Friday, March 27, 2015

Does a flat teapot can brew better tasting tea?


Why Flat Shape Is Good

You might have heard different opinions regarding the ideal shape of a teapot. Here is one of the opinions. Some people says that flat pots can brew good tasting tea. I’ve heard two reasons about it. First, people tend to put a lot of tea leaves in a flat pot because it has a large bottom and it makes the leaves inside look few. It’s a visual deception, so people put more leaves than usual and it helps to make delicious tea. The other reason is that the leaves can be laid widespread, not piled up like in an ordinary pot. So, when it is brewed, the leaves can smoothly absorb water with less stress. If you measure the leaves, the first reason won’t matter. I wonder how much impact to the taste the second reason has.

Experiment

I did a test in brewing gyokuro with a flat and tall vessels (Tea: 3g, Water: 15ml, Time: 2 min). I tried several rounds of tests. As a result, I found a slight advantage in taste on the flat vessel even though the difference is not significant. The tea brewed in the flat one has mellow and rich flavor. The one in the tall vessel was dull with washy body. I also found a slightly rough and bitter flavor. But again, it has very little difference. 



Unexpected Outcome

In the series of tests, I found an interesting result. The tea within the flat vessel has slightly more amount of extract. This is also a very slight difference. But why? If a flat pot helps with smooth absorption of water, it should have had less extract. This happening doesn’t support the aforementioned idea. Only the assumption that I have is that when you pour tea with the flat pot, less water might remain in between the leaves. If so, it has a good impact on the taste of the second or later brewing. I could not come up with a convincing explanation on this issue. I’m sorry.



Try Flat

To conclude this topic, I have to say that the advantage is not that significant. It could be within accidental error. In gyokuro brewing, slight difference of conditions can affect tastes. Quality and amount of ingredients, water temperature and brewing time has much more impact. If you want to enjoy tea casually, you don’t have to be picky about the shape of the pot. 
However, it is also fact that I kind of find the tea brewed in the flat vessel tastes slightly better than the other one. I can’t explain the reason scientifically. A flat pot might encourage smooth draining. Water calmly flows off through the leaves and it doesn’t tumble the leaves around. It is good to brew tea slowly and carefully without damaging fine leaves. I could not clear everything up regarding this topic, please try it yourself to see how you like it. For people who are fond of gyokuro and premium sencha, the flat pot is definitely worth a try.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Trying a tea ceremony in Japan


Public tea ceremony

The best places to try Japanese tea ceremony are the casual ones which are held as a city event or monthly gatherings at a local tea house. They are often reasonably priced. Maybe it is around 500yen and you get to have one sweet confectionery and a bowl of matcha. Those places usually welcome anybody even those who are not familiar to the tea ceremony. You can tell its causality by the admission. The formality is often proportional to it. The downside is that they are held only on certain days. Check the city information where you are going to visit. The monthly gathering of tea houses can be a bit formal. In that case, it is better to go with a person who is familiar to The Way of Tea. 


Otemae and tatedashi

A tea-ceremony workshop can be another place where you can try it. However, it costs more, probably a couple thousand yen.  Some temples in tourist sites or some cafés also serve matcha (500-1000yen), but they are not usually in a ceremonial style. The tea is just served from the back and you don’t see the host preparing in the room. However, some tourist sites might serve it in the traditional fashion. Useful Japanese terms for you to remember are “temae” and “tatedashi”. In Japanese, we call the procedure or performance of preparing the tea otemae or temae. On the other hand, the way of serving the tea prepared from the back is tatedashi. You can ask if the tea is served in otemae or tatedashi style.

The main guest

I sweated at the tea ceremony that I attended this weekend. In the session that I was in, there were some elderly ladies wearing kimono and looking obviously experienced. However, unexpectedly I got to be the main guest. I get stage fright easily. In the ceremony, I could have talked about the weather as a greeting. Also I could have asked about the hanging calligraphy scroll or the amorous water container with a brown luster glaze. Fortunately, the host was friendly and led the conversation. I didn’t make a big mistake but I could have done better. I don’t remember much about the taste of sweets and tea. After the ceremony, one of my co-guests came to me and told me that she had a good time. I realized again that it is important to simply enjoy it, which I could not do myself. 

