Wednesday, March 31, 2010

I bought a tea plant

I’ve been working on my yard since we moved here. I want to bring a little flavor of Japanese tea garden into my yard. In Japanese tea garden, evergreen trees are mainly used to enjoy green rather than blooms. So, this weekend I bought some evergreen trees and planted in my front yard. I also went to a nearby wood and got some natural ferns and mosses.

One of trees I bought was a little tea plant, which is evergreen tree. I’m doing tea related business, so I thought it is interesting to see how it grows in my yard. It was 880yen at a home and garden center. The scientific name is Camellia Sinensis. The breed is Yabukita, a typical breed in Japan. The tag came on it says that you can make homemade tea from the leaves. I wonder how long it takes to grow big enough to pick leaves.
I’m looking forward to the time when mosses beautify covers all the ground and the trees and ferns grow bigger.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Bow in tea ceremony

In a tea ceremony, you make a bow quite many times. I think it’s important to get acquainted with proper greeting in any culture. I learned proper bow from Sado, The Way of Tea.

From the seiza position, bend your hip and tilt your upper body with strait back. And place your hands on the floor right in front of your knees. The hands should be at about right angle, and give little space between them. Fingers should not be spread.

Bowing is not a difficult gesture, but if you are not used to it, the movement could be gawky. So, I think it is important to practice over and over in lessons and to get acquainted with the natural smooth movement.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Seiza, the sitting style in the tea room

Hello, everyone! This weekend, we went on a cherry viewing picnic to Kamagami- shrine in my town. It was cold and rainy in the last week, so the cherry blossom did not get in to full bloom this weekend yet. But it was still pretty and we enjoyed the flowers and lunch.

In the tea room, a host and guests sit on their knees with a straight back like in this picture. It is a Japanese formal sitting style on floor, which is known as saiza. When I sit in seiza, I can feel a sense of tension and calm in a same time. Our life style is getting westernized, so nowadays we don’t have many opportunity to sit in seiza in daily life, especially for young generations. Sitting in seiza for a long time will give numbness in your legs. When I started taking the tea lesson, I could not sit though a whole temae for about a half hour. I’m getting used to seiza and can sit longer now. Sitting in seiza in the tea room make me feel peaceful.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Can you take off chlorine smell for tap water by boiling?

Japanese water quality for tap water is relatively good. My area provides good quality tap water, and chlorine smell hasn’t bothered me much when I was drinking tap water itself. But I noticed that the tap water has a little chemical flavor when I compared with different waters on the past blog.

It is a cardinal rule to boil the water once, even though around 80 degrees C water is needed for sencha brewing. I believe it is for taking the chlorine smell by boiling. I know books say that “boil tap water well”, or “boil it more than two minutes”. I use a T-fal electric kettle for tea at home, which boils water about 5 seconds and then turns off automatically. I have been using cooled water of this T-fal boiled water for green tea, but I am curious now if this water might not be boiled enough to take out the chemical smell completely. Or, from the beginning, can you really take off the smell by boiling?

So, now it’s time for another experiment! I made four different tap waters. Plus, I had bottled water for comparison which does not have chemical taste.

1. Tap water Heated to about 90 degrees C (Not boiled)
It had chemical taste.

2. Tap water Boiled for 5 seconds
It had chemical taste as much as Water 1 had.

3. Tap water Boiled for 1 minute
The chemical taste was weaker than Water 1 and 2.

4. Tap water Boiled for 2 minutes
I could hardly taste the chemical.

By my sense of taste, you can say that boiling tap water can take out the chemical smell. I got a satisfied result by boiling it two minutes. So the water that I had been using at home was not good. I should have boiled it longer. Tap water qualities are different among states, so it's not necessarily appropriate to suggest that two minutes boiling is the best. But I think it is still worth to boil tap water well for tea brewing.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Water for green tea 3

The cherry blossom is somehow very special for Japanese. People are quite excited and happy with it. Cherry flower forecast is always on the news in this season. The agencies in most of southern Japan have declared that cherry blossoms had opened. Cherry trees fully blossom about a week after they start to bloom. Maybe, next weekend will be a good time for cherry blossom viewing in this area.

Here is the result of tea tasting for different water. I brewed tea with the five waters at the  following condition.

Tea: 2g
Water: 140ml / 70degrees C
Time: 2 minutes

I did blind tasting to discard preconceived notions. Brewed tea colors were pretty much the same. I was kind of surprised that I found a clear difference in flavor among the five teas. I didn’t find any bad tea that I wouldn’t like. I will say that each tea is unique, and has its own individuality.

Japanese Water Tea
Very mellow, no bitterness; It could be too mild.

