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

Friday, February 28, 2014

I tried brewing gyokuro in different mixtures

Turning-point temperature that encourage extracting bitterness
The water temperature was the first aspect that I focused on for brewing our gyokuro, Seiho.   I tried brewing it in three different temperatures, 40,45 and 50℃ (104,113 and 122℉) water.
 40℃: No bitterness at all, pleasing sweetness only
 45℃: Similar to the 40℃ tea rather than 50
 50℃: The same sweet umami as the 40℃ tea but it also has a certain astringency.
If you brew cheap gyokuro in low temperature around 40℃, it will probably have an unpleasant soil-like taste and it tastes yucky. Seiho didn’t have such off-flavor. You can tell the high quality of Seiho from this test. I found some bitter taste in the 50℃ tea while there is none in the 40 and 45 tea. The 40 one is very nice but it could be too mild. You might realize that the 45 tea has a slight grassy note than the 40 one. It makes the flavor more profound and attractive. I love the flavor of 45. I learned that there is a turning point between 45 and 50℃ to encourage extraction of bitterness with Seiho.

Do you use 3g or 4g of leaves to brew gyokuro?
The next point that I considered was the amount of ingredients. I kind of narrowed it down to three combinations: 3g-tea/20ml-water, 4g/20ml and 3g/15ml (20ml=0.68oz, 15ml=0.51oz). If you prefer your tea light, 3g/20ml would be good. If you want to enjoy a richer flavor, I would say 4g/20ml or 3g/15ml. Actually, 4g/20ml and 3g/15ml are exactly the same proportions so it’s just a matter of amount. I came to the conclusion that I don’t need 20ml to relish this powerful extracts, which is almost like Soseki’s tea that I mentioned in the previous post. 

This is the recipe for Seiho
Through my dozens of brewing tests, the following is what I consider as the best recipe so far‏.
 Seiho: 3g
 Water: 15ml/0.51oz, 45℃/113℉
 Brewing time: 120sec
 - Second brewing: 15ml, 50℃, 30sec
 - Third brewing: 15ml, 60℃, 60sec (140℉)
You can fully appreciate Seiho this way. If you prefer mellow gyokuro, 40℃ can be a good alternative.  You might not usually use a thermometer to prepare tea, but try it once to see which temperature is the best for you. 

Seiho is available on our shop >>> click here

Thursday, February 27, 2014

See real value of my gyokuro

What makes it difficult to find good gyokuro?
The price range of Gyokuro in Japan is probably around 1,500yen up to 10,000yen for 100g. It is quite expensive kind of tea. I tried many average gyokuro around 4000yen, but it is difficult to find one that I really like. I don’t like the unpleasant woody flavor that I find in some gyokuro. It disturbs the nice sweet flavor of it and makes the entire taste rough. The wood like flavor was the reason why I keep looking for a better tasting tea‏.

Gyokuro for my shop
I have been looking for gyokuro that I can sell at my shop. What I care about was that the tea does not have the disturbing taste. Coincidently, when I visited a tea farmer for matcha, I tried their gyokuro as well. This is it! I loved their gyokuro that has rich umami but doesn’t have such woody taste. I decided to deal their gyokuro in our shop. I named it Seiho.

Evaluating my gyokuro 
I’m not saying my gyokuro, Seiho, is the best gyokuro ever but at the same time, I think that not every average gyokuro has this level of quality. By the way, how many times do you brew the same gyokuro leaves? I know the flavor of some gyokuro lasts even until the fifth brewing. Unfortunately, Seiho releases its extracts on its early few brewing. You can only enjoy its umami at its best up to three brewing process. Nevertheless, that’s where you will learn and appreciate the great reward of Seiho. The allure of Seiho is its smoothness. It rarely have off-flavors so you can enjoy the true flavor of gyokuro. You will find its umami pleasingly sweet like chestnuts. You will probably close your eyes to feel its aroma permeating your head. 

Seiho is available on our shop  >> click here
In the next entry, I'll share about how I find the best tasting recipe for Seiho.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Demonstration video how to prepare matcha

Here's a new demonstration video on how to prepare matcha shosen.

Shosen is available on our shop >> click here

Matcha is not delicious?!

A computer lab becomes a wonderful tea room.
The place where I went the other day was a local elementary school. I wore kimono and headed to their computer room. Why? The school has a tea ceremony every year. Their computer room becomes a nice tea room on that day. My tea teacher is the one who organizes the ceremony. A few students from our tea school helps the gathering. This year, I got a chance to be a part of it. We had several rounds of ceremony and I’m happy that I had chances to perform making tea in three sessions. In the ceremony, kids were looking at each other silently with their wistful eyes. One tried to sit properly when a bowl of tea was brought in front of one. It is the nicest computer room that I have ever been to. 