What to enjoy

Feel the light from paper screen or listen to the sound of boiling water. You might find the contrast interesting between the primitiveness of bamboo scoop and the smooth glossy finish of urushi tea container. Greeting the guest next to you is simply heartwarming. You will see the host purifying and checking the whisk somberly but with heartfelt actions. While drinking the tea, you might feel and enjoy the texture and weight of the pottery bowl. What I needed to do was to savor the atmosphere. If you have a chance to join a Japanese tea ceremony for the first time, don’t worry too much about the manners and try to sense and appreciate these simple things in the tea room. It will make your experience profound and delightful. This is a lesson which I learned this time.

Related links

Tea ceremony manners for guests 1
 http://everyonestea.blogspot.jp/2012/12/tea-ceremony-manners-for-guests-1.html
Tea ceremony manners for guests 2
http://everyonestea.blogspot.jp/2012/12/tea-ceremony-manners-for-guests-2.html

The tea ceremonies around my city

- Links are Japanese.
- There are off months, check the schedule before you visit.

Seto
500yen, Few times a year
At the tea room in Seto Culture Center

Nagakute
250yen, The second Sunday of the month
At Koshoan in Iroganeyama Park
http://www.city.nagakute.lg.jp/gakushu/syougai_gakusyuu/kouminkankouza/iroganetyasitu.html

Toki
500yen, The second weekend of the month
At Bosetsuan in Oribenosato Park
http://www.toki-bunka.or.jp/?page_id=35#bosetsuan

Kasugai
400yen, The second Sunday of the month
At Shunshuan in Culture Forum Kasugai or at another place
http://sakadou.net/rink/d-detail/kasugaisadou.html


Friday, January 16, 2015

Common Beginner’s Mistakes in Making Matcha


Confident on your procedures?

This entry is for the people who havejust got started with matcha. They might have learned it from books or YouTube, and they might not have experienced people around who can give advice. How sure are you if you are doing the right way? There are some mistakes that beginners might make. I’ll show them on the following video. Please watch it and find the mistakes.



How many mistake did you notice?

Let’s take a look at the mistakes one by one.

1. Laying the bamboo whisk


At the beginning on the video, the whisk was laid. The tines are delicate. Do not rest it on the tines and keep it standing. Damaging the tines might shorten the life of the whisk.


2. Putting the lid of natsume container upside-down


Natsume is usually coated with beautiful urushi lacquer. By placing the lid upside-down, it might damage it. You don’t want to see scrapes on the top of your lid. When placing it on the table, place it just as its orientation.

3. Not fully wiping off the water


I’m sorry that it is difficult to notice it on the video and this image. After warming up the bowl with hot water, if the bowl was not wiped carefully enough, some water droplets will remain in the bowl. If you put matcha in the wet bowl, matcha might absorb the moisture and create some lumps. It doesn’t have a good effect to the taste of the tea.

4. Pressing matcha


When breaking the heap of matcha in the bowl, I used the flat part of the scoop tip. It was kind of packing the matcha. It can be an obstacle in mixing matcha and water well. Above all, the tea won’t taste good with compacted matcha. In this video, I also noticed that the packed matcha doesn’t get frothy much. Use the edge of the scoop, and try not to press matcha when breaking the heap.

5. Keeping the lid open


I didn’t put the lid of natsume back after putting the matcha into the bowl. I kept making tea with the lid open. You should not give your matcha unnecessary exposure to the air. Getting moisture and oxidation are not good for matcha. It might help the matcha go bad quickly. Put the lid back right after you put the matcha in the bowl. 

6. Placing the natsume with an impact


When I placed the natsume back on the table, I put it carelessly with an knocking sound. The impact may compact the matcha inside. Compacting matcha is not good for the taste and even more it doesn’t look nice. 

Consideration to the tea

Please pardon my skills if you can see other mistakes in this video. The examples that I introduced here are not rules. They just come from consideration to the tea and utensils. Treating the tea and utensil with care are not only for art form, but also it directly affects the condition of your utensils and the flavor of the tea that you are serving.  These consideration make a big change.


