Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Preparation for tea-storing tests

A rainy day would not be probably a good day to open new packages of tea. It may be good to open them on a dry day. But well, I did opened ones on the last rainy Friday, hehehe (^^;; Do you care about the weather when you open a new package?

Konnichiwa, it’s meヽ(^。^)ノ I packed tea into different small containers to store them in different conditions last Friday. I have 28 samples of each, sencha and matcha.

For the samples of long term storage, I used a triple packing.  I put the tea into a small plastic bag with zipper and I put it into a small double-lid tea caddy. Then I put the tea caddy into another plastic bag with zipper.

For the samples of daily-use tea storing, I put them in the double-lid tea caddies. You could consider this as single packing. I used plastic bags for convenience but I didn’t keep it open just like the way you keep daily tea in a tea caddy.

For the most of the tests, I will get the results in about one month or so. I’m planning 6 months for some long term storing tests. I’m really looking forward to seeing the results! Jah!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Confection named suiren, water lily

Last Friday, we have entered into the rainy season which usually lasts for about one and a half months. It started about two weeks earlier than usual. In Japan, the Meteorological Agency officially announces when the rainy season start. We Japanese seem conscious of the seasons.

Konnichiwa, It’s meヽ(^。^)ノ We do have a lot of seasonal things in our cultures. Japanese traditional confectionary is one of them. You can find many confections with seasonal designs.

What I got last Friday was a confection named suiren, water lily. Suiren is the flower that blooms on water in this season.

Google search result for 睡蓮 suiren >>>

Doesn’t this depict the water and the flower very well? You can find scenery in a confection. I love this type of character in Japanese sweets.

It’s usually served at natural temperature. The dark part looks like a stone basin for me. The clear jelly part looks like water. Green leaf and the blooms are floating on it. The stone basin is made of been past which is pretty sweet. I enjoyed the comparison of two different textures when I put it in my mouth. Just having a confection, my tea time has been three times fascinating^^ Jah!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

My curiosities on the tea storage methods

The other day, I found a Japanese webpage recommending the slow-thawing method in keeping the tea inside the freezer. I usually leave it at room temperature about a few hours to defrost before I open the package, but this webpage tells us to leave it in a refrigerator for one day and for another day at room temperature and then you can open it. Wow! you need two days to open the package from the freezer. This webpage says that slow thawing is very important but it doesn’t explain why.

Konnichiwa, it’s meヽ(^。^)ノ The slow-thawing method must be good for the tea but I thought that I don’t want to take that time and effort. It is very unrealistic and not practical for casual tea. But, what if those steps make a tremendous difference on the taste of stored tea …

I have started to wonder if my storing method is the best. I came up with some questions regarding storage on the following topics.

1. Thawing time

Is the slow thawing really worth it?

2. Storage place

Some people say that you do not have to store teas in the refrigerator and a relatively cool room temperature is just okay. Some others say that freezer is a better place for storage. Where is really the best place to store tea at home, at the room temperature, refrigerator or freezer?

3. Times of thawing and exposure to the air

I thought that the frequent freezing-thawing and refreshing the air in the package would not be good for tea. If you pack it separately into small different containers when you store it inside the freezer, you could actually minimize those risks in theory. I wonder how effective it is and if it’s worth it.

I want to keep my tea in its best condition but at the same time I don’t want to spend too much effort or time just for storing it. I want to find out the crossover point in these two needs, and my own storing method. I’m planning to do some tests for the three above-mentioned topics. I got some materials for the tests, such as teas (sencha and matcha), small tea caddies and air-tight plastic bags (plastic bags with zipper). I’ll report them to you when I get the results. It may take one to six months. We’ll see! Jah!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Do you store Japanese tea correctly at home?

How long does it take to consume a package of tea after you open it? How do you store your tea at home? Are you really sure that your storage method is correct?

Konnichiwa, it’s meヽ(^。^)ノ Actually, it depends on the types of tea but 100g (3.5oz) package is the most common size that I buy. I’ll consume it in about two weeks if it is my favorite kind. Perhaps, it might take more than a half year for some disliked or more valuable kinds.

I store them in a standard way. Japanese green teas are more perishable than Oolong or English teas. To keep them fresh, it is important to avoid oxidation, high temperature, humidity, light, and capturing other odors.

