Friday, May 28, 2010

A tip of controlling water temperature

I have been talking about contorting the water temperature on the past three posts. The points were...

For sencha
Boiled water > Teapot > Cups = 70-80degrees C (158-176F)

For gyokuro
Boiled water > Teapot > Cups > Water cooler = 50-60 degrees C (122-140F)
By taking more time at each step, you are able to even make around 40C (104F) water.

These are just rough guides. The result will differ by the room temperature, amount of water, or tea wares. So, here is a tip for controlling temperature. It is…

Telling the temperature by touching the vessel.

I use a thermometer almost every time when I prepare tea, and found out my own guide of the temperatures. Here is my sense of the temperatures when I hold a tea ware like the picture.

80 degrees C (176F): Very hot, so I cannot hold it, or could hold it only for a second.
70 degrees C (158F): Still hot, so I can hold it only for a couple second.
60 degrees C (140F): The heat gets milder, so I can hold it about 5 seconds.
50 degrees C (122F): Warm and comfortable, so I can hold it indefinitely.
40 degrees C (104F): Lukewarm, slightly warmer than human body.

You will be able to do it with a little practice. Until your hands learn the temperatures, use a thermometer when you preparer tea. Measure the water temperature with the thermometer, and let your hands remember the feeling of the temperature by holding the vessel. It’s not difficult, and you will be able to do it soon.

Once you can tell the temperature with you hands, you are one step closer to the Japanese tea master!!

*Be careful not to burn yourself with hot water or hot tea wares when you practice.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Controlling the water temperature for gyokuro

The correct water temperature is 40-60 degrees Celsius (104-140 degrees F) for gyokuro. It should be higher temperature for low-grade tea and lower temperature for fine tea.

I did some tests for cooling the boiled water for gyokuro.

It’s sunny today. The room temperature was 22 C (72F). The test was for 80ml (2.8oz) boiled water with a small teapot and two small cups.

1. Pouring 80ml (2.8oz) boiled water into two small cups, leaving it about 30-40 seconds
2. Pouring the water from the cups into a small teapot, leaving it about 30-40 seconds
3. Pouring the water back again from the teapot into the same cups, and leaving it 30-40 seconds
4. Measuring the temperature of water in the cups

80ml (2.8oz) boiled water >
2 small cups (30sec.) > small teapot (30sec.) > the same 2 cups (30sec.) = 60 degrees C (140F)
The result was 60C (140F). It was not bad. So, you can put tealeaves into the teapot, and pour the 60C (140F) water from the cups into the teapot to brew the tea, now.

Personally I often use little cooler water than 60C (140F) for gyokuro. I wanted to get around 50C (122F) water. I’ll show you some other examples with different steps I tested.

80ml (2.8oz) boiled water:
Waited longer
2 small cups (30sec.) > small teapot (30sec.) > the same 2 cups (2min) = 55 degrees C (131F)
Waited longer2
2 small cups (30sec.) > small teapot (1min.) > the same 2 cups (1min) = 55 degrees C (131F)
Two more steps
2 small cups (30sec.) > small teapot (30sec.) > the same 2 cups (30sec.) > the same small teapot (30sec.) > the same 2 cups (30sec.) = 53 degrees C (127F)
Two more steps and waited longer
2 small cups (30sec.) > small teapot (30sec.) > the same 2 cups (30sec.) > the same small teapot (30sec.) > the same 2 cups (1.5min) = 49 degrees C (120F)

Some gyokuro tea sets include a water cooler. It is a vessel used just for cooling the hot water. If you don’t have one, you can use a small pitcher as a substitute for it. Here are some tests with a small pitcher (as a water cooler).

80ml (2.8oz) boiled water:
Small teapot (30sec.) > 2 small cups (30sec.) > pitcher (30.sec) = 55 degrees C (131F)
Waited longer
Small teapot (30sec.) > 2 small cups (1min) > pitcher (1min) = 51 degrees C (124F)
One more step
Small teapot (30sec.) > 2 small cups (30sec.) > pitcher (30.sec) > the same 2 cups (30sec.) = 50 degrees C (122F)

It is easier to make the around 50C (122F) water with a water cooler. You can have the correct temperature of water for gyokuro by transferring the boiled water among three vessels (teapot, cups, and water cooler).
*Do not wait too long at the first step. The ware might get too hot to hold.

