Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Choosing Japanese Tea 2

These are the few suggestions for choosing Japanese tea for beginners.

 Try sencha first
 What grade to choose
 Two major types of sencha
 Good leaves and bad leaves
 Reliable tea shops

I talked about fist two tips yesterday. I recommended you to try some nice middle grade sencha. The next tip is …

 Two major types of sencha
Sencha can be categorized into two major types. One is called sencha or futsu-sencha, which is regular-steamed sencha. The other one is fukamushi-sencha, which is deep-steamed sencha. Green tea is usually steamed when produced. The steam processing makes slight difference in their flavor.

** Regular-steamed sencha (sencha or futsu-sencha) **
Leaves: Thin needle shape; well-formed shape
Brewing time: 1 minute
Brewed tea: Clear yellow, flavor with good harmony of bitterness and sweetness.

** Deep-steamed sencha (fukamushi-sencha) **
Leaves: finer pieces than futsu-sencha
Brewing time: 30 seconds
Brewed tea: murkier and greener than futsu-sencha, richer in the flavor

When you try several different senchas, I recommend trying both futsu-snecha and fukamushi-sencha. If you are looking for clear flavor green tea, you will probably like futsu-sencha. If you prefer rich flavor, you will like fukamushi-sencha. I hope you would try them yourself and find the difference and your favorite.
If you want to know more about futsu-sencha and fukamushi-sencha, please refer to my previous three blogs.
1. http://everyonestea.blogspot.com/2009/12/regular-sencha-vs-long-steamed-sencha-1.html
2. http://everyonestea.blogspot.com/2009/12/regular-sencha-vs-long-deep-steamed.html
3. http://everyonestea.blogspot.com/2009/12/regular-sencha-vs-long-deep-steamed_10.html

On the next post, I’ll tell you how to distinguish between good leaves and bad leaves.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Choosing Japanese tea

One of our customers, a newbie in Japanese tea, asked me if there are any types of Japanese tea that I can recommend. So today I would like to write about choosing Japanese tea for beginners.

I do not have any particular brand of green tea that I want to recommend you. But, here are a few suggestions …

 Try sencha first
 What grade to choose
 Two major types of sencha
 Good leaves and bad leaves
 Reliable tea shops

 Try sencha first
In Japan we have some types of tea such as sencha, hojicha, gyokuro, kukicha, tamaryokucha, genmaicha, matcha and so on. If you want to know about Japanese tea, try sencha first. It is the most common and popular green tea in Japan. Sencha is what Japanese regard as green tea. Please do not determine if you like it by trying only one sencha. You can find great variety of sencha in Japanese tea shops. I would like you to try several different senchas. The flavor is slightly different by region, maker, process and grade. Exploring your favorite sencha will be fun. I will tell you a guide to find your sencha (^-^)

 What grade to choose
Sencha has a wide range of grades. There are reasonable ones from 300yen/100g, average ones are at around 700yen/100g, and expensive ones are up to 2000-4000yen/100g. I will recommend starting from a little nice middle-grade sencha around 1000-1500yen. At the price range, you can choose from wide selection. In Japan, green tea is our daily beverage so we do not always have high grade tea. But I noticed that people overseas tend to enjoy expensive Japanese tea. I guess green tea is enjoyed more as a hobby or pleasure. So for those who are overseas looking for a type of green tea to start with, the nice middle-grade of sencha is the best. Do not buy one big package. Buy small packages if possible, and try many different kinds.

I will write about other remaining tips regarding choosing Japanese tea on the next post.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Autumn leaves viewing in Japan

We, Japanese love to appreciate the beauty of seasonal nature. We enjoy cherry-blossom viewing in the spring, and now in the fall we go to forests for viewing autumn trees scenery. One of our customers asked me how the culture or customs for autumn scenery viewing is like in Japan. Maybe in some other countries, people do not put effort to go and view them. But somehow we do.

The fall is one of the best seasons in Japan. The climate is nice and it is good season for many activities. It is said that fall is the season for sports, trips, appetite, studying and reading.

The most parts of Japan belong to the temperate zone and has a lot of mountains and forests with wide variety of vegetation. The good mixture of deciduous and evergreen trees makes the beautiful multi-colored scenery in the fall. The deciduous trees are maple which turns red and orange, gingko which turns yellow, beech which turns brown, and more. We are lucky to have this kind of environment. I think the environment makes us appreciate beauty.

