Monday, February 28, 2011

Japanese tea goes with jazz

Do you know what sound you can hear in Japanese tea room? No music is played. Other than the sound of people talking, the calm room is occupied by sounds such as the high whistling pitch of boiling water from an iron kettle. And once in a while the sounds from tea scoop and tea whisk for preparing tea may fill the air. Sometimes you can also hear the sounds of nature, like the sound of rain or branches swaying from the breeze. Please try to imagine how peaceful it is.

I love the peaceful moment that I experience in the tea room. But we can also enjoy Japanese tea differently in today’s lifestyle. What if you play music while having Japanese tea? What music do you listen to on your tea time? Hip-hop? Classic? Rock? I definitely go with jazz. Japanese love imperfection in things and find beauty in them. That’s why I think the random note of jazz fits for Japanese-style. Take out your CDs or iPod, and enjoy music with Japanese tea. As you relish coffee and jazz in a fancy café, you will enjoy Japanese tea with jazz. You will notice jazz is not only for a cafe or bar. Music can create a totally different world of Japanese tea. Why don’t you try it after today’s dinner?

Friday, February 25, 2011

Green tea coke??

It’s the season for strawberry!! The other day, we joined a package tour to Shizuoka for strawberry picking. Shizuoka is the biggest tea producing prefecture in Japan, which is located next to ours.

I found an interesting bottle of beverage in some shops in Shizuoka. It costs 200yen which is a little expensive for a bottle of coke or tea. It is named as Shizuoka Cola.  I believe that it’s a local drink. Green beverage is in a nostalgic-designed bottle. It has an image of Mt Fuji with tea fields on the top of the label. At the center part of it, it shows "茶 " which means tea. So, I wonder if this cola has green tea flavor.

I know there was green tea coke from coca-cola and have tried it. The taste was very much in coke and had only a little hint of green tea. (My past post: This Shizuoka cola has more grotesque color. I was very much curious about it but I was not in the mood to challenge the weird drink at that time. So I didn’t try it. I’m still interested in that mysterious drink. Will you tell me if you have tried?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Tsutsujawan, tall tea bowl

Our master showed us these bowls at the last night lesson. I hope you can see the difference that these bowls are a little taller than ordinary types. These tall tea bowls are called tsutsujawan used in a certain season. Do you know when they are used?

Tsutsujawan is used only during the winter. Maybe you are wondering why? Our master told us that the shape of bowl keeps the tea hot longer. I think it is the main reason for it. Tsutsu means tube in Japanese, tube tea bowl that is. It sounds strange right? So I consider calling it tall tea bowl. I hope it describes the item better. Now it’s already spring season on Japanese calendar so it is no longer applicable to use tsutujawan. Even it’s not in the winter now, my wife, Hiro, used tsutsujawan on the lesson just to practice how to use it.

Hero seemed to have the difficulty moving the *teawhisk in tsutsujawan. (*teawishk: a special utensil made of bamboo used for preparing matcha) The tustsujawan that Hiro used had the smaller diameter and taller rims, which are restricting its whisking latitude, I think. Using tsutsujawan needs time to be practiced before getting used of it. I will use it on the next lesson and see how it goes (^_-)-☆

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Chinese and Japanese green tea

Do you know what distinguished Chinese and Japanese green tea? Have you tried both? Well, I have tried only one kind of Chinese green tea, but I definitely found differences between the Chinese and Japanese tea.

Left:Japanese, Right:Chinese

The needle-shaped Japanese tea, sencha has dark green hue. It looks tightly curled and its texture is somewhat glossy. Despite the Chinese green tea I tried in the workshop, it was flatter with a subtly-textured surface and the color is brighter. My impression of Chinese green tea was clearer and has milder bitterness than sencha. The Japanese sencha has more umami. The Chinese one had greener aroma, but still the green tea and its bitterness tastes most similar to Japanese tea which out of the six types of Chinese teas I tried.

The major difference of Chinese and Japanese green tea is of its heating process when they are produced. Green tea is heated right after harvested. The leaves are usually roasted on Chinese style and steamed in Japanese, which create slightly different character green teas. So, which do you prefer?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Chinese tea workshop 2

The six teas I have tried at the Chinese tea workshop were …

White tea: 白毫銀針

Yellow tea: 霍山黄芽

Green tea: 得雨活茶

Ooolong tea: I forgot its name as well as taking a picture of its brewed form (^^;;.

