Friday, April 30, 2010

Tea set for gyokuro

This is a tea set specialized for gyokuro, which Hiro’s grandfather used to use. The teapot is hohin type. It is a small teapot with no handle. A tea strainer is mounted on this teapot. The teapot holds about 100ml (3.5oz), and teacups hold about 20ml (0.7oz)/each. They are very small, aren’t they? Look at the picture on the right. This hohin teapot is only as big as a regular tea cup. This tea set includes a water cooler, which you just pour hot water into it, and cool the water. You don’t have to have this kind of specialize tea set. You can prepare gyokuro with a small kyusu (side or back handle teapot) and cups, but smaller will be better for gyokuro as you see here.

We have a spring holidays week in Japan! So, I’ll have a little break from this blog. See you in a week!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Gyokuro, Japanese premium green tea

Gyokuro is prepared with lower temperature and much smaller portion of water than sencha (the most common green tea) preparing. The magnificent allure of gyokuro is the abundant umami. The umami flavor is appreciated as the distinctive quality of Japanese tea, which doesn’t find much in English or oolong tea. English and oolong tea which prefer for their great aroma are prepared with boiling water to bring the aroma out. On the other hand, about 50 degree C water is used to infuse gyokuro for the best umami.
Gyokuro is produced with similar processes as sencha’s. The different process is a cover culture. The tea plants for gyokuro are covered to avoid direct sunshine for about twenty days after new shoots of leaves sprout. Young tea leaves naturally have a lot of umami (or Theanine, amino acids). Theanine change into bitterness (catechin) by the sunlight. Therefore, the covering makes tea leaves that a lot of umami remains in.

The picture is Uji-gyokuro from kyoto (50g 1050yen) that I bought at a Big tea store, Mikuniya-zengoro. Gyokuro look like Sencha tea leaves, don’t they?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Hiro wore kimono at the tea lesson

The generation of my grandparents used to wear kimono. Typical young people in Japan don’t ware it. There are not so many occasions to wear it nowadays. The young generations may or may not have one set of kimono, and they probably don’t know how to put it on by themselves. Hiro is one of them, but now we are taking The Way of Tea (or sado) lesson. Formally, you have to wear kimono at the tea ceremony. This is a good opportunity to learn about kimono. Putting kimono on for men is not so difficult, but you’ll need some practice for women’s kimono.

I have a set of kimono, but not for tea ceremony. So, I didn’t wear it this time. Hiro didn’t also have kimono for tea ceremony. For yesterday’s lesson, my mother lent Hiro her kimono, and helped Hiro to put it on. Hiro will learn how to wear it, and need practice for a while.
Kimono made Hiro change. The way she walk and her attitude looked better with kimono. I guess, maybe because kimono is pretty tight, so you cannot stride, and Hiro had to do things in style. Anyway, we loved kimono and enjoyed the lesson with it.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Hojicha latte at Starbucks

About a couple month ago, I saw a signboard of hojicha latte when I walked by a Starbucks. Hojicha is Japanese roasted tea. You can find matcha latte at many places in Japan, but I’ve never seen hojicha latte before. Since then I’ve been curious about the mysterious drink. And we finally had a chance to try it this weekend.

The hojicha latte had foam on the top, and I could see a teabag in it. When I brought the cup to my mouth, I smelled a nice hojicha aroma. The taste was pretty lighter than café latte, and more like English tea with milk. But it was definitely new, which I’ve never tasted. The latte was slightly pre-sweated, and not too milky, and didn’t have much bitterness as cafe latte. I liked the hojicha latte. This will be my new alternative on Starbucks menu. After I drank all the latte, I noticed that the teabag was big, bigger than I expected. (In this picture, it doesn’t look big by a wide-angle lens of my camera, sorry) I want to know the recipe, and try it home.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Akafuku café

