other one is koicha, thick tea. What I always talk about on this blog is usucha. It is the well-recognized way, which is often served at cafes and casual ceremonies. Usucha is light and has a bit of foam on its surface. Koicha is made with double amount of tea, so it is thick like potage and has a strong flavor. It is served in rare occasions. In a formal ceremony, koicha and usucha are both served. Koicha is regarded as the main point in the ceremony. The host and guests prepare and proceed the ceremony to appreciate koicha.


Left: usucha,  Right: koicha


Difference of tea
The tea used for usucha and koicha are basically the same. However, low-grade matcha is not suitable for koicha, which is supposed to be very thick. In past days, tea used to be preserved in a ceramic jar. Good tea was put in a paper bag and stored in it. The reaming space in the jar was filled with another tea. I guess that the tea used as a filler serves as insulator from humidity and heat‏. The premium tea in the bag was for koicha and the filler was used for usucha. Nowadays, it is just a matter of quality.

Sharing one bowl of tea
While usucha is served individually to each guest, multiple servings are prepared in one bowl for koicha and the guests share it. There are different opinions about the reason for sharing the same bowl. One is to shorten the ceremony hours. Another reason is that it is difficult to prepare only for one portion. The other explanation is that sharing one bowl of tea contributes a feeling of togetherness. I think that either opinion has both persuasive and unconvincing sides. I still don’t know what the reasonable explanation is.

Koicha to me
I sometimes find koicha tastes awful. However, once in a while, I am absolutely pleased with a perfectly-prepared bowl with delightful sweetness in the rich grassy aroma. That makes me want to explore more about it. At my tea school, we usually practice usucha and koicha separately. However, I sometimes have an opportunity to practice them in sequence. In a calm moment, the host and guests try to focus on one bowl of koicha. After the koicha session, people get to relax and enjoy usucha. At the moment, I can finally feel the difference between formality in koicha and casualness in usucha. I might need to think not only of koicha itself, but I have to try to see its role in an entire tea ceremony to understand what it is. Koicha is not the tea that I always find appealing, but it is definitely a thing that I want to explore more.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Prevent a Crack on Your Tea Whisk


Crack on my chasen tea whisk
I got a crack on the handle of my chasen or tea whisk. For tea ceremonies, chasen is basically considered as a consumable item, so it’s probably not good to use a cracked whisk. However, it is impractical to have a brand new one at every occasion for personal use or at tea schools. So, I’m still using the broken chasen at home and I kind of find the crack even charming. 



Can’t think of what has caused the crack
I have heard that it cracks in a dry environment. I sometimes use my chasen every day and sometimes don’t use it for weeks. I thought that it cracked when it got too dry during the period that I didn’t use it. But then, I have a question. Why my unused chasens in the storage don’t get cracks and why only the one I currently use got the crack? I can’t think of a good explanation on that.

I asked a chasen craftsman
On Facebook, I was asked for an advice on how to prevent cracks of chasen. So, I called a chasen craftsman asked his opinion. According to him, good-quality bamboo can crack easily because it has fine and high-density fiber and it is hard and strong. He says that temperature difference is often the cause of cracks. In Japan, you often get the cracks between March and May and also in the season when you use the heater. He said that you can hear the whisks cracking at the department store in a winter season at night. It is because it is warm at daytime but at night, the air conditioners are turned off and it gets very cold.

Ideal storage for chasen
It seems good to keep your chasen in a place with low-temperature difference and without an air conditioner. The chasen craftsman recommends a cool and dark place for storing them. My storage of chasen stocks is exactly like that. It now totally make sense why my stocks don’t get cracks. Chasen is made of natural material. So, it gets moldy if it’s not dry enough and it has a risk of cracks if it’s too dry.
< Points for treating chasen >
1. After use, rinse it with water and air-dry well (Avoid putting directly under the sunlight‏).
2. Then, store it in a cool and dark place (Don’t store it in the refrigerator).
The tips are no surprise and very basic. However, I was not able to achieve these simple things. I’ve kept my chasen in the kitchen where I use an air conditioner. Drying could be one of the reasons but I learned that temperature difference is one of the biggest causes. We hope you find it informative.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

How not to fail on shopping tea online


What is your criterion when you buy tea online?
You might not know if the tea is good even though you read the description. Shops usually write nice things about their tea. You might have wondered if this is worth its price or if it is really delicious. You cannot smell or taste it online. What should you consider when choosing tea? I think that the pictures of tea on the site is very important. A picture is worth a thousand words. You can’t tell everything from pictures but you can tell a lot. Here is a quiz. If you find two teas at the same price, which tea will you buy, A or B? One has better quality than the other. 



Check color and shape
This quiz is not difficult for people who is familiar to Japanese tea. If you don’t know which tea is good, you are lucky: today I’m writing this for you. The answer is “B”. Actually they are not the same price. A is 2,000yen/100g and B is 4,000yen. 
First, check the color and texture. Good tea has profound hue of dark green and luster on surface. It is not good to have yellowish, reddish tone or dried texture. 
Next, let’s look at the shape. Good tea consists even shaped pieces. They are like thin needles. Young soft leaves can become good tasting tea. They are elastic and can be rolled up nicely. While it is difficult to tightly roll stiff leaves and they can break during production. That is why pieces gets more uneven and rough with low grade tea. You will find whitish stems, distorted and small broken pieces.
Now, let’s take a look the pictures once again. Doesn’t “B” look better now?

Shop wisely
I hope that knowing this mere fact makes a lot of difference in your future shopping. The tea A and B in the photos are both gyokuro, but this rule works for kabusecha and sencha (not deep-steamed sencha), too.   Look for tea with even pieces of tightly-rolled deep-green leaves and this is the tip for less risk of failing on shopping for tea.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Demonstration video how to prepare gyokuro


Here's a new demonstration video on how to prepare Gyokuro, Seiho.



Seiho is available on our shop >> click here