Friday, April 29, 2011

Can you evaluate bottled tea?

What if you were working at a bottled tea manufacturing company, what kind of bottled green tea would you make? To produce a great bottled tea, you need to know what customers think of your tea and your competitors’.

Konnichiwa, it’s meヽ(^。^)ノ Again, I’m gonna talk about a thing I learned at the bottled tea workshop. The company that the instructor works for produces bottled tea. They do tests and evaluations for their products and the competitors’. The company use two kinds of evaluation method and one is a scientific evaluation and the other one is a sensory method. At this workshop, we got to try the sensory evaluation. We learned how it is done and actually experienced it.

Here is a view of what we did at the workshop. Let’s say that you were working at a research laboratory in a bottled tea plant. You ought to think about what kind of product you are going to produce next. You needed to evaluate and analyze your bottled sencha and your major competitors’ for this season to find out what is going to make a big hit on the next season.

This is a relative evaluation. The white marked tea is the control tea, which is your product. The red and blue marked teas are the samples which are the products from competitors. (Water is just for washing your mouth.) The panelists drink these teas and compare how different they are from the control. They check seven aspects.

1. dynamics of aroma
2. green aroma
3. roasted aroma
4. sweetness and umami
5. bitterness
6. green flavor
7. roasted flavor

The point is not if you like it. The panelists need to compare the dynamics on each aspect. They taste the teas and complete the survey. The paper partially shown in the picture is the survey sheet.

I actually tasted them as a panelist. The amount of samples was not so much, so I tied to alternately sip little of each tea. But I noticed that it tastes different when I sip plenty amount. I learned that I can tell correct flavors with plenty mount. Anyway, the Smple Red had more roasted aroma and flavor than the control. The Sample Blue had less aroma, but more umami and green flavor. (These samples were major brands from different companies made and sold in Japan.)

So, if you launch your own bottled tea plant, don’t evaluate teas by your preference but with dynamics on the each aspect. Haha^^  Jah!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Tasting the first tea of 2011

Do people feel delight for any first harvest or products of the year in your country? Beaujolais Nouveau, perhaps? Somehow, we Japanese appreciate firstlings. There is even an old saying, “If you eat firstling, your life will be extend 75 days longer.” Hahaha^^

Konnichiwa, it’s meヽ(^。^)ノ Now it is the season for first harvest of tea this year in Japan! Yaaay! Now, tea is being harvested and sold in stores. Farmers say that this year’s picking season is about one week later than the usual years’ because of the climate change. Geographically, the season starts from southern regions and move up to northern areas.

I had a chance to taste the first tea of 2011 at the workshop I joined last week. It was still the beginning of the season so the teas were from Kagoshima, southern prefecture of Japan. We had two kinds of fukamushi-sencha (deeps-teamed sencha). One was made of Yutakamidor breed and the other one was made of Saemidori breed.

Left: Saemidori, Right:Yutakamidori

We brewed it at 63degC (145F) in 50ml of water for 1 min.
The aroma was very natural and rounded. As I sip it, the flavor made me smile. It had a nice sweetness.

We brewed it at (65degC 149F) in 50ml of water for 40sec.
This tea had greener aroma than Yutakamidori but despite of the aroma I found more umami in this tea. All I can say was “Wow!” It had a rich and mellow flavor.

Both teas had rich umami and did not have much bitterness. These senchas are covered by screen to avoid direct sunlight for a few days before picking. Some of you might notice that they aren’t considered as kabusecha. Yes, these senchas are made like kabusecha, but the covering period is shorter than kabuse. That’s why these are sold as sencha. *I believe there is no clear definition of the covering period to distinguish sencha, kabusecha and gyokuro. Anyway these senchashad good umami like kabusecha. I actually loved both of them. I very much enjoyed the first tea with kuzu confection and the tea time with other participants. I guess I am one of the people who feel delight for firstlings, hehe^^ Jah!

Basically, sencha is not covered with screen. Some farmers cover sencha for a very short period to make mild sencha.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

What is the difference between brewed tea and bottled tea?

At the previous post, I said that bottled teas are real tea. But, are they really the same as brewed tea at home?

We even have a very small bottle of green tea.

Konnichiwa, it’s meヽ(^。^)ノ Today, I’d like to talk about what is the similarity and difference between bottled tea and brewed tea.