In addition
I did other tests for different amount of water with different utensiles.

100ml (3.5oz) boiled water
Small teapot (30sec.) > 2 small cups (30sec.) > water cooler (30.sec) = 57 degrees C (135F)

40ml (1.4oz) boiled water
Small teapot (30sec.) > 2 extra-small cups (30sec.) > water cooler (30.sec) = 48 degrees C (118F)

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Controlling the water temperature for sencha

The correct water temperature is 70-80 degrees Celsius (158-175 degrees F) for sencha. It should be higher temperature for low-grade tea and lower temperature for fine tea.
Do you use just cups to cool the hot water, or the teapot and cups? Or do you have a water cooler?
I did some tests for cooling the temperature of hot water with a teapot and cups by pouring the water from a vessel to vessel. The room temperature was about 23 degree C (73F), and it was a cloudy humid evening.

There are three steps at the test.

1. Pouring boiling hot water into a teapot, and leaving it about 30-40 seconds.
2. Pouring the water from the teapot to a tea cup (or cups), and leaving it about 30-40 seconds.
3. Measuring the temperature of the water in the cup (or cups).
I did this test with different amount water and tea wares, to see if I always get the correct temperature, or how these differences affect to the results.

For 4 servings

520ml (18.3oz) boiled water:
Large teapot > 4 large cups = 75 degrees C (167F)

320ml (11.3oz) boiled water:
Medium teapot > 4 medium cups = 72 degrees C (162F)

For 2 servings

320ml (11.3oz) boiled water:
Medium teapot > 2 large cups = 75 degrees C (167F)

160ml (5.6oz) boiled water:
Medium teapot > 2 medium cups = 71 degrees C (160F)

120ml (4.2oz) boiled water:
Small teapot > 2 medium cups = 72 degrees C (162F)

For 1 serving

430ml (15.7oz) boiled water:
Large teapot > 1 Extra large cup = 78 degree C (172F)

320ml (11.3oz) boiled water:
Medium teapot > 1 Extra large cup = 78 degree C (172F)

120ml (4.2oz) boiled water:
Small teapot > 1 large cup = 73 degree C (163F)

80ml boiled water:
Small teapot > 1 medium cup = 68 degrees C (154F)

In most cases, you can get the correct temperature (70-80C, 158-175F) for sencha by pouring the boiled water to a teapot and to cups (or a cup) in the room temperature around 23 degrees C (73F).

You can adjust the water temperature by going through the steps faster or slower. I took about 30-40 seconds to let the water cool on each step in the tests. You can decrease about a 4 degrees C (7F) by leaving the hot water in the cups for another minute.

With the steps in the test, now you can have about the correct temperature water for sencha. You put the tea leaves into the tea pot and then pour the water back from cups to the tea pot to infuse the tea (^-^)

Try this with your tea wares. It is good to know the rough standard of the temperature with your own tea wares. It will help you to prepare better tea!

**For your information**
If you prefer higher temperature than what I had on the test, maybe you could skip the step for the teapot, and pour the boiled water directly into the cups.

Cooling water only with the cups

430ml (15.7oz) boiled water:
1 Extra large cup = 89 degree C (192F)

320ml (11.3oz) boiled water:
1 Extra large cup = 88 degree C (190F)

160ml (5.6oz) boiled water:
1 large cup = 85 degree C (185F)

80ml (2.8oz) boiled water:
1 medium cup = 85 degrees C (185F)

Friday, May 21, 2010

Controlling the water temperature for Japanese tea

A tea lover from Slovakia asked me how to control the water temperature for sencha and gyokuro. He wants to cool down boiled water to the correct temperature with the tea wares by pouring the water from a cup to cup. And he wants to do it without using a thermometer. I understand that it is difficult to get the right temperature.
I know that many people in Japan don’t usually use a thermometer for tea preparing. I guess the people think so much accuracy is not necessity for just brewing tea, and can tell rough temperature by their experience. But, I use a thermometer almost every time I prepare tea. Because I’m doing a tea related business, and want to learn more about tea and the water temperature. I can say that you can drop about 10 degree C (18 F) by transporting hot water from a vessel to vessel. But it is just a very rough guide, and the results are very much depends on the situation, especially following the three elements.
1. Room temperature
2. Amount of water (servings)
3. Tea wares (size, figure or material)
So, I cannot give you one simple answer to this issue. But I can show you some examples on the next post, and I’ll give you a tip in the end. Have a good weekend!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Two important lessons for the tea ceremony 2

These are the pictures from the tatami room for the second tea gathering we joind.