Black tea: I also forgot the name of the tea (^^;;

Post-fermented tea: 普洱茶

I refer to Wikipedia for the tea names in English. I hope they are correct. The names are a little different and confusing between Western and Asian. In Asia, Oolong is categorized as blue tea, Black tea (in English) is Red and post-fermented tea is called black tea. Aren’t they confusing, they are?

There were very expensive teas included in the teas I have tried. It was interesting to experience tasting a variety of teas at the same. It has help me to understand the differences among those teas. My overall impression is that Chinese tea has less bitterness and it has a clearer taste than Japanese tea. It's striking that each tea has a distinctive aroma.

What I was most fascinated with was the aroma of oolong tea ☆*:.。. o(≧▽≦)o .。.:*☆ The aroma in the tea pitcher茶海 was fabulous. It was elegant like perfume and soothing like flower aroma. When I drank it, the aroma gently went through my nose and filled my senses. I love it so much.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Chinese tea workshop

I studied a little about Chinese tea when I took Japanese Tea Adviser certification. Aside from oolong and jasmine, I haven’t tried any other chinese teas. Maybe you know a lot about Chinese tea more than I do. Yesterday I joined a Chinese tea workshop. I was so excited about itψ(`∇´)ψ I saw a chagai demonstration and also tried 6 different Chinese teas.

The movement of chagai (or should I say the Chinese Way of Tea) is more elegant than Japanese. The Chinese movements have more curves like dancing. It’s really beautiful. I think Japanese movements are rectilinear, simple and natural. It reminds me the difference between Chinese kung-fu and Japanese karate.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Green tea for metabolic syndrome?

According to the TV show I mentioned yesterday, the mortalities at Kakekawa-shi is 15% lower on cerebrovascular disease and 30% lower on cardiac disease from the Shizuoka prefecture average.

There was a big research in Kakekawa to prove a causal relationship between green tea and health benefit. They checked the effects by giving examinees pills for three months. The pill used on the research contained the condensed green-tea essence of about 600ml (21oz) of brewed tea. One group was taking the green-tea pill and the other group was taking the fake pill. The people who took the green-tea pill got 9.02 points lower on bad cholesterol and 1.86cm (0.73in) smaller on their waist size in the average. The group of the fake-pill did not get much impact. It is amazing to get the result without any special exercise or diet restriction. The effect of green-tea pill is as good as taking medicines from doctors. So, they concluded that green tea has huge effect on improving and preventing arteriosclerosis and metabolic syndrome.

Most Kakekawa green-tea lovers prefer to have a deep-steamed type. Deap-steamed sencha looks dark and has fine floating pieces in the brewed tea. The floating pieces contain beta-carotene, vitamin-E and chlorophyll which you don’t find much in regular sencha. So, drinking deep-steamed sencha daily is good for health benefits.

When you drink deep-steamed sencha, the fine pieces remain on the bottom of cup. I am not so comfortable with the muddy part of tea. But according to the TV program, it is best for your health. On the show, Kakekawa people were moving their cup in circular motion to agitate it as they drink the tea. So you can drink whole essence of green tea. Maybe I should try it ヾ(@⌒ー⌒@)ノ

I drink about 600ml (21oz) of green tea almost daily. I hope I’ll have the health benefit as Kakekawa people have. It seems that consuming the tea leave itself has the benefit. Then I wonder if drinking matcha is more effective.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Does green tea prevent cancer?

I don’t really want to talk about health benefits of green tea on my blog. But I saw an interesting TV program and I could not ignore it.

Kakekawa-shi in Sizuoka prefecture has the lowest death rate from cancer in Japan. Also their healthcare costs of elderly citizens are 20% lower than the national average. It is an amazing figure. There is something in common between the 7 cities nominated in the top 15 on the ranking for the low cancer-death-rate. They are production regions of green tea! But Kyoto and Yame which are regions for high-quality tea are not included. The nominated cities produce regular quality tea which is consumed daily. The daily tea has a lot of catechin, which might have something to do with the health benefits.

The effect for cancer prevention of green tea is not sure yet. There are studies that show effective results but there are also some that say it's non-effective. Anyhow, it is a fact that Kakekawa-shi, where a lot of green tea is drank has the lowest cancer death rate in Japan.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Nijiriguchi, crawl-through the doorway

I’ll introduce another unique feature of a Japanese-tea-house. In the picture, do you see a small opening on the tea house? It is the entrance to this tearoom for the guests, called nijiriguchi.

