Friday, July 30, 2010

Tea field for hand picking

I could see some tea fields around as we were traveling through Uji. Usually tea is picked by machines, and the figures of tea plans are uniformed. But this picture is the tea field for hand picking; the tea plants grow naturally, and the shapes of each plan are not as constant as the machine picked plants. You may want to see the picture of the machine picked field to compare, but this the only picture I have now. Sorry.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Gyokuro brewing workshop 2

I’ll continue to talk about the gyokuro brewing workshop from where I left off yesterday.

For the second brewing, use the hot water in the water cooler, which is about 45 degrees C. Pour it into the teapot. The amount of water should be about as same as the first brewing.

After waiting 2 minutes, serve the tea into the teacup.

The taste was little different from first brewing, but it was still very good, and had rich gyokuro flavor with profound umami. It was very gyokuro.

We enjoyed the sweets after second brewing. For gyokuro or sencha, it is better not to have sweet in the beginning. Enjoy the tea first, and then sweets.

I tried the third brewing with 60 degree C water for 2 minutes. The brewed tea had still good umami, and the taste was like kabusecha.
This picture is the tea leaves after third brewing. The leaves were not totally open yet. It looked that you can enjoy more brewing with the leaves.

I tried the fourth and fifth brewing with higher temperature of water. The umami got milder, but they were still good. They were very nice and mellow tea. This picture is for the fifth brewing.

After enjoying some cups of tea, you can eat brewed tea leaves by adding a little soy sauce with citrus juice. My tea leaves remained strong tea flavor and bitterness. They were little too strong for me. I could have enjoyed more brewing and infused more tea component. Then the taste of the leaves would have been milder.

The Gyokuro that I tried at Sagano-yu on a past trip, didn’t last to the fifth brewing like the gyokuro here. The flavor has almost gone at the third brewing on the Sagano-yu gyokuro. I believe it is because that fewer leaves and more water were used.
The tea plants for gyokuro are usually covered for 20 days to avoid direct sunshine. The master at Takumi-no-yakata said that their gyokuro was covered for 40 days. Maybe, it is one of the reasons for that their gyokuro is good. But I don’t think it’s so simple. Longer covering makes better gyokuro? If so, people are already doing so. The tea is very profound, I think.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Gyokuro brewing workshop 1

On the tea study tour in Uji, we visited Takumi-no-yakata. We took a gyokuro-brewing workshop. Each participant got an individual tea set, and tried gyokuro brewing. I’ll introduce the Takuni-no-yakata-style gyokuro brewing that I learned.

Tea set: Hohin (teapot), small cup, water cooler, tea caddy (red), small bowl (blue).

Ghyokuro tea leaves in the tea caddy: 5g

Pour hot water into the teapot, about 1/3 of the teapot

Pour the hot water in to the small tea cup, about the 8/10 of the cup
Throw away the water left in the teapot.

Put the 5g tea leaves into the teapot

The water temperature should be about 40 degrees C. When you touch the tea cup, it should be lukewarm, slightly warmer than human body. If so, pour all the hot water from the cup to the teapot. The amount of water should be just enough to soak the tea leaves.

While you wait for infusing the tea, pour hot water into water cooler for second brewing. Have the water get cool.

The color of the tea leaves in the teapot will change to bright yellowish green by absorbing the hot water. When 2/3 of the leaves change the color, it is the time. (or it is for about 2-3 minutes) Serve the tea into the teacup.

The tea will be very small amount. Do not quickly drain your cup. First enjoy the color and aroma, and then take a sip and move it all around your mouth. The taste is totally different from sencha. You will find condensed umami in the drops.

I think gyokuro is the tea to enjoy the super rich umami in the condensed drops. I loved their gyokuro. It was very strong, but mellow. I had very happy time with the tea and experience. I’ll talk about the second brewing tomorrow.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Fukujuen, Tea shop in Uji, Kyoto

We had the lunch at Fukujuen in Uji on the tea study trip. Fukujuen is a famous tea shop, which has a long history. A bottled sencha, Iyemon is a nationally popular bland, and produced by a collaboration of Fukujuen and Suntory.

Fukujuen Uji studio has a restaurant, tea rooms, tea-making experiencing studios, pottery studio, and gift shops. We had tea flavor noodle and rice at the restaurant. I was busy talking with other people during the meal and don’t remember the taste of the noodle, much (・_・;) But, I remember the rice was pretty nice. I loved it.

A small cup of cold kabusecha was served before the meal. It was so nice. I assumed it was brewed with cold water; the taste was very clear and had a generous umami of kabusecha.

And hojicha was served with the meal. This was the third cup of tea we had on this trip v(^o^)v

You can experience tea making for sencha, matcha and hojicha, or pottery making, or take a tea ceremony workshop at Fukujuen Uji studio. (I think it’s better to check the schedules of the workshops and make a reservation before you visit.) We didn’t have much time to stay at Fukujuen, and left there after the lunch. I thought it was a good place to experience Japanese tea!