Tea caddies that I use at home

1. Keep a small amount of tea leaves for daily use in the tea caddy

When I purchase a fresh tea, I leave only an amount for one to two week’s use in my daily tea caddy. It is a double lid and lightproof tea caddy. I keep it in my kitchen (room temperature).

2. Keep the rest of the tea leaves in a cool place inside airtight containers

You do not have to store teas in the refrigerator. However, storing in low temperature can slow down the process of oxidation. So, for the teas that will be consumed in a short period, in one month or so, I’ll keep them in room temperature where it is relatively cooler. It is in the pantry which is located in the north part of my house. For those teas which are meant for a long period of consumption, I’ll keep them in the inside the refrigerator or freezer. There are two things to consider about refrigerator storage. First, you need extra care in order to prevent the capturing other odors when storing it in the refrigerator or freezer. I wrap them twice, like putting the airtight tea caddy inside an airtight plastic bag. The other thing is that the tea will gather frost and moisture when opening a cold tea package from the refrigerator. It is not good for the tea. Therefore, I leave the package at room temperature for a while, and then open it later.

This is one of the standard ways to store Japanese tea at home which many books or tea shops recommend. But, I started to wonder if this is the best way to store my tea at home. I’ll talk more about storing on the next entry. Jah!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A long way for a bowl of matcha 3

We were talking while viewing the garden from the waiting bench. In time, I caught a glimpse of a lady over the fences coming into the garden with a wooden pail. She walked to the stone basin and poured water from the pail. You would know by the sound of pouring water that your ceremony is about to start.

At the center of the picture above, do you find a medium-height simple gate made of bamboo? On the other side of the gate, there are the tea house and garden with the stone basin. The place in this picture is where the bench is located. The lady came to the gate signaling that we may enter. Before we did, we greeted each other first by squatting and bowing silently. We headed to the stone basin one by one and purified our hands and mouth with the water from it. Now it is the time to go to the tea room. We headed there by following the pass with stepping stones on it.

The entrance of the tea room is nijiriguchi, a crawl-through doorway. It is a very small opening that you have to crouch and crawl to get into the tea room. So I did. The tea room is very compact. It had some small windows and mild lights came through the paper screen on them. The first thing that attracted my eyes in the darkened room was the flowers and hanging scroll in the tokonoma (an alcove in a traditional Japanese room where art or flowers are displayed). The primitive and subdued material of walls and pillars seemed to enhance the flowers. Again, we sat on tatami-mats close to each other. The ceremony started with everyone taking a bow. The ceremony went along as almost the same as what we learned in our usual tea lessons. The only difference was that the host doesn’t have an assistant in our lesson. Here, the assistant took the role of talking with guests and managed the ceremony to go smoothly while the host was preparing the tea.

Finally, my tea was brought in front of me. It was a long way to reach this moment. It is different from just getting a cafe late in a paper cup at a casual coffee shop. In Sado, The Way of Tea, the facilities, utensils and hospitality are all involved to serve just a bowl of enchanting matcha. After I went through all the moment, I savored the tea in a superb tea bowl.

When we were leaving the house, we talked of how good the ceremony was. I especially liked the classy design of the tea house and garden.

We wanted to have lunch after the ceremony with our master. My wife and I had talked about the good places where we can take our master. She is an elderly lady so we thought she may not like greasy food. She probably likes traditional Japanese food. We had researched and picked some Japanese restaurants around the area. Before we got in our car, we actually asked her what she wanted to eat. She said “pizza”. “So, pizza it is!” So we went to a pizza restaurant in kimono (((o(*゜▽゜*)o))) Jah!

Photos of ...   (my past entries)

Waiting bench in tearoom garden

A stone basin in tea-house garden

Crawl-through doorway

Monday, May 23, 2011

A long way for a bowl of matcha 2

Konnichiwa, it’s meヽ(^。^)ノ I want to write about what I experienced at the tea house. But it was kind of a formal situation so I could not take many pictures. It is considered rude to do something else while the ceremony is ongoing so I haven’t taken any photos in the tea room.

We waited in three different places in the tea house before getting into the tea room.

