Friday, April 27, 2012

It is brighter than I imagined

Tea plants shoot out buds and new leaves in spring.  You pick them and make the first tea of the year.  Now is the season!  

Some of you might have experienced tea picking, but I believe that not many people have had a chance to observe actual tea producing processes.  I attended a practical workshop of producing sencha.  I observed an actual tea processing line at an agricultural experiment station.  I would like to write about it in some of my entries.

The station has some tea fields and some processing lines.  Tea plants for common teas like sencha are grown under the sun like in the picture on the top.  On the other hand, can you find a black covered thing in the following picture?   To make gyokuro and matcha, you cover the tea plants a little after the buds shoot out.  Then about 20 days later, they are ready to be picked.  In the latter half of the covering period, they'd be blocking about 97% of the light from getting to the plant.  By blocking the light, the leaves try to catch more light.  They get bigger and undulated to create more surface area.  They also gain chlorophyll, and get darker in color.  How smart plants are!  This makes the tea leaves with a lot of umami!

I was so excited to get a chance to get in the covers.  This was my first time!  I was curious about the world with only 3% of light.

My first impression was … Bright!   It was much brighter than I imagined.  I expected it to be pretty dark, but it actually wasn’t.  See, I could even take a picture.  I got to realize that sunlight is very powerful.  Hahaha,

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Volume of sifted and non-sifted matcha

Do you usually sift your matcha?  If you ask me, well .. I would say yes and no.  I have always sifted matcha for guests or in class, but when it comes to tea for myself I sometimes sift it and sometimes don’t, haha (^^;;  But anyway, I recommend sifting it before preparing, and it makes tea more flavorful.  It’s for sure.

On the previous entry, the matcha I showed you were all sifted.  Sifted and non-sifted matcha are actually different in volume.  So, in case of people who don’t sift their matcha, I took some photos of non-sifted matcha.

Both 1.2 grams,   L: non-sifted,  R: sifted

As you can see, sifted matcha has more volume.  On a tea scoop, they look like as follows;
(The following photos might be a little confusing, because non-sifted tea looks finer and sifted one looks rougher.  However, they are actually as they are captioned)

Non-sifted (1.2g)

Sifted (1.2g)

It might not be so obvious in these photos, but shifted tea has more volume.  If you use non-sifted tea, please scoop a little less.  Enjoy your tea!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Correct amount of matcha

What a broad instruction is!  That's what I thought so for the first time.  I have been taught that you use one and a half scoops of matcha for one serving.   However, it is a little ambiguous (^^;;

Books don't usually specify the amount of tea to be used.  But, the book I have talked about the other day, introduces the following;

Thin tea: one-and-a-half scoops, or 1.9 grams
Thick tea: three heaping scoops, or 3.75 grams
(Refer a note at the bottom for thin and thick tea)

In either case, one scoop is regarded as around 1.25g.  But now, can you imagine how much volume 1g of matcha actually has? 

I can’t.  I guess many people couldn’t.

I see … now I understand that there won’t be much meaning in instructing with a particular amount of grams.  Since I  now aware of the specific grams, I want to know how much it looks like on a tea scoop.  You want to see it as well, don’t you?

It was pretty difficult to scoop exactly 1.2g.  (My scale can only measure up to one decimal point)





Finaly, 1.2g!

So, one-and-a-half scoop will be something like this. (1.2+0.6)

However, this is not an absolute amount of tea.  It can only serve as a simple guide.  I have seen different number in terms of grams on different paper.  If I try scooping this much, my current master will tell me that it’s already excessive.  It depends on schools, and moreover it should be adjusted for each of your guests.  Is 1.2g enough for your tea?  Perhaps, less or more?

In The Way of Tea, there are two different ways of preparing matcha.  They are thin tea and thick tea.  The matcha I have been referring in my blog was thin tea.  Thick tea uses the double amount of matcha and it is regarded more formal in the ceremonies.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Tea in times of war

This is called the tabidans that is used as a portable utensil box.  Tabi means trip, and tansu (dansu) means drawers or a cabinet.  You can use it not only in the tea room, but also for nodate, outdoor tea ceremonies.

It has a lock on the hatch.