Fukujuen Uji studio webpage (Japanese) >>>

From the left; Tea making studio, tea room, and pottery studio

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Tencha tea factory

Another place we visited on the tea study trip in Uji was a tea factory for tencha. Tencha is the ingredient of matcha, the tea leaves before milled. It was a very precious opportunity visiting a tencha factory, and more precious about was the factory was in the operation. It was the time for second harvest of the year.

When we arrived at the factory, the tea leaves just harvested was brought in there.

Tencha is made by steaming, cooling down, and drying. The biggest difference from sencha or gyokuro making is that there is no kneading process. So tencha is not rolled; I mean tencha is not a big needle shape. It is a just dried leaf. This picture is for the raw leaves before processed.

Steaming about 20 seconds
It was pretty hot in the factory.
The steamer was much smaller than I expected.

Cooling down the steamed leaves
The leaves are browed up by fans in the tall mesh tubes.

Drying in oven
The leaves are dried as they are moved by conveyor in the oven.

Stems are separated

This is the tencha. I had a bite of the leaf, but it was not good as I expected. It didn’t have much umami. It was maybe because it was the second harvested leaves. I think they will not used for matcha in the tea ceremonies, they will be used for the of matcha flavor sweets or food as an ingredient.

I was so excited observing the factory, and learned a lot. I think I was smiling all through the trip. I had really good time(^-^)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Soen’s birthplace

The rainy season is over here. The summer has come. It’s very hot today. This morning, I woke up by the heat. The room temperature was about 30 degrees C (86F) at eight in the morning. It’s too hot for the morning.

Yesterday, I talked about the birth of sencha and Soen Nagatani. The actual house that Soen lived does not exist. What you can see at Soen’s birthplace is the kiln Soen used, and a shrine for Soen. The house with thatched roof in the picture was built to preserve Soen’s kiln.
By knowing the background of the birth of sencha, I love sencha more now. I bought Soen-cha sold at the Soen’s birthplace, which is sencha made in the area (80g/2.8oz 1000yen). I also had a chance to have a cup of Soen-cha there. It was prepared very strong, but was not too bitter at all; instead it had very rich umami like kabusecha. I was kind of shocked by the taste. According to the lady who prepared the tea, she used a lot of leaves. I guess this Soen-sencha is very nice leaves. If you use too much leaves to prepare cheep sencha, the tea will get too bitter. Here, I learned a good example of a different tea brewing. I want to try Soen-cha with plenty leaves at home.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The birth of sencha

This weekend, I joined a tea study tour hosted by the Nihoncha (or Japanese tea) instructor association. We visited many tea related places in Uji, Kyoto prefecture. One of the places we visited was Soen Nagatani’s birthplace.

Do you know who Soen Nagatani is? Soen is the one who invented sencha! Before sencha was invented, there had been two major types of tea in Japan. One was expensive matcha and the other one was poor bancha. Bancha was poorly made tea, from the tea plant cultivated in the open air fields, which was the tea for people. The tea was not easy infusible, like the sencha nowadays. You had to decoct the leaves to prepare the bancha, and the brewed tea color was brown. Only certain tea producers were allow to make the matcha, from the tea plant cultivated under cover. Without breaking the law, Soen wanted to make high quality tea from the tea plant by open air cultivation. He spent fifteen years of trial and error. At the old way of bancha making, it was difficult to regulate the amount of water in the leaves, especially with the processes of “kneading on matting” or “sun drying”. The moisture left in the leaves resulted in deterioration of tea. And also the smell of the matting or sun-drying detracted the aroma of green tea. The most innovative process Soen came up with was the kneading on a kiln, which allowed “drying at a constant rate” and “kneading” together. The new process could create stable and high quality tea, and made the leaves look like large needles in profound green color. The brewed tea had clear yellowish green, and the excellent aroma and taste in the harmony of bitterness, umami, and sweetness. It was the birth of sencha.

The picture is the kiln Soen used.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Tea set for iced tencha

Iyemon is a popular bottled tea bland in Japan. Suntory, the maker of Iyemon is now doing a promotion. You can win a tea set for iced tencha. They did the same kind of campaign the last year. I bought some Iyemon and signed up for it, but I could not win. This year again, I want to win the tea set. Tencha is the ingredient of matcha, the tea leaves before milled. So, you don’t usually find tencha sold at tea shops. Tencha is grown under cover to avoid direct sunshine, like gyokuro is done. It should have very rich umami. The iced tencha is prepared with ice cubes. You put ice cubes and tencha leaves in the tea bottle, and leave it in the fridge. As the ice melts, the tencha is brewed, which takes for a day. I’m very interested in the tea, and I really want to win the tea set. Wish me luck!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

I opened a new package of sencha.

We are probably in the end of the rainy season. I hope the rainy season is over soon.