Thursday, January 8, 2015

Ume-Kobucha


The tea that I crave for once in a while

The tea is sometimes served after cuisines at a restaurant or you might find it in a tea set in a hotel room. I used to have it at my grandma’s place as well. It is ume-kobucha. Ume means plum and kobu is a kind of seaweed, kelp. It is originally powdered dried seaweed and plum. Nowadays, artificial flavors seem to be used on many products. It is prepared by mixing with hot water. This is not a kind of tea that I have every day, but it is the tea that I crave for once in a while. The other day, I bought ume-kobucha on impulse when I saw a lot of them on the shelf at the supermarket, hehe.

Umekobucha


Review

Its aroma is reminiscent of ocean. A hint of shiso plant or Japanese basil adds an elegance on its aroma. The flavor mainly consists of the rich umami of the seaweed and gentle salty taste. It doesn’t have a bitter taste like green tea has. It is like having a good soup. Delicate sourness of plum and shiso enhance the fulfilling umami flavor and gives a refreshing accent onto it.

Umekobucha


Tea of the good old days

Western people might not like the seaweed or umami at first. Too much umami can be disgusting. However, once you get used to it, it will be quite seductive. I prefer thinly prepared ume-kobucha. It’s relaxing and peaceful concoction. It is the tea of warmth which is associated with a moment with family in a tatami room on a chilly day.

Umekobucha



Friday, December 19, 2014

Really Need a Chasen Bamboo Whisk?


Hesitation to start matcha

I sometimes see people making matcha with an electrical milk frother. Someone even uses an ordinary beater. Matcha beginners might wonder if you really need a chasen (bamboo whisk) to make matcha. For the people who want to try matcha for a bit to see if they will like it, purchasing chasen can be a reason to hesitate to try it. People might have an electric frother, but not a chasen. If you can use the electric frother to substitute chasen, it will be wonderful, don’t you think?


Chasen vs Electrical frother

I have never used an electric frother or an ordinary beater for brewing matcha. Today, I tried making matcha with a chasen, an electrical frother and an ordinary beater. I took a video of it. Please check out what result I got.
If you don’t see the subtitles, please check your setting on YouTube.


Use electric frother

Here is the bottom line. The tea made with the beater was not delicious, so I don’t recommend it. The electric frother can make as tasty tea as a chasen does. So, if you want to try matcha just to see if you like it, use an electric milk frother. It won’t be a problem and helps you save money. However, there is still a certain difference between the ones made with chasen and electrical one. If you like matcha and want to continue consuming it, I recommend you to get a chasen. You will appreciate the gentle foam created with a fine art of bamboo.

Need Chasen? It’s available here >>> www.everyonestea.com

Friday, December 12, 2014

Is premium bottled tea really premium?


Bekkaku, premium bottled beverage

The price of bottled green tea (500ml) is usually around 150yen. You can get them at supermarkets even for less than 100yen. Kirin introduced a new brand of bottled beverage called Bekkaku. They are highly priced at 216yen for a bottle (375ml). They have green tea, coffee, ginger ale and Chinese tea. For the green tea, they use carefully collected leaves including kabusecha. They use about 2.5 times of amount of leaves than regular products. I would like to know if it is really premium and worth the price.



Tasting

I could find gentle sweet aroma in green-tea smell. It has a good body with decent umami. It changes into sweet kabuse flavor, leaving a rounded glassy aroma in the after taste. It has a certain bitter taste all the way. I thought that I might be able to notice something special more about this tea if I compare it with other brands.

Comparing with other brands

I tasted the Bekkaku with three major brands, Oi,Ocha, Ayataka and Iyemon. Surprisingly, the bitter flavor of Bekkaku was the strongest among the four. However, it was also rich in other flavors. It was not astringent only, but also I could always relish matured umami and some other flavors behind. Bekkaku is the tea with the most profound flavor. It is the aspect that Bekkaku should be highly evaluated for. My impressions of other teas are as follows.
Oi,Ocha: Rich and distinct, Mouth filing roasted flavor
Ayataka: Well-balanced flavor, Aroma is week but I like it the best among the four.
Iyemon: Smooth with light grassy bitterness.



Conclusion

If the aforementioned teas are served in a small tea cup as you enjoy premium tea, I would be able to find Bekkaku the most flavorful. I found that the other three don’t have the flavor and profoundness that premium teas supposed to have. Bekkaku definitely has a richness in its taste. It’s not bad at all. However, I didn’t find an appealing sensation from it as a premium tea. I wonder if a customer can find Bekkaku significantly delicious when getting a bottle at a convenience store. He might not be able to appreciate its value.    I think it might be tough to develop a new market of premium bottled tea. At least, I am happy to have a new choice and hope some other makers will follow this trend. 