When we went to the flower exhibition, we had tea at Akafuku café in Matsuzakaya department store. Akafuku is a popular sweets maker originally from Mie prefecture. They are popular for their Akafuku-mochi, which is a confection, a rice cake covered with sweet been paste. At the café, the menu was simple. It was just Akafuku-mochi, matcha, and shaved ice. They all come with hoji-cha. We both love Akafuku-mochi. What we had were a set of matcha and 2 pcs Akafukuu-mochi at 440yen, and another set of hojicha and 3 pcs Akafuku-mochi at 280 yen. We thought they were very reasonable. There was even a more reasonable set for hojicha and 2 pcs Akafuku-mochi at 190 yen. Nowadays, a cup of cafe latte costs around 370yen. We were very much satisfied with Akafuku-mochi and the price. The cafe is very good for a quick and casual tea break. We loved the café, and definitely want to come back every time when we come to Nagoya!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Japan Ikebana (or flower arrangement) Exhibition 2010

This Sunday we went to an ikebana (or Japanese flower arrangement) exhibition in Nagoya, which we got two tickets from our tea master. 180 of arrangement were displayed there. What most impressed me was that each arrangement was so creative and unique. Ikebana sound traditional to me, so I had thought it would have been more conservative. But, it actually was pretty liberal. There were various sizes of arrangement from regular ones to huge ones, which was bigger than a person. Not only traditional Japanese flowers were used, but also variety materials were used in the arrangements, such as wood trunks and barks, western flowers, bamboos, or gravel stones. There were also arrangements that embraced the water or an interesting vase effectively. What I can say to all arrangements was that people who did the arrangements know how to keep the flowers flesh. Every arrangement was very green and full of life. Ikebana we saw was very different from the arrangement of tea flower, but it was quite appealing!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Sweets of the day, Mar 17 – Apr 14

Here are sweets that we had in the recent lessons.

Mar 17

Mar 25
Do you see a motif of flower petal on the sweets? I think it makes the confection all the more charming.

Apr 7
I liked the cheerful color that gave me a sense of upcoming spring.

Apr 14
This confectionery is called Setomonogatari from a local confectionery shop, Sannoya. We love the taste of sweets from Sannoya. The last time we had Setomonogatari, we all loved it. This is the second time to have it.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Sixteen Tea, a blended tea from Asahi

I got a free bottle of blended tea as a prize of a lottery at a convenience store yesterday. Not major, but blended teas are popular in Japan. I don’t personally drink them much. Sokenbi-cha from Coca-Cola Japan and Sixteen Tea (Juroku-cha) from Asahi are popular brands.
The one I got was the Sixteen Tea. This tea is brewed from sixteen different ingredients, such as some barley, soy, corn, eriobotryae folium, konbu-seaweed, sesame, bamboo grass and so on. I think it appeals to health-conscious people. It has an unique aroma. The taste is more like barley tea rather than sencha. It’s smooth and doesn’t have any weird taste, but I just prefer green tea flavor. It had a very nice, cozy aftertaste (^_^)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Well boiled water makes delicious green tea

The other day I did a test for the relation between boiling times and the chlorine smell in tap water. I found that as you boil the water longer, the chlorine smell gets weaker. But I didn’t actually brew green tea with those waters in the test. Now, I’m curious how those waters affect the taste of green tea. Today I actually brewed sencha.

Sencha: 2g
Water: 95ml, 75 degrees C
Brewing time: 90 seconds

I prepared two different waters. I brought the waters to a full boil, and boiled away for 5 seconds for one, and for 2 minutes for the other one. Then I cooled down the both waters to 75 degrees C for correct brewing temperature.

The sencha with 2 minutes boiled water was very natural, smooth, and refreshing. The sencha with 5 second boiled water had almost the same kind of bitterness and umami, but it also had an additional flavor. I can not describe the extra flavor well, but it is different from the bitterness and umami. It was something loud and unwelcome. I believe the extra flavor is the chlorine flavor that I found in the tap water. I would not notice the chlorine flavor in the tea if I tested only the sencha with 5 second boiled water itself. But when I compare with the other tea, the extra flavor was definitely there.
If you would like to enjoy a pure, natural green tea flavor with tap water, boil the water well before brew the tea!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Green tea cafe, Nana's green tea

