Thursday, December 29, 2011

The essentials: 1. Prepare the tea just right

An ancient tea master, Rikyu said “prepare the tea just right”.  This is one of the seven essentials of The Way of Tea, which I introduced on the previous entry.  People have different interpretations of the essentials. 

How do you interpret “prepare the tea just right”?  Do you think there is an absolute way of preparing tea?  I think that “Prepare the tea just right” means “prepare the tea just right for your guests”.  The tea should be in an appropriate amount, temperature and density that your guests want.  You need to consider the guest’s condition, today’s weather or the situation.  It’s important that you need to think of each guest’s feelings and situations.  I don’t think there is an absolute preparation.

There is a famous episode for serving tea. 
One hot day, a samurai, Hideyoshi stopped by a temple on a trip for hawking.  A boy at the temple served tea to him.  The boy was highly evaluated by Hideyoshi with the three servings of tea. 
The boy prepared plenty of thin tea with lukewarm water first.  Hideyoshi drained the tea, and asked another serving.  The boy prepared the second tea with a standard way, hotter-thicker tea with smaller amount than the first one.  Hideyoshi had the tea and asked another serving.  The boy served thicker and much less amount of tea for the third.  Hideyoshi relished the tea and asked the boy why he served different teas.  The boy answered “You must have been thirsty, so I made the first tea easy to drink and to quench your thirst.  Your thirst must have got ease, so I made the smooth tea for the second serving.  Your thirst must have gone at the moment, so I made the third tea for you to savor the rich flavor”.  Hideyoshi loved his thoughtful wits.

I think this is a good example of “Prepare the tea just right”.

My interpretation of “Prepare the tea just right” is that
considering appropriate points on things is important.

My interpretation may vary in the future as I experience and understand The Way of Tea more. 

Monday, December 26, 2011

The essentials of The Way of Tea

What are the essentials of The Way of Tea?  One day, a disciple asked his master.  The master was Rikyu, an ancient tea master who perfected The Way of Tea.   He answered it with the seven theorems, which are well-known as the essentials of The Way of Tea.  I think they seem too common, and also vague.

The seven essentials of The Way of Tea by Rikyu
1.    Prepare the tea just right
2.    Place the charcoal appropriately to boil the water
3.    Arrange the flowers as if they were in the fields
4.    Make it seem warm in winter, and cool in summer
5.    Do things ahead of time
6.    Have umbrellas ready even if it is not raining
7.    Care about the guests

“I’ve already known those things enough” the disciple said.  Rikyu replied “If you can do them all, I will be your apprentice.”  Rikyu probably wanted to say that doing basics naturally and perfectly is the most difficult.  Knowing and doing are different.

The abovementioned thought might be the first thing that Rikyu wanted to tell, but I still think that some of the theorems are ambiguous.  Do you get what Rikyu really want to say?   What does “Prepare the tea just right” really mean?  You can interpret it superficially, but it might have a great message behind.  I translated the seven essentials literally without getting my personal perspective involved.  So, I’d like you to interpret Rikyu’s words yourself.  There are different interpretations and opinions on each theorem.  I would like to introduce mine on the future entries. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Fubuki, a utensil used in the tea lesson last night


Can you tell what this utensil is for?  There are many types of utensil existing in the world of The Way of Tea.  Our master introduces a new utensil in our class from time to time.  I like to show some of them sometimes in this blog.

This is a tea container.  Types of container are distinguished by their form.  The most common type is chunatsume which is often used in our lessons.  Last night in the lesson, we used a different type called fubuki.  Despite of the rounded form of chunatsume, fubuki has a cylindrical shape with chamfered edges. 

The entire ceremony with fubuki goes the same as chunatsume’s, but there are two very minor differences in its treating manner.   First difference is that of the holding position.  When you pick up the container, we hold chunatsume from upper-side, but you need to hold fubuki from right side.  Another difference is the motion of purifying.  In the beginning of the ceremony, we wipe the lid of the container with silk cloth to purify.  You need to wipe fubuki with straight stroke and rounded stroke with chunatsume.  You might think “what minor differences?!” and so what. 