The first place was at a bench outside, under the eaves of the house. We sat and waited at the bench facing the garden. What we couldn’t see was anything but the greens. The garden was covered with moss and the passageway was signified by the stepping stones. The randomly placed trees create natural scenery. I think the bench is the best place for a good view of the garden. This is the picture from the bench.

While we were enjoying the view, a lady came and collected the admission fee. A little while later, three of us and another party of two were led to the next place. These five people were led as a group all throughout the ceremony.

The second place was a waiting room in the tea house. The five of us took our shoes off and got into the small tatami room which had just enough space for 5-6 people. We sat close to each other on tatami-mats. An assistant for host of the day was waiting there. We greeted each other and did some chit chat. I basically listened to what the experienced ones were talking about. The assistant explained about the tea bowls and utensils in today’s ceremony and they also served sweets there. In our tea lesson, sweets are served in the same room where we have tea. But here it was served at a different room. Our master told us later that sweets were sometimes served in different room at formal ceremonies. After we had the sweets, the assistant told us to move to the next place.

The third place was the waiting bench which is isolated from the tea house and is at the other side of the garden. They had some Japanese sandals for guests. We stepped into them and walked through the garden. We had to walk on the stepping stones so we don’t damage the mosses. It was the same garden but it looked different and showed various sceneries from different angles as we walked through it. We sat on the bench and waited for another moment while viewing the garden. The climate on that day was pretty mild and comfortable. As I felt the air of spring, I appreciated the different angle of the garden.

This is the view from the waiting bench in the garden.

I believe the waiting time on each stage were about 15 minutes. These waiting moments were not tiring nor boring for me. I enjoyed each setting. Jah!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Restriction of tea leaves

I wrote that most of tea in Japan is safe in the previous entry. Today I saw an unfortunate news. This might not be a big news overseas so I decided to write about it.

Konnichiwa, it’s meヽ(^。^)ノ The news that I saw today is as follows.

Cesium which is one of the radioactive substances has been found in the tea leaves cultivated in Kanuma-shi and Otawara-shi in Tochigi prefecture. The tea are restricted to be sold. This year’s harvest is about to start in this area, and those leaves have not been distributed to the market yet.
Source: Yomiuri Online (Japanese) >>>

I searched for other news regarding the radioactive contamination of tea on the internet. There were two other major areas where radiation were detected from the leaves, Ibaraki and Kanagawa prefectures. In Ibaraki it includes the towns of Daigomachi and Sakaimachi and in Kanagawa it includes 6 cities and towns such as Minamiashigara-shi, Odawara-shi, Aikawamachi, Manazurumachi, Yougawaramachi, and Kiyokawamura.
Source: Yomiuri Online (Japanese) >>>

Tochigi and Ibaraki are the next-door prefectures of Fukushima. But Kanagawa prefecture is located on the next and western side of Tokyo. On the previous entry, I said that “The restricted food-producing regions are basically located on the eastern part from Tokyo.” I’m sorry for my statement was not quite accurate.

I really feel sorry for the farmers and tea manufacturers in those areas. You can harvest the best quality tea in this season. The farmers have taken great care of their tea plants for this season. All their effort in the past year has been ruined; well it may not be just the past one year. They have put tremendous efforts to establish their brands through their long history.

Those tea leaves from Tochigi, Ibaraki and Kanagawa are now restricted and not sold. So, I still think it is okay to buy tea on the market and I’ll actually keep buying tea for myself. The amount of tea produced from these three prefectures is less than 3% of the total Japanese tea production (data of 2009). So, I think this restriction won’t have a big impact on Japanese tea market. I’m sorry to say that with sympathy to the sufferers. I’m more worry about the harmful rumors to other regions which are not affected by the contamination. Jah!

 My previous entry  >>> "Is tea from Japan safe?"

Statements from Japanese Government about food restrictions (English)

Shipment Restriction resulting from Detected Radiation in Food Items (Mar 21)
>>> http://www.caa.go.jp/jisin/pdf/110321Eonegai.pdf
Intake Restriction resulting from Detected Radiation in Food Items (Mar 23)
>>> http://www.caa.go.jp/jisin/pdf/110323Eonegai.pdf
Partial Lifting of Shipment Restrictions resulting from Detected Radiation in Food Items (Apr 8)
>>> http://www.caa.go.jp/jisin/pdf/110408Eonegai.pdf

Edit on Oct 31 2011

Other entries about the radiation and tea

Edited on Nov 4

New entry about tea and radiation

Thursday, May 19, 2011

A long way for a bowl of matcha

After the outdoor tea ceremony, we went to the tea house for another ceremony.

