Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Trying Pu-erh tea

I rarely drink Chinese tea, but the other day, I got pu-erh tea from a friend of mine.    I don’t have any Chinese tea utensils and don’t know the proper preparation.  I just learned some tips from him.

The major differences from Japanese preparation that I noticed are as follows:
  • Consuming plenty of tea leaf
  • Rinsing the leaves
  • High temperature water
  • Shorter brewing time
  • Multiple brewing

Knowing these preparations surprised me that pu-erh leaves can be brewed more than ten times if it is in good quality or condition.

When I tried to prepare for the first try, it was a failure because the tea got too strong.  The second try went pretty well, tea was very smooth with an elegant floral aroma. It had much rich fragrant than Japanese teas which is like a smell of flowers and a note like cinnamon.  When I smelled the remaining scent in the cup after drinking, I smelled sweet caramel aroma.  The tea doesn’t have greenish bitterness like Japanese sencha has.  The bitterness of pu-erh is milder with a soil like smell. I liked this tea and enjoy finding the differences from Japanese teas. 

I took the tea set to my desk and I’m writing this article.  Now, I’m enjoying the fifth brewing.  The flavor is slightly changing but still has the good aroma.  I’m impressed with it.  Chinese tea might be good to drink at office because you can prepare it the same tea over and over while you are working.  Chinese tea has charms that Japanese tea doesn’t have.  (The opposite is equally true.)  Again, the Chinese tea aroma is excellent!  It is fun to explore tea from different country.  You can find a new way of enjoying tea.  

Friday, July 12, 2013

Common Mistake on Bowing - How to bow in the tea room -

When Japanese people shake hands with westerners, we sometimes bow while shaking hands.  It might look comical to you, but I have probably done it myself before, hahaha.  I know that it looks funny but bowing is so natural for us and we naturally bow when greeting.  However, the opposite thing can happen to westerners.  When westerners bow in Japanese style, some of them stick out their heads forward.  It looks comical for us, too.  Why do you think it happens?

In the western greeting, you shake hands as you look straight at the eyes of the other person, which expresses integrity.  I think that this manner makes some westerners try to look at the other person even when they are bowing.  It makes their chin up and causes the sticking of their heads.

In Japanese greeting, we show our respect by removing our gaze from the other person.  Staring at someone directly is considered rude.  (There seem to be some exceptions, for bowing in some martial arts, we look at the opponent.)  I’ve never thought of the reasons behind the manner of bowing, but I’ve just learned it from a book that I’ve read. hehehe.   This idea makes sense to me also when comparing with the practice of bowing in the tea ceremony.  When we greet formally in a ceremony, we place a folding fan on the floor in front of us to create a temporal borderline with it.  It is the sign of condescension by not directly facing to the other person.  It supports aforementioned idea.

Not understanding these cultural backgrounds makes our greeting comical. 

This is what I have learned from my tea school and some books.  Bowing varies school to school and person to person, but this is how I do it.  I’m not sure if you want to know but I’ll share some detailed tips:

Move your hand smoothly by traveling along your lap and place them on the floor in front of your knees.

Retain a small space between both hands and make a triangle with your thumbs and index fingers.  Line up the four fingers, which looks beautiful.  Touch the floor without your palm making in contact to the floor, to make your hand look gentle.

Bend your hip and tilt your upper body with a straight back.  Try not to curl your back.
Look at the floor a little far from you, with your chin down

When raising your body back, do not push up with your arms, use your back.
Take back your hand smoothly with the backward motion

Now, you are one of the people who can bow beautifully in the tea room.

If I have a chance to shake hands, I’ll try to look at the other person’s eyes and try not to bow at the same time.  If you have a chance to do Japanese bowing, try to look at the floor!

Monday, July 8, 2013

I Bow This Way, You Bow That Way

We bow even in Japanese martial arts, judo, karate or kendo.  I started taking aikido (a kind of martial arts) lesson last year.  I bow so many times in the class.  I’ve realized that there is a slight difference in the way of bowing between martial arts and sado.

At sado, you sit on your legs and place your hands on the floor in front of your knees and tilt your upper body from your hip.  Even in sado, every school has a different style of bowing.  I have seen some people placing their fists at the side of their knees when they bow.  You can’t simply say what the correct way is.  In the aikdo class or in some books, people put out their hands one after another while at my tea school, we place both hands at the same time.  Why are they different?  However, I’ve realized that my aiki teacher and some of the students are not following the rule.  They put out both hands at once like the sado style.  The way of bowing really varies.


Martial arts

I asked my aikido teacher if there is a correct way of bowing in aiki.  He explained the reason of his way of bowing.  In martial arts, people usually place their left hand first and then right hand a moment after.  It allows your right hand free until the last moment, which is a preparation for an unanticipated attack.  You can grab your sword, defend or attack back with the right hand.  Wow, I didn’t know that the manner of hands has such meaning.  This is my teacher’s opinion.  We just practice kata (forms) and aikido is not a martial art for fighting.  So, he thinks that he doesn’t need to do the one-by-one hand bowing at aiki.  The explanation really got me.  Since then, I follow my teacher’s way in the aiki class.

Now it also clearly makes sense how we bow in sado.  There is no fighting in the tea room, so you can put out your both hands at the same time in peace, unless someone attacks you with hot tea or throws a tea cup at you. hahaha.