Crystal Geyser Tea
Very natural with little bitterness

Tap Water Tea
Standard flavor with bitterness (It maybe because I habitually use tap water for my daily tea)

Volvic TeaRich and Distinctive flavor

Evian Tea
Distinctive mineral flavor

As water got softer, the tea got mellower and milder. In contrast, as water got harder, the tea got richer with more bitterness. I liked Japanese water tea best. You can brew very sweet tea with it. But it could be sometimes too mild. I might prefer harder water for the tea at meal or with sweets. Hiro liked Volvic tea. She found the rich green tea flavor in it. I could understand the theory that 40-90 water hardness is good for Japanese green tea. It brings a good balance of bitterness and mildness. I also found that very soft or hard water can brew unique tea, and they weren’t bad at all. It’ll be very interesting to try some different hardness of water for tea. You should try different water sometime.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Water for green tea 2

As you see in the picture, I have tasted all these five types of waters first. 
(From left to right: Japanese water, Crystal Geyser, Tap water, Volvic, Evian)

Japanese Water
Natural and tasteful

Crystal Geyser
has mineral taste and full body

Tap Water
Not hard, but has little chlorinated taste

Mellow and mild

Evianhard and has distinctive mineral taste

The indicated number of water hardness doesn’t seem always the same with what people actually taste. I tested mildness with Japanese Water and Volvic. On the other hand, I found little mineral flavor in Crystal Geyser and Evian. Tap water had a tang of chlorine. I liked Japanese Water best. Hiro, my wife liked Volvic. Japanese seem like mild water. We found certain differences in these five waters, and I wonder how they affect the taste of tea. I’ll write about it tomorrow.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Water for green tea

What kind of water do you use for brewing green tea? It is said that *soft water is better for Japanese green tea than hard water. More precisely, 40-90 degrees of water hardness, slightly acidic is good for Japanese tea. Japanese tap water is about 50-60 degrees of water hardness. Japanese water is relatively soft and good for green tea. So many people in Japan use tap water for tea, and I personally do too. I don’t use bottled water for tea, but I was curious how difference in the kind of water affects to the taste of green tea. I went to a convenience store and got three popular foreign brands of water and one Japanese bottled water. I’ll do tasting of these four kinds plus tap water, and brew green tea with them. I might not find significant difference in the result, but I’ll see for myself. Talk to you soon.

*In Japan, we use American measurement for water hardness. We sometimes call that under 100 degrees of water hardness is soft, and over 100 is hard, roughly.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Yame-sencha from Mikuniya-zengoro

Last night I had a Yame-sencha from Mikuniya-zengoro. It was 1050yen for 90g package. Yame in Fukuoka prefecture is a popular region of sencha producing, and also one of the biggest gyokuro producing region in Japan.

Tea: 4g
Water: 150ml / 70 degree C
Time: 2 minutes

The leaves were little uneven in size. The brewed tea color was nice sencha yellow. The taste was good, and I liked it. It has well-balanced taste, and very similar flavor with Shizuoka-sencha I always have. I found condensed umami attack first, and then bitterness came after. I felt bitterness slightly too strong, but it must have due to the brewing condition. It will be adjusted by shortening infusing time. One and half minutes or less will make it better.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Sweets of the day, Jan 27 – Mar 10

Hera are sweets we had in tea lesson since Jan 27 to Mar 10

Jan 27 Kurikinton, Chestnuts confectionary

Feb 1 It express a view of early spring. You can find little green under melting snow.

Feb 10 It has soybean flour sprinkled on top of it.

Feb 17 It is represented hina-doll wearing kimono for coming hina-doll festival.

Feb 22 Sakuramochi

Mar 1 It has soybean flour sprinkled on top of it.

Mar 10 It is represented spring streeam.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Suya, Japanese confection store in Nakatsugawa

We had another stop at a Japanese confection store on the way home from Nagiso trip. It was Suya, Nishiki branch in Nakatsugawa, Gifu prefecture. Their kurikinton, chestnuts confection is very popular in the fall and winter. It was out of season of the kurikinton when we visited. Suya, Nishiki branch has café with little nice garden. We didn’t have time for the café, but next time we definitely want to have some sweets there. We bought two confectionaries and went home.

We had the confection with matcha at home. Hiro had sakuramochi. The confectionary I had represented Camellia.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Traditional sweets at Inatanidochu

The way home from Nagiso, we visited to a cultural theme park, Inatanidochu. You can learn and experience history of this reason. They look like a Japanese old village, but are not real one like Tsumago or Magome.

We had a tea at a Japanese café. They had free green tea. We ordered typical and traditional Japanese sweets.

I had a match with sakuramochi. Yes, sakuramochi, here again! I told you that sakuramochi is my favorite confection for the spring. But the sukuramochi was little different from the one I know. The cherry leaf outside and sweet bean paste inside are the same. The middle staff covering the bean paste is different. One from my region is a kind of rice cake, called Domyoji. The one I had here was something like thin pancake. I think sakuramochi here is Kanto-style (Tokyo) and sakuramchi at my reason is Kansai-style (Osaka).