One thing they have in common is that they are both extracted from tea leaves, which is the most important element for tea drink. Since the bottled tea is made in that way, I consider them real tea.

On the other hand, the difference is that bottled tea is made with all kinds of efforts for a long preservation. The followings are the ingenuities.

Naturally brewed tea has floating substances. Manufacturers filter the brewed tea in order to take them out for a long preservation. Also, those substances have natural tendencies to group together and subside at the bottom of the bottle. The grounds don’t look good and can be a cause of complaints from customers.

Adding vitamin C
Oxidization is an enemy for a long preservation. Adding vitamin C can prevent oxidization. The instructor said that vitamin C looks like whitish granule and it tastes sour. I haven’t tasted the sourness in bottled tea, so I guess the added amount is extremely little. (Or manufacturers may have some special techniques to hide the sourness??)

The bottled-tea manufacturer where the instructor works uses heat-sterilization method. Each manufacturer has slightly different method for sterilization.

I think these processes may take out or change some flavor of original tea. So, some people think bottled tea doesn’t taste as good as brewed tea. If you think that the disadvantage of bottled tea is that they don't taste as good as brewed tea; well, they also have a huge advantage as compared to the latter. You can easily enjoy green tea anytime and anywhere. I think the convenience is a significant advantage of them. It's no exaggeration to say that bottled teas have changed tea lifestyle in Japan. As a matter of fact, some young households don’t have a teapot.

I've learned that the fundamental similarity is that both brewed and bottled tea are extracted from tea leaves. The difference is that bottled tea applied some ingenuities for a long preservation. Another thing I learned is that manufacturers in Japan always keep on improving those preservation techniques to achieve making the same flavor as brewed tea. I’m very delightful for the future of bottled green tea^^  Jah!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Are bottled teas real tea?

Is bottled or canned green tea popular in your country? Have you tried them? The first canned green tea in Japan was released in 1985. Now bottled teas have become widely accepted in contemporary life style. Some young households do not even have a teapot. They don’t prepare tea at home. They just buy brewed ones from supermarkets or at convenience stores.

Konnichiwa, it’s meヽ(^。^)ノ This weekend I joined a workshop for tea instructors and advisers. This time, we learned about canned and bottled green tea.

So, do you think bottled teas are real tea? Are they artificial tea?

Before that, what is real tea?

Yes, maybe the tea prepared with tea leaves and a teapot can be called real tea. Then, do you know how bottled teas are made?

** How bottled tea is made **
1. Extracting tea leaves
2. Filtration
3. Blending (To produce stable quality of bottled teas, tea concentrate is extracted and then it’s diluted)
4. Sterilization
5. Bottling and capping
6. Cooling

After attending the workshop, my understanding of bottled tea is that they are real. It is because bottled tea is made of extracted essence of tea leaves. Have you looked at the ingredients shown on the label of bottled tea? It usually says that the main ingredient is TEA.   There are some things in common and different between bottled teas and brewed teas. I’ll talk about it on the next entry. Jah!

Friday, April 22, 2011

One of the preparations before tea lesson

Can you tell what this utensil (these items are parts of 1 utensil) is? I don’t have it myself. This is my tea master’s and we use it in the preparation room before almost every tea lesson.

Yes, this is a sifter for matcha. I use an ordinary tea strainer at home for sifting matcha. It works fine as well.

My master usually buys 20grams (0.7oz) of matcha for the lesson, which comes in a small plastic sachet. We have a lesson once a week and it takes about 2-3 weeks to consume all. We don’t sift matcha when it’s brand new but on the second or third week we sift it before each lesson. Then we put it into the tea container called natsume for the tea ceremony, and we use it in the lesson.

Putting matcha into the sifter


Sifted matcha! ヽ(^。^)ノ

Transfer the sifted tea from the sifter to the tea container, natsume.

It’s ready to be used for the lesson!

After the lesson, we put the remaining matcha in natsume back to the plastic sachet. We tightly bind the opening of the sachet and put it in an air-tight bin. Then my master keeps it in a freezer.

These steps might be troublesome but if you want to see your guests smiling over your tea, they are worth doing.

When you store tea in the fridge or freezer, there are two things you need to care about.