I honestly don’t know the reason for the differences, but we learn these manners in the lessons.  I hope I can realize the reasons through my career and also I would like you to learn with me by reading my blog.

This is chunatsume.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Things in a sifter

My previous tea master and current master buy matcha from the same shop.  It’s an old small tea shop in the town.  I love the matcha from this tea shop; it’s the best ever.  The other day, I saw something unusual at the shop.

The lady at the shop usually take out matcha from boxes, but this time she went to mills and open a drawer under one of the mills.   In the drawer, there was a powdery substance spread from the mill.  She collected and scooped it and put it into a sifter. 
Which she gathered and put into a sifter.

I found something in the sifter.  The photo may not be so clear but you can still see something there.  They look like small balls.  Can you tell what they are? 

Well, the lady told me that they are the fruit of tea plant.  They are the things you can find after the flower wilts and its petals come off the plant.  She said that she puts them in the sifter to quicken the sifting.  She sifted matcha.  It was sure fast.  It was a new discovery at a usual shop.  She packed and wrapped the matcha with accomplished manner as usual.  

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Names on Japanese confections

I chose this confection because of its pretty colors.  In fall and winter, the colors used on confections often get subdued.  That’s why this adorably colored one caught my eyes among the selections in showcase.  It is named as 惜秋 senshu, because of its fall-end melancholic feeling.  I think that a few colored leaves express the trace of fall.

I think this confection depicts a withered autumn leaf.  Based on my own perspective, I would say that the red color which remained on the tip indicates a relic of fall, and the white freckles represent frost of the coming winter.  The name of this confection is 木枯らし kogarashi, the first cold blast.

I really love how Japanese confections are named.  They are titled like an art piece or a beautiful song.  Generally, the named confections seem to display a scenery or story.   It is my little pleasure to check out the names on confections ^^

Monday, December 12, 2011

Is there any other way to prepare mellow tea?

How do you prepare tea when you want mellow tea with rich umami?  The usual method is using low temperature water and brewing it for a long time.  When I was looking back at a text book for Japanese tea adviser, I noticed there is another possibility for preparing mellow tea.

When brewed tea has high proportion of umami as against its bitterness, you will find its taste as mellow.  Please take a look at the following chart that I found in the text book.  Tannin is bitter and Amino acid has umami flavor.  Of course, “low temperature and long-time brewing” have high umami ratio.  But, don’t you notice any hint for a different way? 

Time (sec)
Tannin content
Amino acid content
Ratio = Amino acid / Tannin
 Density of substance: mg/100ml

Please take a look at the ratio for 70C at 30sec.  If you notice, the ratio is 0.94 which is the highest in the chart.  So, I think this will be another possibility for mellow tea with rich umami.  I know this condition is more risky than “low temp and long time”, because a slight difference of the brewing time will have bigger impact on the taste.  You need to be more careful about controlling the conditions.  However, I think it is worth to try this preparation.  What do you think about 70C(158F) for 30sec brewing?  

“A” is a common condition that I like for mellow tea.  “B” is the condition for this issue, as you can see below:

50C (122F), 150sec
Leaf: 2.5g, Water: 40ml (1.4oz)

70C (158F), 30sec
Leaf: 4g, Water: 45ml (1.6oz)

 “A” has warmer color and “B” looks a little cooler.  Even though the ratio of umami and bitterness is similar, I understand the color distinction because of the difference in their condition.  The point is the taste.  My tentative assumption was correct!  Tea brewed with 70C (158F) for 30sec has very mellow flavor with no bitterness like sample “A”.  I can say that you can prepare mellow tea with rich umami by different ways not just limited “low temp and long time”.  “B” was slightly milder, so I can adjust the amount of leaf to get the best condition. 