The other lesson that our master told us for the tea ceremony was…

The second lesson: Behave depending on the time and situation
What we learn and practice in the lessons are just a basic. It is not always right just strictly to follow the procedures that you have learned and practiced. You have to think and behave depending on the time and situation in a tea ceremony. The attitude of improvisation is necessary, our master said.

Here is an example that I experienced in this tea ceremony regarding to a bow to the next guest to me.
We have learned and been practicing in the lessons, making a bow to the next guest, right after your tea is served. It has the meaning of “Excuse me for going before you “.
However, the situation was a little difficult in the actual tea ceremony. Several assistants worked in the ceremony. The assistants brought teas from the preparation room, and the teas were served at almost the same time to every guest. So, when I received my tea and bowed to the one of the assistants who brought my tea, I saw the next guest was almost receiving her tea from another assistant, and was going to bow to the assistant. Then I was supposed to bow to the next guest, but she was kind of busy for receiving her tea. Now, what? What would you do? Do you just bow to her as you learned? Here is the moment when the right attitude of improvisation is required.
Our master said that there is not only one answer, and I could have got through with a quick, brief bow to the next guest, or even could have skipped the bow. As our master said, it is not always right strictly to follow the procedure.

What I actually did was that I moved slowly and waited until the next guest was through with receiving her tea. Then I made the bow to her. I’m not sure if my improvisation behavior was smart and correct.

I kind of realized that we are practicing the temae over and over in the lessons for the attitude of improvisation in tea ceremonies, or for our daily behavior, and not just for remembering the procedure. This tea ceremony was very worth to me.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Two important lessons for the tea ceremony 1

The other tea gathering we joined was Omote-senke style in an ordinary tatami room. It was a large room (about 30-mat room), and indigo carpets were laid for the place where guests seat. There was a tobacco set to indicate the seat for the main guest (the picture on the right).

Our master told us two important things for this tea ceremony, and I actually experienced the lessons.

The first lesson: Don’t be the main guest
The main guest represents the all guests, and communicates with the host and the host’s assistant mainly. It is a very important and honored role. An experienced or senior person should play the main guest. Our master told us to not sit on the seat for the main guest, and don’t be the one.

I think our master is enough experienced, but even she hesitates to be the main guest. This is an episode when we waited for the ceremony at the waiting place. We were the first party waited there. Then, other guests came after, and encouraged us to be the main guest. They were elderly ladies and look very experienced. So, our master declined it at being polite. But they really insisted. We talked for a while passing up the main guest. I kind of saw the significance of humility for Japanese. Eventually, our master reluctantly played the main guest in this tea gathering. She did performed the role very well in style.

I’ll write about the second lesson in the next post! See you tomorrow!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The first tea gathering in Matsuo style

The first tea gathering we joined was Matsuo family tradition style in a proper tea room. It was an only proper tea room in the building. Other gatherings were held in ordinary tatami rooms or conference rooms. The tea room was not an outside individual tea house. It was on the third floor in the building, and had an alley leading to the room. The alley had a little waiting space. We waited there until our tea ceremony was ready. Twelve guests got in the tea room (*six-mat room). The room was not big or bright. It was kind of crowded. Another party joined in the same gathering was a group from a tea school, I believe. Most of them wore kimono and knew the manners for the guest. The ceremony began with a bow by all participants. As the host was preparing tea, a host’s assistant did greeting and had some conversations with guests. The assistant explained about the flowers, art, sweets and some other utensils used in this ceremony. In the meantime, the sweets were served, and the tea for the main guest was ready. Usually at most tea ceremonies, the host prepares the teas for only a couple of the primary guests. The teas for the rest of the guests are usually prepared in a preparation room, and assistants bring into the tea room and serve them. It is done as the same in this ceremony. An assistant came to me, and placed my bowl in front of me. I received it with a bow. I had the bowl of tea with the manner that I learned in the lessons. The tea was just okay. I loved the tea in our lessons better (^_^;) After **viewing the tea bowls used for the main and second guests, the ceremony was over. My impression was that the ceremony was rapid. It was much faster than I expected. I guess it is because most of participants were experienced, so the ceremony went very smooth and quick. The whole ceremony was done in 20-30 minutes. It was shorter than our temae at the lessons.