1. Odor from other food
Tea easily captures other smells. Please securely keep it in an airtight container.

2. Frost and moisture
Tea gathers frost and moisture when opening a cold tea package from the refrigerator. It is not good for the tea. Therefore, leave the package at room temperature for a while, and then open it.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A tip for smooth matcha

Today, I wanted to show you a not so good matcha with lumps. I tried taking the photos of matcha prepared with sifted and non-sifted powder, but I failed to get the lumps in the matcha that I prepared. During the test, I noticed a significant difference between the two teas. Let’s take a look at how my test went (^_-)-☆

This test was for tea with lumps and without lumps. So, I didn’t use brand new tea. The tea is the one stored at home for a while. I sifted it for one bowl and didn’t for the other. I used about the same amount for both bowls but the sifted tea has more volume.

I added 50ml (1.8oz) hot water into both bowls and whisked them. I realized that the non-sifted tea didn’t get as foamy as the sifted one. The sifted tea got fine silky foam and the non-sifted one got coarse bubbles. I personally think that finer foam looks nicer.

I drank both bowls. I expected having lumps left in the bowl of non-sifted tea but actually I did not get any of them. (Maybe I was too good at whisking, hehehe^^) That means I failed to reach the initial goal. But you know what … I noticed something important thing on the result of sifting.

It is the taste!! The both teas have totally different taste. The tea I used was the same tea. The difference is just the sifting before making. I was so surprised with the result. I didn’t like the non-sifted tea at all. The taste was poor and I got an unpleasant flavor at the center of my tongue. On the other hand, sifted tea was mild and smooth. The flavor filled my mouth. I love it much better.

I had tried both sifted and non-sifted tea before. I sensuously knew the sifted tea is better but today I truly realized their difference by trying and comparing them at the same time. It may not work for brand new tea but I think that it’s really worth to sift old tea even if sifting is troublesome. Please try it if you have old matcha left at home ♪( ´▽`)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Casual matcha at the Toso Festival

At the festival, we found a tea stall serving matcha with tea bowls made by local artists. It was not a formal tea ceremony and anybody could enjoy matcha casually. Ladies who serve tea were wearing the traditional kimono. We paid and sat on a bench that is covered with red drape. Two ladies were playing Japanese harps there. Sweets were served first. They are from a local confectionary shop, called Takaraya.

Then, matcha was served in a moment. The tea bowls were quite beautiful. The matcha was also from a local shop, Kokaen where I frequently buy tea from. I don’t usually think that matcha tastes good when I eat out, but I’m really satisfied with the taste of matcha served at this event. o(^▽^)o It was nice to relish matcha with clear melody of Japanese harps.

What I was surprised about was the price. This tea set (confection and matcha) was just 300yen. It is a very reasonable price. If you had this kind of tea set at other places, it would cost about bouble. I think this event is very good to try matcha for beginners. Not only because of the price, but also because this event didn’t require any special manners for tea ceremony. You can causally enjoy Japanese harp and good matcha served by the ladies wearing kimono. If you have never tried matcha, you gotta travel to Seto for your first bowl next year!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Toso Ceramic Festival in Seto, Aichi

Does your home town have any local festival? My city, Seto is famous for ceramic production and some ceramic festivals are held each year. There is a major festival called the Setomono Festival at the end of summer. There is another festival in spring time that is called the Toso Festival. At either festival, there are some stalls of ceramic shops and food at the downtown area. Also, some events take place around the town.

I have been to the Setomono Festival quite often, but not so much to the Toso Festival. This may be because the Toso fest is smaller compared to the Setomono fest when it comes to the scale. The Toso fest was actually held on the last weekend and we went there. Surprisingly, I liked it better than the Setomono Festival! The Setomono fest is at the end of summer so it’s usually hot. Setomono has more shops and more people and it is very crowded. I’m not saying that Setomono Festival is bad. It’s good for people who love big and boisterous festival. It’s kind of tiring for me. The climate was nicer and not too crowded at Toso so I was able to leisurely enjoy it.

The tea workshop I introduced yesterday was also one of the events at Toso Festival. There was also an event where you can experience painting on ceramics. It’s nice to have some local festivals and I would like to come back again by next year.

This is an exhibition of table setting using Seto wares at Toso Festival.