 Yucky matcha
After the ceremony, a boy was asked how he liked the tea. He said “It is yucky!”. Hahaha! I like that kids are so honest. It’s probably true that the taste of matcha was not for him. I have heard that “Kids don’t like bitter and sour taste. Humans instinctively feel bitter and sour flavors unpleasant, because those taste are often naturally found in toxic food. It’s an innate reaction for self-preservation. As you get older and the sense of taste gets matured, you can savor the bitter and sour taste.”  So, you need a little more time and experience to enjoy matcha, boy!

Locked tea bowls
Some potters donated their tea bowls to the elementary school. Our town is well known for ceramic production and we have many great potters. Some of the potteries are worth as much as a car. The donated items are stored in the locked shelf in the principal’s office always. It’s wasted. That is why they stared having a tea ceremony once a year and give an opportunity for kids to appreciate the treasures of the town. I think it is a wonderful approach and I hope some other schools try it, too. Even though, the kid didn’t like the taste of matcha, he seemed very excited and enjoyed the special event. Drinking yucky tea from a super expensive bowl will definitely be an unforgettable experience for him.


Monday, February 17, 2014

The matcha surpasses my usual one from a local shop.

Source for matcha
Where is a good place to buy matcha online? I often receive this question from my customers and blog readers. I’ve regretted to tell them that I don’t know any shop that I can recommend. I usually buy matcha at local shops so no need to buy it online. And also, some shops don’t have an international shipping service unfortunately, even though they have good tea. Today, I finally solved this dilemma. I’m pleased to inform that I started dealing matcha and gyokuro in my shop!! Yeeaah! Forgive me for advertising it here, haha. I have only two types of tea, but I’m really proud of them. Now, I can recommend my teas. 

You never know where you are going to meet your tea.
Once I was astonished by the flavor of matcha that I had in a tea ceremony. Intuitively I realized that I loved this matcha more than the one I usually get from a local shop. This tea has as much umami as my usual one, but its flavor is more natural. I could simply enjoy the sweet-umami note in the pleasing grassy flavor. I visited the tea farmer finally and got the deal to sell their matcha

Taste of matcha
I get a chance to try different matcha every time I attend tea ceremonies.‏ Their flavors differ. The flavor of some matcha are clear and refreshing with a green hint. Some have a mellow milky flavor created with luscious umami. Basically, two major flavors that matcha consists are spinach-like bitter taste and mellow sweet flavor of umami. Cheap matcha has a strong bitter taste and good one has abundant umami. The umami is a distinctive flavor of Japanese tea. It is appreciated in Japan but it doesn’t seem true for everybody. I’ve heard that some Westerners doesn’t like umami in green tea much and rather prefer a hint of fresh green.

Our matcha, Shosen
With my experience, shosen is one of the matcha with richest umami. I don’t recommend it to people who are not very keen on umami, but if you are the one who wants to try a significance of Japanese tea, you’ve got to try Shosen. It is matcha for umami.

Shosen is available on our shop >> click here

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

How to purify CHASEN tea whisk (Video)

In the tea ceremony, you purify the tea whisk with water before and after making the tea.  This video introduces the way of purifying the CHASEN tea whisk.  The manner varies depending on school traditions. 
This video includes English subtitle. If you don’t see it, check your setting on YouTube.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Gyokuro is not something to drink!?

Full cup of gyokuro
I often see pictures of full cup of gyokuro when browsing the internet. There is no “right” or “wrong” when it comes to preparing tea. It’s a personal preference and you can enjoy it whichever way you want. However, gyokuro is a premium green tea which has abundant umami, and there is a unique way of preparing it to bring out its maximum advantage.  

It’s not something to drink
Soseki Natsume (1867-1916), a novelist described about the tea exquisitely well. I can’t translate it well with my English, but he is saying something like as follows. “People recognize tea as a thing to drink but it is wrong. You put a few drips on your tongue. Pure thing dissipates all directions and there is hardly much liquid to go down to your throat. Just nice aroma pervades through your esophagus into the stomach.” This is exactly how I think of gyokuro. You only need a little amount of tea to relish its flavor.

I tried preparing gyokuro like sencha.
When I was looking for a good way of brewing gyokuro, I tried preparing it like how I prepare sencha (Tea: 2g, Water: 80ml/80℃, Time: 1min). The taste of gyokuro brewed with a lot of hot water is far different from the one prepared ideally. It is even different from sencha. The full cup of gyokuro has a gentle sweetness. It’s not bad but it doesn’t have a kick with bitter flavor that green tea is supposed to have. The flavor is not tangy enough and it’s just a weak liquid with potato like note. It is too mild for me. I’ll probably need to try different mixtures for the full-cup gyokuro.