Kirin Bekkaku (Japanese)  >>> http://www.kirin.co.jp/products/softdrink/bekkaku/product.html

Thursday, November 27, 2014

To Advance Your Tea Ceremony

Next phase

The three important elements for tea ceremony are space, utensils and manners. I have introduced them before (https://www.facebook.com/notes/everyones-tea/home-tea-ceremony/456225557746430). I would like to introduce one more thing to add in the utensils and the manners. It is going to enrich and advance your tea ceremony and take your tea ceremony to the next phase.

What is special about a tea ceremony?

What is the difference between just making tea and serving tea in a ceremony? You might have noticed it when you watch my previous videos. The five things that the host does during the ceremony are; 1. Bring the implements into the room, 2. Purify the implements, 3. Make the tea, 4. Clean and put the utensils together, 5. Leave the room with implements. Probably, you have no trouble bringing the implements into the room or making tea, but it might be difficult for you to imagine how and why you purify the implements. I think that it is one of the special things about tea ceremony and it makes a difference from just making tea.

Purifying implements

Before the ceremony begins, the implements are all cleaned. However, we dare clean them in front of the guests during the ceremony. We wipe the tea container and tea scoop with a piece of cloth. It is a 27cm (11in) silk, called fukusa. We rinse the tea whisk with hot water in the tea bowl. These steps make the tea which is going to be served special. Some people say that the host even purify his mind as well as he does it.



Just try it

If you want to serve tea with utmost hospitality for your guests, try to purify the utensils before making tea. If you don’t have fukusa, it’ll be okay to use any kind of cloth as far as it’s clean. As I mentioned before, you don’t have to worry about the detailed gestures. Just imitate how others do. What counts is your hospitality. Fold fukusa nicely and gently wipe the items. You guests will definitely notice and appreciate your solicitous consideration in preparing tea. It makes your tea so special and blessed. Purifying items will advance your tea ceremony. 

Fukusa is available on our shop >>> http://www.everyonestea.com/product-list/6


This is the video I’ve mentioned. You can see purifying the tea container and scoop at 0:57.



If you want to do it properly, refer the following videos.
- Procedure of Tea Ceremony
- How to fold FUKUSA silk cloth
- How to purify NATSUME tea caddy
- How to purify CHASHAKU tea scoop


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Every Day Matcha made easy! (video)

Matcha is too much of a bother!?

Lately, I hear many questions and opinions about preparing matcha casually. “Is there any way to prepare matcha easily?” “A hand-held electric frother might help.” “Making paste with a little bit of water can prevent getting lumps?” It seems people are looking for an easy way. Some people might also think the traditional matcha making has a lot of manners so it’s too much of a bother. In fact, I used to prepare matcha rarely because I find it kind of troublesome. However, now I have matcha almost every day without feeling troubled. I think it is easy as making instant coffee.

Don’t store in freezer nor sift it

The traditional way is easy enough. You won’t need to look for any alternative way such as using the electric mixer or the two-step method. Think about it. It’s basically just mixing matcha powder and hot water. How simple is that? The bother that I can think of are something like storing it in the freezer or sifting before brewing. Then, I would say “Don’t store it in the freezer nor sift it”. I don’t actually do them each time when I prepare.


My way of daily matcha

Today, I’m going to introduce how I prepare matcha at home. I’ll be glad if it could become some kind of hint for somebody by sharing it here. Of course, I’m not doing everything properly. What we need to do is just mix matcha, and other than that we would like to make it as simple as possible.  There are three points.
1. Not sifting matcha every time
It is the best to sift matcha just before you brew. When I serve it for guests, I’ll sift brand new tea, but for daily tea I believe that being simple is more appealing. I sift matcha once before putting it in the container. I use the same tea without sifting later on, instead I handle the container gently. No shaking nor placing it on the table with impact.
2. Not storing matcha in the fridge
I keep matcha on the shelf with the utensils. I usually consume one package (20g) in about two weeks. If you don’t consume that much in two weeks, keep the amount for two weeks in the container, and store the rest in the freezer. You only do storing and sifting once in two weeks.
3. Store minimal utensils at an accessible place
What you need is a tea bowl, bamboo whisk, tea scoop and matcha. Secure an accessible space in the kitchen for them. You don’t have to store matcha in the refrigerator or freezer.