Monday, April 18, 2011

What can you do with the scraps of tea leaves that are left behind after brewing?

Yesterday, I attended a tea workshop held in my city. The workshop was entitled “Japanese Tea for Ladies”. It was a short session which was good for 30 min, only. The instructor lectured about following:
A,) The efficacies of green tea for beautiful skin and diet;
B,) The difference between regular sencha and deep-steamed sencha;
C,) A demonstration of how to brew deep-steamed sencha.

We actually got a chance to try testing both regular and deep-steamed sencha in the workshop.


What I was most interested about was eating the scraps of tea leaves that are left behind after brewing. Usually, these scraps are thrown away. But you can also eat the tea leaves after they have been brewed for tea. You put them on a small plate or bowl and put dry tuna flakes as topping. You can eat them with soy-based sauce. It can be enjoyed as a side dish.

I have tried eating the scraps of gyokuro. In addition this instructor also introduced eating scraps of tea leaves out of sencha. Thus, not only tea leaves from gyokuro can be eaten but also those from sencha. The leaves of high-quality tea or the first tea of the season are soft and good for eating. Low-grade tea or late-picked tea is hard and not good for eating. What we had at the workshop was the first sencha of this year from Yakushima. It was lighter in taste than gyokuor’s. I quite liked the sencha scraps. Actually, I prefer sencha rather than gyokuro for eating. I want to try it home sometime.

This tea-leaf dish is similar to a common Japanese dish, which is often made of spinach or rapeseed flowers. It is familiar to us but eating tea leaves may be strange for you (^^;; Wanna try it?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Is the foam necessary on the surface of matcha?

How does the surface of the matcha you prepared look like? Is it totally or partially covered with foam?

I have heard different opinions about the foam. The foam makes the tea milder, so it’s good to make plenty of them. Well, that sounds right. On the other hand, I heard that too much whisking makes the tea react with air and oxidize it. Therefore, it makes the tea bitter. Hmmm, this also makes sense. They are kind of contradicting each other, but I think they are both true. I guess you need the balance between both theories.

In sado (The Way of Tea), how much foam you make depends on the family traditions. In some family tradition, you make plenty of foam and others don’t. The family tradition I’m learning suggests medium foam which partially covers the surface. However, I have not acquired the skill to achieve it. I personally think if the tea is not mixed well, it will taste rough. So, I want to whisk well and I keep making a lot of foam that covers the entire surface. It is not good in my family tradition. I’m struggling between whisking well and not making too much foam. I think I need more practice to create a perfect foam on matcha (^^;; How about you, how are you doing with the foam?

A is what I usually prepare.
B is what I need to achieve.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

I have tried the double-processed method

As I mentioned on the last entry, I actually tried the double-processed brewing and the standard brewing as well.

Water: 70ml, 70degC (158degF)
Tea leaves: 3g of kabushecha

A: standard brewing
Brewing time >> One minute
I put the tea leaves and hot water and brewed it for one minute.


B: double-processed brewing
Brewing time >> 20sec with a little water + 50sec with whole water
I put the tea leaves into the teapot and poured a little hot water, just enough to cover the tea leaves.  

The leaves absorbed the water and changed their color. It took about 15-20sec. The leaves looked like this.

Then I poured rest of the water and left it for another 50sec

These are the teas that I have brewed. Tea B was darker and little murkier.

A: Tea brewed with standard way
This tea had an exact density. A nice accord of bitterness and sweetness filled my mouth which reminds me of a breeze coming in from the window. And I found a trace of umami in the after taste.

B: Tea brewed with double-processed method
It had a bold attack of umami when I sipped it. It was sensational. The flavor was definitely richer and had a lingering aftertaste. I think that pouring additional water in the middle of brewing agitates the tea and water, and makes the tea murkier. It also helps to bring out full flavor of the tea.

Therefore, I conclude that Tea A is clearer in taste, and Tea B is richer. I can’t say which is better. It depends on your preference. If you want to enjoy nice and smooth tea, brew the tea in the standard way. When you want to enjoy the full potential of tea, then the double-processed method works better.

