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


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


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) :