This was the gate to the tea house. Doesn’t it look nice?

We went through it and headed to the house.

There was a passageway followed by the gate. It was paved with stone bricks and well-organized trees were lined like fences along the pass. I think those trees made the pass look long and calm. We went ahead the pass …

The pass had some turns and zigzags.

As we carried on, another gate appeared which was basically simple and rustic. When I passed through the gate, I was enthusiastic over some kind of expectation that something nice was waiting over there.

The passageway looked narrower here. You could find moss and steppingstones on the ground. I felt more calm and relaxed here.

After going through the passageway, we finally reached the tea house. It was not big, but primitive and very classy. I could peek at the part of the nice garden between the house and the tree fences. I was already very much excited about the ceremony that we are going into. But, I was just at the entrance and we haven’t even finished admission.

I think my excitement was generated by the long pass from the gate. The actual direct distance from the first gate to the tea house was not really that far. But, the pass was narrow, and had many turns. Moreover, the view was limited by the tree fences. The abovementioned facters made the passageway seem long, and gave me a sense of a virtual trip. The length of passageway may not be the real matter but I believe this passageway was intentionally designed this way to generate people’s expectation to the upcoming world.

I don’t exactly remember but it is sayed that passageway throught the tea house should be likened to the way and introduction to the world of tea which is supposedly isolated from daily life. At this tea house, I experineced the important role of the passageway for a tea house. Jah!

The website of tea house (Japanese) >>>

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Sith in the tea ceremony

Now is one of the great seasons for nice climate in my area. I guess that is why many tea ceremonies are held in this season.

Konnichiwa, it’s meヽ(^。^)ノ I went to one of the ceremonies with our master. There were two ceremonies that took place at the site, one in a proper tea room and the other one outside. We joined the outside ceremony first. Outside tea ceremony is called, nodate. During the nodate, we didn’t sit on the ground. There were some benches with red drapes and guests sat there.

The host used a special table for tea ceremony.

There was a red umbrella in the middle. I kind of liked it. I think it helped to create more of Japanese ambiance. Since, there is no *tokonoma like in a tea room, so, the flower is attached to the pole of the umbrella.

*tokonoma: alcove in a traditional Japanese room where art or flowers are displayed

The confection at the ceremony

Our tea lesson is always in the tea room. So experiencing tea ceromy outside is quite special for me. This site is surrounded by greens. The tea over the cool breeze and lushious trees was very much satisfying.

They used very nice tea bowls. This was what Hiro, my wife used. I loved this tea bowl. The figure was rugged but the same time it was firm and flavorful with the exquisite black glaze. The tea bowl that I used was different. It had a great presence with significant design of the colors. It looked powerful in a dark side.




Darth Maul??

Darth Maul >>> http://www.starwars.com/databank/character/darthmaul/

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Is tea from Japan safe?

Have you already tried the first tea of the year from Japan? Some of you might wonder if buying tea from Japan is safe over the nuclear incident, and hesitate buying it.

Konnichiwa, it’s meヽ(^。^)ノ I have tried three different tea for this year from Kagoshima. The first-harvested tea is regarded as the best quality tea among several harvesting throughout the year. I enjoyed the green aroma of the first tea and the revitalizing flavor filled my mouth.

The overseas tea lovers living outside of Japan might be concerned of how bad the nuclear mishap is, as well as its effects. The controversial issue now is whether or not Japanese tea is safe to buy.

Radioactive polluted area is limited in Japan. The government is restricting the sale of foods that may have the risk of radiological contamination from the area. Our understanding is that foods sold at the market are basically safe. Of course, we have to watch out carefully if the information is correct, but too much concerns and restriction in buying products from the area may possibly result to additional disadvantages and inconvenience to the afflicted people through unusual economic activities.

Let me write why I think tea produced in Japan is safe.