Aikido on Wikipedia >>> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aikido

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Enhancing your tea by roasting - How to roast hojicha -

“The way to make you happy in 5 minutes”  On a TV program on NHK, they introduced how to make hojicha with such catch phrase.  Hojicha is tea made by roasting sencha or kukicha.  You can buy it from tea shops but you can actually make one at home by roasting your sencha.  I tried what I’ve learned from the TV program.  Did I get happy?  Please see what happened.

What you need:
Iron frying pan  (If you don’t have one, you can use a stainless pot.)
Green tea leaf: 15g  (Casual grade sencha 400yen/100g will be fine)

First, slowly at low heat
For the finish, rapidly at high heat

1. Pre-heat frying pan for 30 seconds at high heat

2. Place the pan on a damp cloth for 2 seconds to cool it down a little bit
This makes the pan even in temperature.  About 100gC/212F is the ideal temperature.

3. Place the green tea leaves by spreading into the pan
By placing tea into the pot, colorful green-tea aroma rises

4. Put the lid on and leave it for 2 and half minutes.
No fire, residual heat will do.

5. Open the lid
The leaves are still green.  I could smell rich fragrance already.  It has a green grass note and there seem to be some other aromas behind it.  I wanted to check them if I can find the various scent like mint, rock salt, flower, chocolate or orange.  But I didn’t have such time because I had to proceed to the next step before it will be over cooked.

6. Roast the leaves at high heat for 1 minute while stirring them.
I noticed that the odor was rapidly and continuously changing from one to another since I started roasting.  The green note became a roasted nutty aroma and then sweet smell. In 20 seconds, it already started smoking.  I guess that my stove was too strong.  I didn’t know what to do.  So, I just turned down the heat to medium and kept this processes for one minute.

7. When smoke starts to rise, put off the fire.
Keep roasting it with the remaining heat for another minute.
At this point, the odor was definitely different from the beginning.  I can acutely find the smoky aromas like cigar and cinnamon which were mentioned on the TV program.

Here is the pictures for before (top) and after (below) smoking.

Some leaves have a nice brownish color, but some small pieces are blackish.  I guess the heat was too strong on the 6th step, so small pieces got over cooked and  burned.  Besides that, it went pretty well.    I could not find all the smell that was mentioned on TV, but I experienced the fresh greenish fragrance changing into various roasted odor like nuts (hazelnuts??) and chocolate like sweet ones.  In the end smoky odor was added which is like cigar and cinnamon.  I had the nice woody smell not only in the kitchen but also in the living room and other rooms.  I asked myself if I’m happy now.  I was not sure if I was happy but I definitely felt good.  I loved the aroma of hojicha and was satisfied with the result.  The idea on the TV, “Aroma of hojicha makes you happy” or “The way to make you happy in 5 minutes” may not be totally wrong. 

There was another advantage!  I used old sencha for making this hojicha, which I didn’t like and didn’t consume much.  It has been kept for a long time at home.  But once it was turned into hojicha, it re-lived.  I prepared the hojicha and tasted it.  
Hojicha: 1.5grams
Boiling water: 80ml (2.8oz)
Brewing time: 1 minute

It was quite good!!  I couldn’t believe that it was my least favorite tea.  It is very smooth with a caramelic sweet flavor which is like a mild black tea without bitterness.  Every time I move the cup, the alluring earthy aroma was pervaded and pleased me.  After drinking, the faint aroma remained around me and my senses were surrounded with the delight for a while.  
Give it a try with your old senecha!  Now as I’m writing this article, I’m drinking hojicha with sugar and milk.  Now, I’m happy!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Chemistry of hojicha aroma

TV can’t deliver the smell to the viewers.  A TV program on NHK was trying to explore the aroma of hojicha, roasted green tea.  They had a sommelier that is an expert on distinguishing flavors and describing them with words.  That’s a smart idea!  For producing hojicha, the green tea was roasted four times.  He smelled the tea after each process, and described the odor that he found in the tea by comparing it to some other materials.
1st smelling: green grass, lime
2nd smelling: rock salt, salty water
3rd semlling: roasted hazelnut, chocolate,
4th smelling: Sweet vanilla beans, coffee, cigar,

I sincerely admire the ability of the sommelier.  He also compared the aroma as small white flower and big yellow flower.  I can’t even imagine the difference of them, hahaha.  I wish that I had the fine sense of smell and the expressive vocabulary.  The aroma of hojicha is created with various flavors.  It seems complicated and profound.

At the early roasting steps, the sommelier found the aromas like the items shown on the left side of this picture, and for the 4th smelling, he finally found the aroma like the items on the right side.
Top column from left to right: green grass, small white flower, hazelnut, big yellow flower/ coffee, soy sauce, maturing aroma of cask,
Bottom column from left: lime, mint, rock salt, chocolate, orange/ vanilla beans, cigar, cinnamon

Tea has more than 300 kinds of the smell substances in it.  However, most of them are attached to sugar in the leaf and they are sealed.  By slowly roasting green tea in the first three steps, those aromas will separate from the sugar and get freed.  In the final step with the strongest roast process, the sugar will merge with amino acids and create the roasted aroma, which is called the amino-carbonyl reaction.  The odor of Hojicha consists of a combination of the latent aromas of tea and the roasted aroma that is created by heating.  Tea potentially has the hidden aromas but you can’t truly enjoy them with green tea (sencha).

In the TV program, they didn’t tell which substance of the hojicha aromas has the ability to get people relaxed.  Now, I wonder if Chinese or black teas have the same effects, which usually have richer aromas than the Japanese green teas.  Anyway, it is for sure that hojicha has a great efficacy to make people relax and happy with its alluring fragrance.  In the feature post, I’ll introduce how to roast hojicha.