How do we enjoy them? Some people go for a drive to mountainous area and enjoy the view and also some local food or sometimes bathing in hot springs, perhaps. Some people enjoy the autumn foliage in nice temples at Kyoto or Kamakura. I went to a night viewing in a park near my town. It was very cold that night. There were many food stands there and we enjoyed hot soup, noodle, rice dumpling and more before viewing. The park has hundreds of maple trees. They were illuminated and ablaze with vibrant autumn colors. There is a public bath at the park. We had a bath after viewing and warm up our cold body.

At the high season, the popular spots are very crowded with people and you will even experience traffic jams around the area. The traffic jams at popular mountainous areas are often on the news on TV. We also find beauty in fallen leaves. The leaves fluttering down on the ground, and the carpet of fallen leaves are other scenery we enjoy.

This is the search result for images of “紅葉” or Autumn leaves on Google. >>> Click here

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Opening of the sunken hearth

This weekend, I went to Sogi park to view the illuminated autumn trees, where is the same place I went the last year. The red and orange maple foliage was wonderful! Now it’s the best season to enjoy the autumn leaves in Japan.

Now in November, we started to use a sunken hearth instead of a brazier at the tea lessons. In the summer time, the concave space for the sunken hearth is hidden under a tatami mat. This year, our master showed us opening the hearth.

A hook for tatami and the black wooden flame for sunken hearth

Use the hook to take out the tatami mat

There are wooden panels under the mat

Take out the panels, and the concave space appears

Put the black wooden flame
Formally you put ash in the bottom of the space, but the ash is not there in this picture

Friday, November 19, 2010

Box of Kurikinton (Japanese chestnuts confectionery) from Ena

Ena in Gifu prefecture has many Japanese confectionery shops. Kurikinton is a kind of Japanese confectionery made of chestnuts and sugar. Krikinton from Ena confectionery shops are pretty popular. The other day, I got a box of kurikinton from my parents as a present from their trip to Gifu. The box contains 8 kurikintons from 8 confectionery shops of Ena. Actually, kurikinton is my favorite confection, so the box is like a jewelry case for me ヽ(^。^)ノ

I shared them with Hiro. Kurikinton is my favorite, so I of course loved all of them. But each shop has their own taste on kurikinton. You will find slight difference among them. It was fun to talk about different kinds of kurikinton: How each of them is like, and which one we like the best. Some have smooth texture, and some have crushed chestnuts in them. Some are a little dryer and some are a little moist. Some are sweet, while some are not so much. You can tell that different kinds of chestnuts used as ingredients can affect the flavor of the kurinkinton. I liked the kurikinton from Kawakamiya confectionary shop the best (*^。^*) It has a nice natural chestnut flavor and a mild sweetness. Hiro liked the one from Suya which is a little sweeter and has some crushed chestnuts. Natural flavor of kurikinton goes really well with Japanese green tea!!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Gyokuro from Kyoto, Fukuoka and Shizuoka 2

Today’s blog is a continuation from yesterday’s post. The gyokuro from three different regions I tried at the World O-CHA (Tea) Festival were all good, actually very good. I wonder which will be my best. So I wanted to try them at a same time brewed in same conditions.

The three teas are:
Uji (Kyoto) gyokuro 5000yen/100g,
Yame (Fukuoka) gyokuro 5000yen/100g
Asahina (Shizuoka) gyokuro 2500yen/100g

Brewing condition
Leaves: 4g
Water: 20ml 42degC
Brewing time: 2minutes

These are the brewed tea: from the left Uji (Kyoto), Yame (Fukuoka) and Asahina (Shizuoka). I though the Uji had the best color, which is little whitish green. Others are slightly brownish. I also felt that the Uji had the nicest aroma.

I only brewed one serving for each, and shared them with my wife, Hiro. Because I wanted to enjoy second and third brewed teas, and didn’t want to have too much gyokuro to get my stomach upset. But you know what? I was so stupid (^_^;) One serving was too little to share. They were too little to taste and tell differences. Hahaha…

However, we both loved Uji (Kyoto) gyokuro best. The taste was clear and fine. It had nice umami and sweetness, and I didn’t find bitterness. I found little bitterness in the other two gyokuro. Asahina is very reasonable than the others but I didn’t feel the much price difference in the taste. I think Asahina provides great cost performance ヽ(^。^)ノ

This was not to find out the best production region of gyokuro. I was just compeering three gyokuro I bought.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Gyokuro from Kyoto, Fukuoka and Shizuoka

At the World O-CHA (Tea) Festival, there was a booth for gyokuro, which was hosted by three gyokuro regions: Kyoto, Fukuoka and Shizuoka. They said that they were the big three gyokuro production prefectures in Japan. I don’t know why they are called as such. The data I have shows discrepancy in numbers on the production amount of gyokuro. The largest amounts of gyokuro production in 2008 are: 1.Kyoto 2.Mie 3.Fukuoka 4.Kumamoto 5.Shizuoka. I guess the three gyokuro regions were meant to be regarded the three Famous or Popular gyokuro regions. Anyway, I took gyokuro workshops of each production. I also bought some gyokuro that I tried at the workshops, so that I can try them at home. Actually, Yame (Fukuoka) gyokuro had another individual booth. I bought Yame tea at the individual booth.