Making matcha can become very easy if minimal utensils and the tea are available. My method is not the absolute answer, you can try anything to simplify your preparation.

Please check the video for details. 
If you don’t see English subtitle, please check the setting on your YouTube.
 

 

New package!


We made some changes on the package of matcha, Shosen. The tea is the same but different packaging. We wanted to put more air (nitrogen) in the pouch for less risk of lumping. It requires a larger box. That is why we made the change.

It is available on our shop >>> http://www.everyonestea.com/product-list/11
 


Friday, October 17, 2014

Family Tea Traditions

Encountering a School

Your choice of tea school could be based on the atmosphere you get after visiting different schools or because you know someone taking classes in a certain school‏. Not many people know which school tradition they want to learn when they begin because they don’t know the differences. It might be something that you realize after you learn for many years. Choosing school is just an encounter. I’m no exception, and I'm learning Omotesenke because the nearest school taught that tradition‏.

The Three Sen Families

There are dozens of family traditions of tea existing in Japan. Most of them derived from Sen no Rikyu’s descendants or disciples. The three Sen families Omotesenke, Urasenke and Mushakojisenke are the major tea schools which are run by Rikyu’s descendants. I could not find any reliable data but it is often said that Urasenke School has the biggest population and then Omotesenke. Actually, most of the ceremony I’ve attended were held by either Urasenke or Omotesenke. I often see those two families in publications as well. Popularity of school might have regional differences based on historical background.

 

Differences on how you behave 

The tea ceremonies may look all the same if you are not familiar. However, tea practitioners will notice the small differences if the ceremony is served in a different tradition. They are quite minor differences such as; if the host enters the room with left foot or right foot, how the host folds his fukusa cloth, or arrangement and design of implements. It is said that Urasenke looks graceful and Omotesenke is modest on both behavior and implements. For example, during the flow, I see the host from Urasenke striking a pose at pivotal points. At Omotesenke, I have not been taught to make such pause. I often see the manner that four fingers tend to be beautifully straightened for Urasenke and gently curled for Omotesenke. Exaggeratedly speaking, they are different like marching and sauntering. Marching looks eye-grabbing.

 

What the grand master of Omotesenke says

I sometimes incorporate elegant manners and moves that I saw on TV or at some ceremonies even if it is from other tradition. Maybe I did it because I was not totally certain about Omotesenke tradition. However, my doubt was cleared when I read a book written by the grand master of Omotesenke. Once said “Oribe’s performance was conspicuous and impressive, on the other hand, Rikyu’s performance was smooth and it ended before you knew it.” Some people do admiring performance with varied pace and intensities, and some others do a flowing performance without a highlight. Our grand master said that we don’t go for prominent actions and we try to avoid unnatural things as possible. It was my “aha moment”.   It totally made sense to me.


I’m not trying to be offensive to other traditions nor to define others. What I introduced here is just an example.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Matcha-iri Sencha


A trend

There is a tea that I am curious about lately. It’s matcha-iri sencha, or matcha-blended sencha. Suntory has made a change on their leading product, bottled sencha, Iyemon. They added matcha to flavor their Iyemon. Not only bottled green tea, but also I often see the leaves in stores lately. It seems that matcha-iri sencha is gaining popularity in the market.

Matcha-blended sencha

The dry leaves look like sencha but it has bright green powder on their surface. It is sencha powdered with matcha. You can brew Matcha-iri sencha just like regular sencha. You put the tea and hot water in a teapot and steep it for a minute. The greatest charm of this tea is its fulfilling flavor which is refreshingly bitter taste harmonized with the luscious flavor of matcha. It’s good for the people who love rich greenish flavor. If I dare say the disadvantage, the tea loses its full flavor on the next brewing. Matcha flavor gets extracted mostly on the first brewing.

Left: Matcha-iri sencha, Right: Sencha

State

It seems that relatively cheap sencha is used for it. I think that it’s a successful method to enhance its quality by redeeming lack of its flavor or covering its off-flavor. On the other hand, for high-grade senchas, there is no need to add any flavor. Adding matcha is wasteful. Matcha-iri sencha is usually reasonably priced and you can get it everywhere. It can be enjoyed at meals and tea time.