After cleansing your hand and mouth at tsukubai, you finally come to the tea room. You squat down in front of nijiriguchi and open the sliding door. You take off your shoes and crawl into the tearoom and into the tea world.

Why is it so small then? Actually, I don’t know the truth, ha ha (^^;; But there are some anecdotes about nijiriguchi. What I have heard is that everybody has to bend down to pass through nijiriguchi, which means everybody naturally has to bow. In the tearoom, everyone is equal no matter what your status in the society is. You bow down to get in the room (^-^) How nice! I like that idea. I’ve also heard that samurais had to leave their swords outside of the room. I imagine you can’t get through nijiriguchi while wearing your swords on your belt.  I guess nijiriguchi were designed by the spirits of ancient tea masters with the wish to create peace and quality in the tearoom.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Tsukubai, a stone basin in tea-house garden

The other day I introduced a waiting bench in a tea garden. Today, I’ll show you another facility found in the garden. It is a stone basin called tsukubai in Japanese. , At formal tea ceremonies, guests purify their hands and mouth with the water from tsukubai before getting into the tea room.

When the ceremony starts, you leave the bench in the calm green garden and head for the tsukubai. You crouch down in front of tsukubai and take the ladle to scoop the water. You gently pour the water on your hand and then dab some on your lips to purify them. You return the ladle on the basin and leave the tsukubai for the tea room. I think that taking time for this purifying procedure helps your spirit be ready for the coming peaceful moment and tea, and also makes the tea ceremony special.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Japanese teapot for starters

On the previous post, “What you need for making Japanese tea” I have recommended a small teapot to make Japanese tea for starters.

Simple classic Japanese teapot; kyusu (side-handle type)
Size: around 200ml (7oz)
Strainer: mounted fine-mesh ceramic strainer
Production region: Tokoname

I suppose you prepare sencha for single or a couple of servings in most occasions. I chose this type of teapot because it is suitable for the said situation. We also can’t disregard its versatility for you can also brew other kinds of tea in it. I am not saying this is the only suitable teapot, and you have other options as well. But let me talk about some reasons why I recommend it.

Kyusu-type (side-handle or back-handle teapot)
The teapots with a handle have more versatility than those without a handle. They can brew hojicha, bancha and genmaicha which are prepared with boiling water. When you brew tea with boiled water, the teapots can get too hot to hold if they didn't have a handle.

Size: around 200ml (7oz)
Smaller teapots are better for gyokuro, and the bigger ones are better for casual teas. I think that the small-sized teapot is big enough for serving a couple, and you don’t want a big unhandy teapot. One regular serving for sencha is about 70ml (2.5oz), so about 200ml (7oz) is a good size. What do you think?

Strainer: mounted fine-mesh ceramic strainer
All kinds of strainer has both merits and demerits. Basket-type strainers are not good for preparing a small amount of tea. I think ceramic strainers make more delicious tea than stainless strainers. Regular-mesh ceramic strainer is coarse for deep-steamed sencha. So I think a fine-mesh ceramic strainer is the most versatile and good for both sencha and deep-steamed sencha, and other teas.

Production region: Tokoname
It doesn’t have to be a Tokoname ware. But there are two reasons why I recommend it. The first reason is that Tokoname is a major region for teapot production and their productions have certain qualities. So, it is easier for you to look for a Tokoname teapot from a wide selection than a teapot from minor regions. The second is that Tokoname teapots (yakishime type) can brew delicious tea than teapots made of other materials. Please refer to the last post about it.

If you want to start making Japanese tea and are looking for a teapot, why don’t you try the teapot I introduced? The teapot shown in the pictures here is available for sale at our shop, Everyone’s Tea.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Tokoname teapot can brew more delicious tea than teapots made of other materials

There was a large-scale survey in Tokoname (one of the biggest teapot production regions) last year. Over 80% of the public and tea-experts tasted that the tea brewed from the Tokoname-teapot is more delicious than the teas brewed from teapots made by other materials. The other teapots are made from porcelain, glass and aluminum. 84% of the public (63% of the experts) thought that the tea brewed from Tokoname-teapot has more umami. Majority found more bitterness on the teas from teapots made of the other materials. Many people who tasted the tea from the Tokoname pot said that it was richer and mellower than the others. In fact, according to a scientific analysis by a taste-sensor machine, the Tokoname teapot can enhance the richness of the flavor of teas compared to the other teapots. For the teas brewed from the glass and aluminum teapots, the bitterness level exceeds the level of umami.