I expected not to have much difference in the result but actually there was a certain difference. Now I think I need to try whatever I’m curious about. You never know what you gonna get. Forrest Gump^^

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A brewing method I learned from a book

Do you remember the first time when you prepared Japanese tea yourself? Who or where did you learn it from? I don’t remember exactly but I think I learned it from my grandma when I was in my elementary. I prepared and served tea to help my parents when we had guests.

Now I sometimes learn about tea preparation from books. The book I read yesterday introduces a slightly different way from the standard brewing. The standard brewing is putting the tea leaves, followed by a hot water, and leaving it for a minute. However, the method the book introduces has one extra step on the standard brewing. The book tells that you pour the hot water into the tea pot in two steps. Other brewing conditions are the same between the both brewings.

The tea-preparation steps are as follows:

1. Soak the tea leaves
Put the tea leaves into a teapot. Pour a little hot water, just enough to cover the leaves. Put a lid on and leave it a little while.

2. Add more water, and wait
After the entire leaves got wet and changed its color, pour the rest of hot water into the teapot the second time. Put back the lid on and leave it for 30-60sec.

The method is introduced by a tea-tasting master and I thought it can be reliable information. But it didn’t explain the reason why you need to pour the water into the teapot twice and also didn’t mention the advantages of it. Also the instruction is not specific. I don’t know how long exactly the soaking step takes. 10sec? 60sec? I’m kind of doubtful of the great efficacy of the method. What do you think?

I think that the water temperature will be lower in this method than the standard one. So what I can assume is that you might be able to brew mellower tea. But if you want mellow tea, you can just use low-temperature water from the beginning. What is the reason for the extra step? Now I want to try the method myself. Tomorrow, I’ll write about it! See ya!

Monday, April 11, 2011

The confection named rapeseed flowers

Hey, it’s time of cherry blossoms! In my region, it’s the peak of blooming now. The best period is short and only lasts for a week or so. Maybe, that’s why Japanese is so fascinated with cherry blossoms. Yesterday, I went to on a cherry viewing picnic with my family at a neighboring park. We took my grandfather and had lunch there.  It was a fine day and no cloud was in the sky. Children were playing with parents. A senior couple was relaxing at a bench. A group of young people was parting with alcohol. Many people were enjoying under the cherries. It feels nice to eat outside sometimes.

We went to Azumaken, my favorite confectionary shop in my town. This is one of the sweets we got. The confection is named rapeseed flowers which are after a spring flower of the same name. I think it appears like yellow blossoms in a green field. It has sweet bean past inside.

Photo of rapeseed flowers >>> Wikipedia

Friday, April 8, 2011

Incense container

You can smell a scent in a tea room. We place incense in the hearth. Our tea master showed us some of her incense containers. There are variety types. The ones in the back row are made of ceramic and used in winter. The ones on the first row are wooden and used in summer.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Joyo, the king of Japanese cake

I remember that I could not help eating joyo, a kind of Japanese confection at my grandfather’s funeral. Many neighbors and relatives brought joyo and there were more than you can eat. I was 14 or 15. Maybe that was the time that I realized I love Japanese confections. Since then joyo has been my favorite.

Joyo is one of the traditional cakes in Japan. It’s popular and you can find it anywhere. It’s a simple confection. Sweet bean paste is covered with dough. The dough is like thin sponge which is made of rice and yam (a kind of root crop) if I remember right. When you put it in your mouth, the pleasant sweetness of bean paste will occupy your palate. The earthy flavor of yam adds an accent on the sweetness and you can even smell the aroma. Your hand naturally knows what you want next. That’s right, … a cup of green tea ^^

At last night’s tea lesson, the sweet was the joyo! I had a happy moment with joyo and matcha.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Black bean tea at a contemporary restaurant

How do you celebrate a birthday for your family member? Do you have a party at home or eat out at a fancy restaurant? I went to a restaurant for my wife’s birthday.

The meal we had was Japanese cuisine, which included some traditional dishes, such as sashimi and sushi. Some of them came on a western plate. The interior of the restaurant is modern. We loved the fusion of Japanese & Western, and Tradition & Modern.

Black bean tea was served at the end of the course. This kind of tea is not made of the tea plant, so it is not technically a tea. Anyway, it has nice roasted aroma. The taste was very smooth and doesn’t have much bitterness. Maybe, hojicha is the similar tea to describe this bean-tea flavor. The tea was pleasure for refreshing my mouth after the meal.