I could not notice any big difference between Matsuo (this tea ceremony) and Omote-senke (what I’m learning) in temae. I think I was kind of nervous, and busy following my procedure for a guest. I hope as I do more practice and have more experience, I will be more relaxed and enjoy tea ceremonies.

*In Japan, a size of rooms is usually defined with a number of tatami mats. The dimensions of a tatami mat are about 90*180cm.
**At tea ceremony, premium tea bowls are used only for primary guests. Sometimes, the tea bowls are passed on to the rest of guest, and give them a chance to admire the bowls.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Seto citizens’ tea ceremony

It was a busy weekend. The most memorable event was a tea ceremony. The citizens’ tea ceremony was held at the cultural center in our town, Seto. Hiro and I went to the tea ceremony with our master. This is for the first time for Hiro, and my second time to join a tea ceremony, and we both were so excited. Some participants were wearing kimono and some were not. And some seemed experienced, and some didn’t. This is a reasonable, casual tea ceremony that anybody can attend. The Advance ticket was 800 yen for two drinks. At the cultural center, five – six rooms were prepared for the tea ceremonies. We could visit any two rooms with the ticket. I’ll write it more in the next blog. See you tomorrow!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

We started using the brazier.

We have been practicing temae with the sunken hearth, which is for the winter style, basically used between December to April. (A picture for the sanken hearth is on the right.) Now it’s in May. So, we started to use a brazier instead of the sunken hearth in the lessons from this month. The positions of each utensil and your sitting direction are different between the winter and summer temae. I’ll always confuse the temae in the beginning of a new season (^-^;)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Gyokuro set at Sagano-yu

It’s a sunny, windy day here. Today, I want to talk about the gyokuro tea set that we had at a café, Sagano-yu in Kyoto. The tea set comes with tea leaves in teapot, hot water, an hourglass and a little dessert, and you blew the tea yourself. This type of teapot is called shiboridashi, which is a small teapot specialized for gyokuro. It doesn’t have a handle. So it's similar to houhin, but Shiboridashi does not have a mounted tea strainer. You pour the tea from the little aperture between the lid and body. The tea set was 800 yen. I think it is pretty expensive for one small shot of tea, but it's gyokuro. I waited for 3 minutes after poured hot water (about 40ml / 50 degrees C) into the teapot.

Hiro and I sheared the shot of gyokuro. It was nice, and we both loved it. The tealeaves after fist brewing looked like in the picture blow.

They provided another hot water for refill, second brewing. The flavor got weaker on the second brewing, but still had the distinctive umami of gyokuro. I tried the third brewing, but the nice umami was gone.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Sagano-yu, a café in Arashiyama, Koyoto

We had tea at a café in Arashiyama area in Kyoto, called Sagano-yu. The building was originally an old public bathhouse, and it was renovated into a café. So, you will find signs of the nostalgic aspect in the building. From our seat, we could see bamboo trees in the terrace. It was a nice, cool café with white-themed interior, and I loved them. We had a gyokuro tea set, matcha latte, and matcha parfait.

Sagano-yu webpage (Japanese) >>>

Monday, May 10, 2010

Koryuji in Kyoto

On the Kyoto trip, we also visited a temple, Koryuji, which is located close to the Kyoto Studio Park. At the temple, brilliant green of trees was impressive. They have a very famous Maitraya statue, which is first designated as a national treasure of Japan. It was displayed in a hall with a comfortable dim illumination and nice air condition. The hall was almost like a museum. Some other Buddha statues were also displayed in the hall, and some people were calmly walking around and appreciating the statues. There was a space with tatami mats in front of the Maitraya. Some people sat and were meditating there. We did the same as well. Koryuji had a calm and peaceful time with Japanese national treasures and important cultural properties.

Picture of the Maitraya statue (Wikkipedia) >>>

Friday, May 7, 2010

Kyoto Studio Park

We went to Kyoto on this spring vacation. It is about three hour drive from here. We visited Kyoto Studio Park, where actual period movies and TV dramas being filmed. Their outdoor set looks just like the Edo town. You will almost confuse being in a real ancient town. We joined a short tour for the outdoor sets, and enjoyed some events held in the park.

Kyoto Studio Park webpage >>>

Playing with a sword at a gift shop

The park was crowded

Back-alley in the town