Here are the teas I bought: from the left Uji (Kyoto) gyokuro, Yame (Fukuoka) gyokuro, and Asahina (Shizuoka) gyokuro.

Which one do you like by the appearance? Which one looks expensive?

Uji (Kyoto) gyokuro 5000yen/100g,
Yame (Fukuoka) gyokuro 5000yen/100g
Asahina (Shizuoka) gyokuro 2500yen/100g

Asahina gyokuro was reasonable than others, but still good looking. The leaves of Yame gyokuro were small pieces. I thought the Uji gyokuro had the best appearance in these three. I brewed and tasted them. On the next blog, I’ll write about it. See you soon!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Suspension of air freight to the U.S.A.

This is a notification from my online-shop, Everyone's Tea

To all our customers based in the US,

Air freights over 16 oz to the United States are suspended by for security reasons due to terrorist threats to the US. Most of the packages we ship are over 16 oz. We can no longer send it by EMS (Express Mail Service). Therefore during the suspension, we ship packages to the US via sea freight, which will take about 2-3 months for delivery. The shipping charge is 1,300yen. The suspension starts from Nov 17 2010, and we do not know how long it will last. We are sorry for any inconvenience.

Everyone's Tea

Monday, November 15, 2010

Shizuku-cha at World O-CHA Festival

sizuku” means trickle, drip or drop. We tried shizuku-cha, one of the ways of preparing gyokuro, at Yame gyokuro booth at the World O-CHA (Tea) Festival. It is used with a cup with a lid, instead of using a teapot. It is called sizuku-cha at Yame region (Fukuoka). There are some other names for this style of gyokuro preparation.

You put tea leaves and hot water in the cup, and wait for two minutes, and drink it directly from the cup. You hold the cup with your left hand, and tilt the lid with right hand, and drink the tea from the aperture (tiny opening). The point is trying not to have tea leaves to come out with the tea. So you don’t want to tilt the lid too much, and make a big space between the cup and lid. Other than not using a teapot, other conditions for the preparation are pretty much the same as ordinary gyokuro brewing.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Is it about leaves or brewing condition?

On the last post, I introduced an Asahina gyokuro brewing which I learned at the World O-CHA (Tea) Festival. When I tried the gyokuro at the festival, the brewed tea was clear and bright. But when I tried the brewing method at home with my daily gyokuro, the tea got darker, greener and murkier. I wonder if it is about leaves or brewing condition. Is Asahina gyokuro different from other gyokuro? So today I did a little experiment to brew the Asahina gyokuro and my gyokuro in a same condition.

*** Condition ***
Tea leaves: 4g
Water: 20ml room temperature
Brewing time: 1.5minuts

The leaves on the left are the Asahina gyokuro, and the leaves on the right are my gyokuro.

These are the brewed teas. (Asahina-left, My gyokuro-right)
The result was that both got murky green. So, I guess this is not about tea leaves. It’s about water and a teapot used. I think especially the strainer on the teapots has effect on brewed tea color. The teapot used at the festival had a metal fine-mesh strainer. The teapot at home has a ceramic strainer, which is a fine-mesh type but still not as fine as the metal one. I think the difference of strainer made the tea murky. I loved either tea at festival and home. They are both good.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Delicious gyokuro by perverse brewing

At The World O-CHA (Tea) Festival, I joined four gyokuro workshops. There was a booth for gyokuro from the three major regions, Yame (Fukuoka), Uji (Kyoto), and Asahina (Sihzuoka). Each region had workshop and introduced little different ways of brewing gyokuro.

Today I would like to tell you about the way of brewing that I learned at the Asahina (Shizuoka) workshop. I thought it was very unique. Here, we learned cold water brewing, which is not unique about. What unique about was the brewing time and the way of pouring. Each participant got a personal tea set, and could try it by him or herself. Let’s take a look at the steps!