My wife Hiro, had rice dumpling. One has sweet been paste, and another one has sweeted soy sauce.

My father had zenzai. This is also little different from our local one. This zenzai is sweet been past with rice dumplings and chestnuts.

My mother had anmitsu, which are bean jam, agar, ice-cream and pieces of fruit served with syrup

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Tea at Hotel Kisoji

The hotel we stayed at Nagiso was Hotel Kisoji. We’ve been there several times. I think they are a middle class hotel. They offer typical room and good dinner at reasonable price. I like the rooms at Sumimeikan better. The tea provided at guestroom was three kinds of instant tea, green tea, hojicha, and plum&seaweed flavor tea. So, there was no teapot. There were just teacups and an electric kettle.

Dinner was served at a restaurant in the hotel. We were lucky that we were led to a private room, which had a little tokonoma (alcove in a traditional Japanese room where art or flowers are displayed). The dinner was great Japanese cuisine.

What I love about Hotel Kisoji is their hot spring baths. They are wonderful. They have spacious indoor bath and open-air bath that you can feel the nature of Nagiso. The outside bath is like in a Japanese garden with rocks and trees. The hot spring comes out from a little waterfall, and flows down to bath to bath. It is pleasure to have a soak in a bath over viewing the sky and trees on mountains.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Tsumago-juku, the historical town

This weekend, we also went to Nagiso spa resort. On the way, we stopped by Tsumago, which is an old post station in Nagano prefecture. Now it has been touristy, and they have restaurants, cafes, and gift shops in the historical-looking street. It’s like Magome where we visited in the last summer.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Big tea store, Mikuniya-zengoro

This weekend we went a shopping mall in Gifu prefecture, called Kakamigahara Aeon. I found a big tea store, Mikuniya-zengoro, there. They have huge selections of English, Chinese and Japanese tea. They of course have standard types of Japanese tea from different regions, but also have some unique Japanese flavored teas, such as cherry green tea. I bought Yame-sencha from Fukuoka prefecture (90g 1050yne) and Uji-gyokuro from Kyoto (50g 1050yen). I’ll report you someday how the testes are like.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The best of bottled green tea, “O-i, ocha with umami of gyokuro

Hi, everyone! Last night, I went to a supermarket. I’ve bough Japanese confectionery on impulse. It was sakuramochi, which I’ve introduce on this blog the other day. I also found a bottle of green tea, “O-i, ocha with umami of gyokuro”. I had never tried it before, so I bought it.

After dinner, we placed sakuramochi on kaishi, and the tea into a cup with saucer. Although they were cheap sweets and tea from a bottle, don’t they look nice? I had a sip of tea first. I wanted to taste the tea well before my mouth was contaminated by sweetness of confectionery. “O-i, ocha with umami of gyokuro” didn’t have much aroma, but I think this is one of the best bottles of green tea I ever had. It was very mellow. It sure had umami, but I thought the hallmark of this tea was the sweetness. It had very rich and nice sweetness that I had never found in bottles of tea. The bitterness was very mild. The modest bitterness brings out the sweetness more. After having sakuramochi, by the contrast of sweetness, it was difficult to enjoy the sweetness of the tea, but the comfortable bitterness of the tea stood out. I really enjoyed the tea and sakuramochi.

“O-i, ocha with umami of gyokuro” is a blended tea of sencha, tencha(the ingredient of matcha) and gyokuro. It has less caffeine than ordinary tea. I’ve done tea tasting for other brands before. Namacha was my best then. But now I think “O-i, ocha with umami of gyokuro” with rich sweetness will be my best. I would sometime like to taste the both Namacha and this tea at the same time, and make sure.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Good matcha from a tea shop in my town

Yesterday, we had another tea lesson. When I was placing matcha into natsume, I noticed that the aroma of matcha was richer than usual. I find a smell like seaweed in the matcha. It’s probably similar to the aroma that gykuro has, and I think it comes from umami. Our master usually buys matcha for the lessons once or twice a month. Yesterday's matcha was new one. It may be fresh grinded one at the store. The taste was very good. We thought it was better than usual, and loved it. I think fresh is better for matcha, and it's better to buy fresh matcha little by little from store.
Our muster buys it from a small shop in our town, called Kokaen. They have tea gardens and produce matcha in Nishio, or the tea garden owns Kokaen. I’m not sure. Anyway, Nishio in Aichi prefecture is one of the biggest matcha production regions in Japan. I think this outlet shop form Nishio tea farm sells good quality matcha.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Scooping Mathca from natsume

In natsume, matcha should be naturally heaped up like a small mountain.

When you scoop the matcha in temae, you should scoop it at far side of natsume in an across straight line.

After use, the matcha should be scratched at the far side and have a cliff.