The other day I received new packages of tea that I ordered. They are the sample teas that the Nihoncha (or Japanese tea) instructor association provides to tea instructors or advisers. The five types of sample tea, sencha, deep-steamed sencha, tamaryokucha, kabusecha and gyokuro, are carefully selected at a meeting earlier. It’s very very humid these days, so I’ve hesitated to open the packages. But, I'm out of sencha at home now. I could no longer wait opening a new package. I opened one sencha package from the sample teas in this humidity. The sencha is from Ise, Mie prefecture. When I opened the package, I sensed the full-bodied aroma of sencha. It was a profound and rounded aroma, and reminiscent of good umami, not strong bitterness. It smelled good so far. I prepared cold sencha with the leaves. The tea was excellent as I expected. I can’t wait to open other teas!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Mugicha, the best tea for summer 2

On the last post, I talked about Mugicha, barley tea. This package we bought was made by Itoen, and contains 54 teabags. One teabag can make one liter (2.2lb) mugicha. The price for the package (54 teabags) at a supermarket was…


This means one teabag costs only 3 yen. 3 yen for one liter of tea!! How cheap! I have never given a thought seriously how reasonable it is. If you buy a bottled tea at stores, it will cost you more than 100 yen. It is very worth to prepare the tea at home.

I think mugicha is very popular, because of the easy preparation and reasonable price, and of cause its nice taste as well. You will find it in the fridge at many households in Japan. I believe mugicha is the best tea for summer!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Mugicha, the best tea for summer

We buy one or two packages of mugicha, barley tea every summer. We bought one the other day, and I realized again how reasonable it is, so I’m writing about it today.

Brewed mugicha is brown. The taste is smooth, has no bitterness, and similar to the roasted flavor of hojicha. It doesn’t have caffeine. Mugicha is usually enjoyed in cold without sugar. We drink mugicha a lot in the summer.

It’s very easy to prepare. We just put one teabag and tapped water (our faucet has a built-in water filter) into a one litter (2.2lb) jar, and leave it in the fridge for a couple of hours. That’s it. You don’t need to boil water or use a teapot. It’s so easy. During summer, we always have mugicha in the fridge by using two jars in alternate shifts, and drink it like water. How much do you think this mugicha package (54 teabags) costs? I’ll tell you about it on the next post. Talk to you soon!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Look for bottled green tea at Japanese supermarkets

Yesterday, I introduced that a friend of mine in Singapore found my favorite bottled green tea, "O-i, ocha with umami of gyokuro", sold in Singapore. Where he can purchase the bottle is only at Japanese supermarket. He says that it is sold for $3 SGD, which is maybe 210 Yen or so. If you look for bottled green tea in your country, Japanese supermarket will be a good place to search. I hope there is a Japanese supermarket in your town.

In Japan, the regular price for a bottle of green tea (500ml) is usually 150yen. You will find them on that price at convenience stores or vending machines. You can purchase the same product in much lower price at supermarkets. It will be something like 88yen.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

My favorite bottle of green tea in Singapore

"O-i, ocha with umami of gyokuro" is a bottled green tea from Itoen, which I have introduced before on this blog. It is my best favorite bottle. It is very mellow and has sweet umami. In Japan you can find the standard version of "O-i, ocha" anywhere. But some limited stores have the "with umami of gyokuro" version. I hope that the "with umami of gyokuro" version gets more popular, and I can get it anywhere.
Today, my friend in Singapore told me that there is a bottle of tea released in Singapore a couple months ago. He says that it has the best taste so far for all the bottled green tea he has tried. It was the "O-i, ocha with umami of gyokuro". My favorite bottled tea is sold oversea! I’m very glad to know that. So, you might be able to find it in your country as well. If you find it, please try my friend’s and my favorite.

Itoen website (Japanese) >>>

Monday, July 5, 2010

Matcha Frappuccino Blended Cream at Starbucks

This weekend I had a chance to stop by a Starbucks. I had a grande Matcha Frappuccino Blended Cream. It was 510yen. It had whipped cream on top, which was not sweet. The icy stuff underneath was very sweet, and had nice matcha (green tea) flavor. It was kind of too sweet for me, but by blending with the non-sweet cream, the flavor got mild and excellent. I loved it. I wish I could make this kind of beverage at home.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Iced sencha, adjusted recipe

The other day I introduced my recipe for iced sencha. The sencha was not bad, but it was a little bitter. Today I’ll try it again with an adjusted recipe.

The previous recipe was …
Tea leave: 5g
Water: about 140ml at 90 degrees C (194F)
Brewing time: 1 minute

The new recipe will be …
Tea leave: 4g
Water: about 140ml at 80 degrees C (176F)
Brewing time: 1 minute
The adjustments are less leaves and lower water temperature

Here it is!
I brewed the tea with the new recipe, and poured the tea into the cup with a lot of ice cubes (160g).

The tea got milder!! The bitterness is not too strong, but still brings nice refreshment with the pronounced flavor to your mouth. I loved it. I prefer this new recipe, and try it for a while. But I’ll also try to explore more (^-^)