Left: Gyokuro prepared properly, Right: Gyokuro prepared like sencha
Give it a try - the Soseki way of gyokuro
If you have never tried brewing gyokuro with a little amount of water, I want you to try it at least once. It’s not difficult. Use a small teapot and a cup and follow these:
- Tea: 3g
- Water: 20ml/50℃ (0.7oz/122℉)
- Brewing time: 2min
Experience what Soseki enjoyed. It’s not something to drink and it’s something to savor.

Past entry:  How to brew gyokuro


Thursday, January 16, 2014

Special Matcha for My Dad

Japanese New Year
We believe that everything restarts from a New Year. I love that concept. We clean our house in the end of the year. We start a new year with clean house and refreshed mind. Somehow we appreciate new things and also first things of the year. We love to witness the first sunrise of the year, the first sale and even the first dream. We believe that the dream you have on the night of January 2nd will tell what the New Year is going to be for you. If you dream about Mt. Fuji, your new year will be great one.

Spending time with family
In Japan, family usually gets together at New Year, like the westerners celebrate Christmas. I visit my parents’ house and every year, we have matcha and sweets on the New Year day. This year, I nicely wore my kimono and served tea ceremonially.

Sensitive stomach of my father
My dad can’t drink strong tea or coffee. His stomach is easily upset. Sometimes, he adds water to even sencha to dilute it. When everybody enjoy matcha or coffee, he has sencha or black tea.

New way of enjoying matcha
My laziness found out a new usage of matcha. Once I wanted to drink sencha but I didn’t want to prepare it in the proper way. I grudged the time and the trouble washing the teapot. So, I put one scoop of matcha and plenty of hot water in a mug and stirred with a spoon. It was as easy as making instant coffee. I didn’t even use a tea whisk. The matcha didn’t mix well but the taste was not bad at all. It tastes light like sencha. I’m clever to be lazy, hehe.

What you think best is not always necessary
At the new years’ tea ceremony at home, I served the senchatic matcha for my father. He drank up a whole bowl of tea that I served. I’m really glad that whole family spent time in a same room and enjoyed the same tea. His tea was very weak and different from how matcha supposed to taste, but he seemed quite enjoying it. I learned that it is not important what you think the best or what the common practice is. What’s important is the best for your guest.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The movie of Japanese aesthetic

This is my first time to go to theater on the premiere day of a film. I saw “Ask This of Rikyu” which I was looking forward to. I can’t judge if this was a good movie because I have read the original book and I have a favorable perspective of chanoyu (The Way of Tea). I generally think that it’s unreasonable to put the whole story from a book in just a few hours of film, the story often becomes shallow. I kind of find this file the same. However, what I was looking forward to seeing in this movie was Rikyu’s carriage in the ceremony and how they visually express the beauty on actual images. It’s worth watching for tea enthusiasts and Japanese culture lovers.
Nowadays, the manners in the tea ceremony are slightly different among tea schools even though the primary concept and procedure are the same. One of my biggest interests on this movie is to see how Rikyu’s ceremony and performance were like. I was satisfied with how the producers came up to show Rikyu’s behavior. It was very acceptable and natural. It gets me to imagine as if Rikyu performed so. The manners are a mixture of traditions of the three Sen-family tea schools that now exist, Omotesenke, Urasenke and Mushakojisenke. It was interesting to guess which manner is from which school tradition.  

When an actor tries to act some kind of profession, he might not look realistic enough to the people who are actually doing it. Even though ordinary people don’t notice them, the practitioner can find some awkwardness in his act. Don’t you think it happens sometimes? However, I as a tea trainee didn’t find such turnoff with Mr. Ebizo Ichikawa as Rikyu or rather his movements were even beautiful. I actually loved how he opened the lid of his tea container. I have already tried his way in the tea lesson last night, hahaha… There are some other movements that I want to copy.

Rikyu’s behavior was surely beautiful. However, the beauty you can find in this film is not only that. I was fascinated with the artistic images. They are not spectacular or gorgeous. They are simple which you need to feel in your mind. When you discover it, you will hear “wow” from the innermost part of your heart. Those beauties were nothing special. You can find them in your surrounding nature. You might overlook them usually. They just cut them out and presented nicely. It maybe the essential of chanoyu, The Way of Tea, to enjoy discovering beauty in natural things. I hope this movie is shown overseas to introduce Japanese sense of beauty.