1. Put 4g of Asahina gyokuro into the teapot
2. Add room temperature water (not iced water)
3. Wait one and half minutes
4. Gently move the teapot in a circular motion to agitate and pour a little tea into a cup, and circle the teapot again and pour a little tea, and repeat it until you pour all of the tea.

We tried this cold brewed tea. It was so good. It was clear and sweet. I didn’t find bitterness. I was impressed with the good taste by the unique brewing. It was still good on the second and third brewing.
So what were the unique things? Yes, the time of brewing and the way of pouring. The brewing time was one and half minutes! It is usually said the time for gyokuro is about two minutes with warm water. If you are brewing with cold water, the brewing time should be longer than that. But it was only one and half minutes actually.
To make up for the short brewing time, the pouring will be the other point. I think the delicious tea will be completed by agitating the leaves and water as you pour the tea. Shaking or circling the teapot is a perverse thing to do on Japanese way of tea brewing. But the instructor encouraged us to break rules. He said he has tried many other ways, such as not moving the teapot and brewing longer time as ordinary way. But he could not get anything good as this tea. Also the water temperature, he said. He has tried different temperature of water, warmer and colder. But he got the best result with room temperature water.
I think brewing with room temperature water is easy and simple, and you still get good tea. It will be worth to try!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Pretreatment for pottery

One of our customers asked me if you need pretreatment for brand-new *pottery wares. He found a video on YouTube that tells you to boil the item in tea before using.
>>> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9F8llnG2Bgg

My brief answer will be “I personally think you do not have to do it.”
I don’t do it myself, either.

The method in the video is a little different. What I know is that instead of tea, we use **rice washings. If not available, you can boil water with a little rice in it or you can also use flour. This is a kind of tradition and many ceramic shops and makers still recommend doing the treatment.

I think the purpose of the treatment is …
1. To prevent water leak
2. To get milder kannyu (crackle pattern)
3. To sterilize

I personally think this treatment is mainly for the first reason, preventing water leak. Pottery has very minute space between grains. With some rough grain potteries, if you leave water in them for a long time, the water will leak from the surface slowly. By boiling with rice, the rice grain will get into the minute space in the pottery, and fill up.

I’ve asked ceramic makers and artists about it. There are many different opinions about this tradition. An artist said that this theory has no scientific basis and the particle of rice that gets in the pottery could cause molding.

I’m not sure about the effect for the second reason, getting milder crackle. For the third reason, of course you need to clean brand new wares, but I think regular washing is enough.

I think you don’t have to do the treatment because first, it is very troublesome and second, nowadays, very few potteries leak. I hope my opinion help you to understand about the pretreatment for potteries.

*pottery: In Japanese, there are two major words for ceramics. One is “jiki” and another one is “toki”. Jiki is porcelain, which is hard ceramics, impermeable, and has half-translucent. On the other hand, toki is little permeable and non-translucent. In this article I was referring to toki ceramics. So the treatment is for this particular ceramic and not for porcelain.

**rice washings: We rinse rice with water in a bowl before cooking. The water gets murky white after rinsing. We usually throw away the water. You can use the water for the pretreatment.

This is my flower vase, which leaks. It is okay for a short item use. But after using a couple of days, I find that the bottom of the vase is wet and sweating. I am using the vase as it is. I might need the treatment for this vase (^_^;)

This is the bottom of the vase.

It's dry on this photo.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Photos from the O-CHA festival

There were some events and exhibitions at the World O-CHA (Tea) Festival.

The festival is not only for Japanese tea. I think this was Chinese tea exhibition.

A Tokoname teapot artist was making teapots.

There were many tea gatherings held around the festival.

There were food booths outside. You could try many different Japanese first foods.

Free tea tastings

Tea wares contest

Huge tea whisk!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

World O-CHA (Tea) Festival 2010

World O-CHA (Tea) Festival was held in Shizuoka Japan between Oct 28 and 31 2010. It is held every three or four years and this was the fourth. We went there on 30 and 31. It was free to get in. We were exited and enjoyed the festivalヽ(^。^)ノ

Tea makers, shops, and tea related associations participated. There were many booths of theirs. You could buy things, try some sample tea, see some exhibitions, and attend tea ceremonies, contests and workshops.

I was thinking to join some paid tea ceremony and workshops. But there were also some booths offered free tea tasting and workshops. So, I thought “why don’t we try free ones first?”. In the two days, we tried seven little free workshops including four gyokuro workshops. Plus, we had many tea tastings. Too much green tea sometimes makes your stomach upset. We had stomach irritation at the end of the both day, and didn’t have room for the paid tea ceremony and workshops, ha ha … (^_^;) But we has so much fan by trying many different teas.