This chart is from Saron No.37 by Nihoncha instructor association.

The report of the survey didn’t state the specific reason why Tokoname pot has the great effect on brewing green tea. But, it is generally said yakishime of Tokoname teapots affect the taste. Yakishime is a kind of baking method which is no glaze is applied in high temperature baking. Yakishime teapots are porous ceramics, which has a little textured surface. The porous ceramic adsorbs catechin of tea and makes mild-bitterness tea.
Anyhow, the survey is showing the fact of that many people actually said the tea from Tokoname pot is better.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

What you need for preparing Japanese tea 2

Yesterday, I introduced the essential tea wares for the first tea set for beginners, which are 200ml (7oz) teapot and two sencha-cups (70ml/2.5oz) and saucers. You can enjoy the most of Japanese teas with them, and will not have problems in most of occasions. However, you can develop the basic tea set as you expand the occasions enjoying more of the Japanese tea. I’ll show you some samples of the development.

Add small cups – To enjoy gyokuro
Gyokuro is a premium green tea which you might want to try someday once you are into Japanese-tea world. Gyokuro should be prepared with a very little amount of water (about 25ml/0.9oz). You can use the small teapot that you already have in the basic tea set, but you want small cups for gyokuro. About 30ml (1.1oz) will be a good size for it. You can also add a watercooler to this set if you want.

Add a large toki (pottery) cup – To enjoy casual daily tea
When you start drinking Japanese tea daily, you might that think a regular sencha-cup is too small. The large *toki (pottery) cups, such as a large yuonmi-cup or ippukuwan-cup, will be the next item that you want to add to your tea set. The larger size is handy for the daily teas. Pottery cups have a slower heat transfer than porcelain. A little thick toki cups are better for hojicha, bancha and genmaicha which are usually prepared with boiling water.

*pottery: In Japanese, there are two major words for ceramics. One is “jiki” and the ther 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.

Add a few more cups and saucers – To enjoy tea with more people
When you want to serve tea for more people, just add a few of the sencha-cups and saucers to the basic tea set. The small teapot might not be big enough to fulfill the several cups at once. Then put proper amount of leaves for the servings and brew twice with the same leaves. Pour the tea evenly into each cup from each brewing to make the taste and density even among all cups. Adjust the brewing times shorter than regular brewing, something like 40sec for the first brewing and 30sec for the second. You will find a great pleasure in exotic tea with your friends.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

What you need for making Japanese tea

A Japanese-tea beginner asked me for an advice for basic tea wares to start preparing Japanese tea. He or she is looking for proper utensils for this. Today, I’ll introduce what you need and some tips to choose your first Japanese tea set.

Let me state an example scenario for a beginner. Suppose that you want to enjoy tea by yourself or with your partner. You may sometimes want to serve tea for guests. *As I wrote on the previous posts, I would like to recommend sencha for the first Japanese tea. So I think the tea wares for sencha will be good for the first tea set. It will be very ideal if the tea wares can be also applicable to other teas, in case you might want to explore more of the Japanese tea. So, here I will introduce a tea set mainly for individuals or couples and good for sencha brewing.

 Essential items

Teapot - Simple classic Japanese teapot; kyusu (side-handle type)
Size: around 200ml (7oz)
Strainer: mounted fine-mesh ceramic strainer
Production region: Tokoname
I would like to explain the details in a future post.

Tea cup × 2pcs - Regular sencha-cup
Size: about 70ml at practical use (not full capacity)
Material: toki (ceramic) or jiki (porcelain), but avoid thin porcelain
A bowl-shaped cup is called sencha-cup or kumidashi-cup. Cylinder-shaped cup is called yunomi-cup. Personally, I think that the sencha-cup is more sophisticated than the younomi cup, which would be better to use if you are serving tea for guests. Thin porcelain cups are usually regarded as a high-quality cup, but here we want a wide application as your first cups. Thin porcelain cups have a high thermal conductance, so they are not really good for hojicha, bancha, and genmaicha which is usually prepared in boiling water.