You don’t have to buy matcha-iri sencha

On TV commercials and the internet, Suntory doesn’t only promote the bottled tea but also introduce a method, putting macha into the teapot when you prepare sencha. They try to appeal that adding matcha into sencha makes it more delicious. They promote it as if it’s something new but not so much for tea lovers like me who is already familiar with matcha-iri sencha, haha. Anyway, you don’t have to buy it. If you want to try it, just mix your sencha leaves and matcha powder before brewing. 


This is about 0.3g of matcha

Recipe

I tried the mixture that Suntory introduces. However, it was too strong for me. My recipe for two servings will be the following.
  Sencha: 2 teaspoons (4g)
  Matcha: 1/8 teaspoon (0.2g)
  Water: 2 cups (180ml) 70degC
  Brewing: 1min
Put the sencha and matcha into the pot. Add hot water and leave it for one minute. Serve into the cups.

Experiment on pre-mixing

Suntory advises on their instruction to mix sencha leaves and matcha powder well in an extra cup. It is better the leaves to get matcha evenly on their surfaces. They doesn’t say the reason why but I guess this helps to brew better tasting tea. I started wonder how effective this is. It is time for me to experiment myself. I prepared two teas. One is just putting matcha on senccha, “A”. The other one is mixed well, “B”. I brewed them in the same condition. What do you think?

The brewed teas are in the following picture. Tea B is richer in color. Probably the matcha get out into the brewed tea more. What surprised me was that, despite the color, I didn’t find significant difference in their taste. Can you believe it? It tasted almost the same.

I speculate that it’s because I used sifted matcha, so on either tea I could get good flavor. This tip might be effective when using unsifted matcha. Pre-mixing sencha and matcha might help to reduce the lumps of matcha and will have similar effect as sifting. Anyway, Matcha-iri sencha is different from just brewing sencha strongly. By adding matcha, the flavor gets more complex and profound. If you want to spice up your sencha, give it a try.

 
Suntory webpage (Japanese) : http://www.suntory.co.jp/softdrink/iyemon/portal/irekata.html

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Tea Bowl Making


Useless tea bowl

Have you ever tried making pottery? I guess that many of tea people have dreamed about making their own tea bowl. I’ve actually tried it by using a turning wheel at a pottery workshop. However, once the clay is baked, it shrinks and gets dense. I paid attention to forming my desired figure, but not to the size or thickness. So, the tea bowl got very thick and heavy. It didn’t even have enough space to move the whisk in it. It was useless, hahaha.

Stimulating my creativity

There are always different types of tea bowl on the shelf at my tea class, which I can get to use. There is one particular bowl that I am fond of using‏. It is a flat beige bowl. It’s a small bowl that fits in the palms. The simple clay and glaze feel calm and gentle. It looks round but it actually has slight distortions and rough surface. Those imperfectness captures me. I learned that the bowl is made by hand forming, not with a turning wheel. Now, it makes sense why it has the primitive look. I’m thinking of making this kind of bowl myself, even if I failed once in the past.

The flat beige bowl

Pottery workshop

I visited the pottery studio again. The dimensions and thickness were the points for me to pay attention this time. I’ve actually measured many tea bowls and decided the size I want. I was thinking that clay was flexible, so you could easily form it into whatever figure you want. However, it was damn difficult to fix it once it got deformed. I had to do it from scratch for a few times. Anyway, I was absorbed in working on clay forgetting about the time.




Imperfection on a bowl

The instructor said that you should try to make the bowl as carefully as possible when forming it by hand. No matter how hard you try, the bowl will have a slight of distortion and roughness. Those primitiveness will become the charm of the tea bowl. I totally agree. I made the bowl with care. However, the form got too unbalanced and the surface is too bumpy to look charming. It looks like it has been made by a child‏, hahaha. I’m happy that at least, I got the size I desired, and it’s usable. Japanese bowls look rustic and imperfect so you might think that you can make one by yourself. It’s wrong. I keenly realized that the tasteful bowls can be created only with good skills. This experience gave me a new interesting aspect to appreciate when observing a bowl in the tea room.

My handmade bowl