I went to MOZO, a shopping mall in Nagoya. We had tea at a green tea café there, called Nana's green tea. I had iced green tea latte with ice cream, and Hiro had iced sencha. The green tea latte had a nice rich flavor, and sencha had a good refreshing bitterness. We loved both. We want to come back someday, and try some other drinks.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Flower of the day, Feb 24 – Apr 7

The flower at yesterday’s (Apr 7) lesson was Cherry blossom and Camellia. The contrast of pale pink and red was superb. Our master pruned some little branches and blooms of the cherry branch to make it more natural. Fully bloomed big cherry trees are gorgeous and beautiful. But this arrangement was very natural and modest. I found wabi-sprit in it, and I really loved it.

Feb 24

Mar 3

Mar 10

Mar 17

Mar 25
I liked delicate grassy flower, and interesting shape branch.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

How to make homemade green tea

In Japan it is said that it’s okay to cut branches of plum tree, but it’s not good with cherry trees. Cutting branches may make cherry tree vulnerable. But, the cherry blossom was so beautiful at my parents’ yard, so I took a branch home from there yesterday. It was a big tree, so I hope it was okay.

There was an instruction for easy homemade green tea, on the tag came on a tea plant that I bought the other day. It is a pretty rough instruction, so you may take some trial and error to find out your best result. But I’ll introduce it here.

** How to make homemade green tea **
1. Heat exact 50g tea shoots and leaves in a microwave oven for 2 minutes
2. Knead the leaves hard for 2-3 minutes (Be careful not to burn yourself)
3. Heat the leaves again in microwave oven for one minutes to dry them
4. Repeat kneading and drying until the leaves get crisp, and then it’s done.

In Japan, picking of the first tea of the season starts from around the end of April or the beginning of May. The first tea has better quality than second or third picked ones. You pick one shoot and two (or three) leaves from the tip. Then follow the instruction above.

Monday, April 5, 2010

About Tea plant

Now the cheery trees are in full bloom, and I think this Sunday was the best time for cherry-blossom viewing here. Many people must have had parties at parks or viewing spots. Hiro and I wanted to go out, but we didn’t wanted to go to any major popular viewing spot, which must have be very crowded. So, we went for a walk to a riverside with lined cherry trees in our town yesterday. It was in late afternoon. A few parties were gathering. A little boy was playing baseball with his parents, and an elderly couple was taking around. It was really peaceful moment.

A friend of mine in Singapore, who read my blog about tea plane, asked me if you can grow a tea plant in a tropical climate like in Singapore.

I learned that green tea is produced in India, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia. I'm not so sure, but you may be able to grow tea plant in Singapore.

Tea plant is cultivated mainly in the Temperate and Subtropical zones.
**Ideal environment**
The average annual temperature: 13 degrees C or higher
The annual amount of precipitation: 1300ml or more.
Soil: mild acid
Climate: Temperate and Subtropical

**Two major types of tea plant**
Chinese type: shrub, Small leaf, growing in the Temperate zone, low in tannin, often used for green tea
Assam type: tall tree, big leaf, growing in the Subtropical to Tropical zone, high in tannin, often used for English tea

I believe that most tea plants produced in Japan are Chinese type. It is said that about 80% of tea plant cultivated in Japan is Yabukita breed, which I bought (Picture above). Yabukita has been popular for early harvest, high-yielding, and the quality. But also it seems other miner breeds are getting popular now for their individuality. I guess the time is changing from mass production era to the time for diversity and individuality.

Friday, April 2, 2010

I’m a Nihon-cha (Japanese tea) adviser.

The school and business year begins from April in Japan. And I became a Nihon-cha (or Japanese tea) adviser this month! Yesterday I received the certificate of Nihon-cha adviser from Nihon-cha Instructor Association, which I passed the exam in the last year. A Nihon-cha adviser can be a role of consumer advisors, event navigators, Nihon-cha Instructor assistants, etc. Now I can join some Japanese tea seminars at Nihon-cha Instructor Association. I’m looking forward to learning more about Japanese tea!