Saucer × 2pcs - Wooden round saucer
Japanese saucers do not come in the same design with a cup like that of the western tea sets. Wooden rounded saucers are often used for Japanese tea. The sound when you put a cup on a wooden saucer is different from the sound on a porcelain saucer. It is gentle and you will appreciate it. You can choose any design with your taste. We don’t always use saucers for casual tea at home, but now we are expecting a situation using this tea set for serving tea for guests, so it’s better to have one in your tea set.

 Other items

Tea caddy
Any light-proof and air-tight container is good. However if it is Japanese designed caddy, it will be better. Japanese caddy will enhance your tea set more.
Capacity: around 100g tea leaves

Tea spoon
You can estimate well the amount of leaves by using a same spoon always when you prepare tea.

Water cooler
High-quality Japanese tea is usually prepared with warm water. Even you need the warm water, you should always boil the water first, and then you let it cold to the desired temperature you want. Water cooler is best used in order to make the hot water, cool much faster

Waste-water receptacle
I personally don’t use a waste-water receptacle much. But it will be helpful to have a waste-water receptacle at the side of your table when you serve tea for guests. You don’t have to leave the table every time you want to throw waste-water and leaves away.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Koshikake-machiai, waiting bench in tearoom garden

When I went to the tea ceremony to Urakuen in Inuyama, I took some pictures around the tea room. A proper tea room (or I should say proper tea house) obtains some subsidiary facilities such as the way leading to the tearoom and waiting bench in the garden. The photo is the waiting bench, called koshikake-machiai. At a formal tea ceremony, guests wait at the bench in the garden until the ceremony is ready. The guests will be notified as soon as the ceremony is going to start by sound of the bell or sound of pouring fresh water into a stone basin.

Please imagine that you are waiting for a tea ceremony at the bench in a calm Japanese garden. Looking at your surroundings, you enjoy finding the wide variety color of green in moss and trees. Then you hear the sound of pouring fresh water into a stone basin from somewhere in the garden. By hearing such, you will realize how quiet the surrounding is. You can tell by the sound that notifies everyone the start of the ceremony how elegant it is. (^-^) You are about to leave the bench. The calm moment before the ceremony appears very nicely.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Nice looking bottle but …

The bottled green tea I bought today looked nice but actually the taste was so so.
zannen… 残念(; ̄O ̄)

Friday, February 4, 2011

Flavorful-tea brewing

Yesterday, I wrote that my sencha was good at 80degC water and 60sec brewing. But it’s a textbook method (standard method), and kind of boring, don’t you think?

Actually, I often brew this tea with twice the amount of leaves (5g/0.18oz) and lower temperature water (60C/140F). I can bring out the rich umami and bitterness and I like it much better this way. As I take a sip of the tea, sweet green-tea flavor fills my mouth. It is rich and mellow. I can also taste rich bitterness but it’s never intense. The bitterness is rounded and also helps to accentuate the profound umami even more. The tea brewed with this method has a long lasting taste with a round flavor. The aftertaste fades away by leaving a faint sweetness in my mouth. With this brewing, I can get profound umami taste which you can’t get with just ordinary brewing. I think the large amount of leaves really matters in brewing an excellent tea. I guess this method depends on the preference of every person because this is for people who prefer rich tea with profound umami. I’m not sure if it works with your sencha, but why don’t you give a try of my recipe on your weekend?

** Flavorful-tea brewing **
Tea: 5grams (0.18oz) (sencha)
Water: 70ml (2.5oz), 60-65degC (140-149F)
Brewing Time: 60sec

I prefer a big amount of tea at my work. I usually brew three-times the amount of this recipe using a big cup (ippukuwan). 15grams (0.53oz) of tea and 210ml (7.4oz) water were used in the pictures below.

Pour boiling water into the teapot (210ml/7.4oz)

Pour all the water out from the teapot into the cup

Three scoops of leaves (15g/0.53oz for total) into the teapot
One scoop showed in this picture is about 5grams (0.18oz)

Meanwhile the water gets around 63C/145F
Today, the room temperature was 13C(55F) so water got cool easily.

Pour the water from the cup to the teapot

Wait for 60sec

Pour the tea into the cup

Enjoy the flavorful tea!

When you prepare green tea with low water temperature (lower than 70C/158F), you need to brew it for a longer time than usual. But here, I also use a lot of leaves. The low temperature and large amount of leaves used balance out each other. So, I can just brew it for a regular brewing time (60sec).
Despite the great taste of first brewing, it tends to get stronger on the second brewing due to the large amount of leaves. So I try not to leave it long on the second brewing and I immediately pour the tea to the cup.