The disadvantage of this method is that you consume more tea leaves and need to be more careful in measuring the time.  The advantage is that you have more flexibility for the second brewing because the leaves are less opened in the first brewing.

I don’t think this is the best way of brewing mellow tea.  But now, I have more options. It is always good to find a new way^^

Friday, December 9, 2011

Caffeine in the second and third infusions

We usually enjoy the change of taste through repeated brewing of the same tea leaves.   This procedure is hereinafter referred to as "repeating infusions".  Many of you might have experienced that umami flavor is getting milder as the number of infusion goes along.  What about the caffeine?  Does it get milder in the second brewing as well?

Incidentally, the level of Amino acid (umami) on the second infusion will get only about 60% of the first infusion. (The condition is the same as the following test) My previous entry didn’t mention anything about repeating infusions.  Practically speaking, I think we need to consider about them.  I have a good data from my Japanese Tea Adviser textbook, as follows:

Leaf (sencha): 6g,
First brewing: 70C/158F 170ml 90sec,
Second-Fifth brewing: 90C/194F 170ml 10sec
Japanese Tea Adviser Koza, Japanese Tea Instructor Association, 2009

How do you interpret this data?  I was kind of surprised with the high level of caffeine on the first few infusions.  Even though the level gradually decreases from the third infusion, the first and second are almost the same, and the third still has about 80% of the first.  This is higher than I originally imagined.  I’ll remember this information for my daily tea, and it will be useful.

I just want you to be aware that the caffeine level will very much differ by brewing conditions.  Why do I say that?  Do you remember the caffeine level on the previous entry?  44mg (first infusion on Today’s data) is much higher than 20mg of the previous one.  44mg is even higher than 30mg of black tea.  I think you need to refer to these data as a rough guide for your tea.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Which drink has the most caffeine: green tea, coffee or black tea?

I’ve realized that there are different opinions regarding caffeine in sencha (green tea), coffee or black tea (British tea)?   Which of the three do you think have the most caffeine? 

I browsed about this topic on the internet.  There seem to be two major opinions on this matter as follows: (in the order of high caffeine)
1.    Coffee > black tea > sencha
2.    Black tea > coffee > sencha
In either case, sencha seems to be the drink that has the least caffeine among these three.

I think that the most reliable source among all the webpages that I’ve checked out will be STANDARD TABLES OF FOOD COMPOSITION IN JAPAN Fifth Revised and Enlarged Edition from Ministry of education, culture, sports, science and technology Japan.

Caffeine in 100ml (3.5oz) prepared form
Prepared form
Caffeine level
Grinded coffee:10g, Boiling water 150ml
Black tea
Leaf:5g, boiling water 360ml, 1.5-4min
Sencha (green tea)
Leaf:10g, 90degC 360ml water, 1min

Now, I understand that coffee has the most caffeine and sencha has the least.  I also found another interesting data about caffeine in some other Japanese tea. Do you think gyokuro and matcha has more caffeine? 

Caffeine in 100ml (3.5oz) prepared form
Prepared form
Caffeine level
Gyokuro (green tea)
Leaf:10g, 60degC 60ml water, 2.5min
Matcha (green tea)
Grinded coffee:10g, Boiling water 150ml
Black tea
Leaf:5g, boiling water 360ml, 1.5-4min
Sencha (green tea)
Leaf:10g, 90degC 360ml water, 1min
Oolong tea
Leaf:15g, 90degC 650ml water, 0.5min
Hojicha (green tea)
Leaf:15g, 90degC 650ml water, 0.5min
Bancha (green tea)
Leaf:15g, 90degC 650ml water, 0.5min
Genmaicha (green tea)
Leaf:15g, 90degC 650ml water, 0.5min
The data has been round off, and this number is not so precise.

I think the result will differ by preparing conditions.  But, what I can say from this data is if you want to be awake, gyokuro or matcha will be your option other than coffee.  If you want to have some tea before going to bed bancha or genmaicha will be good.