There are a few different ways of using this box.  This week, I practiced one of them, called “shibadate”.   The mid shelf is removable, and you can place it on the floor or ground using it as a tray for the tea container and tea whisk.

It is said that Rikyu invented this box when he accompanied Hideyoshi Toyotomi for the siege of Odawara (16th century).  I guess that Hideyoshi wanted a brief escape or momentary peace at the field of battle.  If so, tea must be a very powerful tool for relaxation.

The utensils are not attached to the box.  I wonder how to carry it around when traveling, haha(^^;;  

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Perfect place for casual matcha

Do you have any idea where you can have matcha casually in Japan, besides at home? 

What I can think of are some Japanese cafés and temples.  They usually serve matcha with a confectionary at around 500-900yen.   I like enjoying matcha while taking a look at the beautiful surroundings of the temples in Kyoto.  Finding those places are a little difficult than finding a coffee shop.  (It might not be true in Kyoto, though.)

This might sound like a much rarer occasion, but there is actually another place where I enjoy casual matcha. 

It’s a ceramic festival in my town!  Last weekend, I went to the festival, and found two booths that served matcha.  Of course, I tried both … as expected of me (^0^)  

What I enjoyed most were the tea wares.  They served tea with various ceramics made by the different artists of this area.

Tea bowls by up-and-coming potters used at the first place we stopped by

This place was operated by high school students.

Sweets were from my faovrite shop, Azumaken^^

This is the second place.

And the sweets

The tea bowl was superb. 

Moreover, they were reasonable.  They cost 400yen for the first place and 300yen for the second place.  

Monday, April 16, 2012

99 years old and tea

I took my 99 year-old grandpa to cherry blossom viewing this weekend.  We parked our car by the trees.  We opened all the windows and viewed them from the car.  I prepared matcha at the little space between the driver’s and passenger’s seats.

As my grandpa drank the tea, some petals came in from the window onto his shoulder and lap.  How peaceful!

He was so happy with the blossoms and tea, and thanked me many times.  He sometimes doesn’t remember things, even my name.  However, he talks about the tea that I served at the past blossom viewings.  I think he enjoys the tea so much and it has a huge impact that it remains in his memories.   I hope the memory of this picnic will be with him as well.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Tea is not enjoyed only for time together

There indeed exist a tea enjoyed in one’s private time.  When do you have tea on your own? 

I have it when I read books, and also at work.   I often bring a small teapot and a cup to my desk.  Once in a while, I fill the pot with hot water. 

What type of tea do you often have in such occasion?

In my case, it depends on the season and my mood.  I enjoy different tea at my private time, but I especially like sencha or gyokuro.  Most of those cases, I don’t have sweets, and just enjoy the rich flavor of the concoction, which is good enough to satisfy me.

I uploaded a new article “Casual fine tea without a teapot” on our Facebook, Japanese Tea 101.  I introduce an easy method that I sometimes enjoy.  I think this is perfect for your private time.  Please check it out and try!   

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

I hesitate to ask it.

For a change, I now have photos from my tea lesson.  I wanted to show you an item that I used this week.  Can you guess what it is in this picture?

It’s tsurigama, a hanging kettle! 

We use the sunken heath for winter (Nov. – Apr.) and the brazier for summer (May – Oct.).  At the end of the winter season, a hanging kettle is often used.  Instead of placing the kettle on a trivet, we hang it from the ceiling.  I don’t know the reason why we use the hanging one, or why it’s used for this season.  But, I like it anyway.  It becomes a nice accent of the room and creates a more attractive atmosphere.

There is a hook on the ceiling.

During the ceremony, you usually rest the ladle onto the kettle.  There is no problem with ordinary kettles, but it’s not the case with the hanging kettles.  Because, they swing!  

This is the resting position of the ladle.
(This is not with a hanging kettle, but it’s basically the same)

In my turn, I tried to place the ladle onto the kettle quietly.  But still, it moved a little and kept rocking slowly.  My master held the handle of the kettle to stop moving.  There are a few chances to place the ladle in a ceremony.  Every time I placed the ladle, my master would hold the kettle.  Did I do it so badly?   I would have wanted to practice placing the ladle gently by myself, but if she holds it …    Anyways, I think that it is out of her kindness to ensure safety and convenience.  So, I hesitated to ask her not to, hahaha (^^;;  Maybe next time