1. Most of the tea producing area is far from Fukushima.

Fukushumi is located in the eastern part of Japan from Tokyo. The restricted food-producing regions are basically located the eastern part from Tokyo. Most of the major tea-producing regions in Japan, such as Sizuoka, Kagoshima, Mie, Miyazaki and Kyoto, are located in the southern part from Tokyo and they don’t get affected by the radioactive contamination.

2. Radioactive level is too minimal to harm your health.

The following links are the radiation monitoring data of the top five tea producing prefectures. (Vertical axis: level of radiation[μSv/h], Horizontal axis: date)

Shizuoka: http://mextrad.blob.core.windows.net/page/22_Shizuoka.html

Kagoshima: http://mextrad.blob.core.windows.net/page/46_Kagoshima.html

Mie: http://mextrad.blob.core.windows.net/page/24_Mie.html

Miyazaki: http://mextrad.blob.core.windows.net/page/45_Miyazaki.html

Kyoto: http://mextrad.blob.core.windows.net/page/26_Kyoto.html

Maximum scale on the chart is 5 μSv/h which doesn’t even harm your health. For example, X-ray examination for your stomach is 50 μSv for one time. If you fly from Tokyo to NY, you will be exposed 200 μSv for a round trip (Because, you get more radiation in high altitude). From the charts, you don’t find radiation more than 0.1 μSv/h in neither of these cities.

Therefore, I personally think that the most of the tea produced in Japan is safe. If you are concerned about the level of radiation in Japanese tea, you should better not take an airplane for international flight which is much worse for you. Enjoy the Japanese tea of this year. Jah!

Information about the earthquake from the govament (English)
>>> http://www.mhlw.go.jp/english/index.html

Edit on Oct 31 2011

Other entries about the radiation and tea

Edited on Nov 4

New entry about tea and radiation

Monday, May 16, 2011

Tea that you might impulsively buy

If you were a tea producer, how would you name your tea? What kind of name do you think attracts your customers? How about your favorite brand of green tea? What’s its name?

Konnichiwa, it’s meヽ(^。^)ノ On the way home from Gero trip, we stopped by a confectionery shop, called Ena-Kawakamiya. It is one of the most popular shops making kurikinton, chestnuts-confection. I found interestingly named green tea there. They are sweets shop, so tea is not a major merchandise in their selection. I guess they are not just selling sweets but they are also trying to provide enriched time with sweets. That’s why they came up to sell their own brand of green tea. I love that idea.

Usually, tea is named by its origin, type, grade or breed. For example: premium sencha from Uji, Kyoto; or something like that. Anyway, I liked the way they named their tea. You might want to get the tea impulsively by its name. The name of their tea was “Tea for Japanese confection”! How nice! It doesn’t say it’s sencha but it explains what type of sweets it can go with and why. Please imagine that pretty confections displayed in show cases and you find this tea at their store. You have to buy the tea as well. Jah!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

A perfect getaway

Konnichiwa, it’s meヽ(^。^)ノ Shogetsu is one of the best ryokan, Japanese hotel, I have stayed. I love their well-designed interior as well. Today I want to show you some pictures of them.


The hallway to the entrance

The entrance

The court garden and small inner garden at their lobby

They have a cozy lounge next to the lobby with some books and magazines for the guests. You can also have free coffee there.

Many ryokan usually have a public bath and you can enjoy hot spring. Have you been to Japanese public bath? They usually have the changing room next to the bath where you take off your clothes. I thought you might want to see the bath and changing room, so I took my camera to the bath with me. When the door of the elevator opened at the floor of the public bath, I was kind of shocked with the view I saw there. An unusual and distinctive world was created at the floor.

Wanna see it?





Wow! I saw a fantastic entrance of the bath over a dark bamboo grove. The changing and bath rooms were quite usual but they were still nice.

Here is the changing room.


This is the bath room which was tastefully designed. I liked it pretty much. You can view the scenery of Gero city.

We were in for another surprise. The dinner was served at the restaurant in the hotel. Again, when the elevator door opened, I’m lost for words. There was another world there.




This is inside of the building. It looked like a small garden with some huts. It was not a large space but it looked like outside. They’ve decorated the floor with trees, rocks and ponds. I think mild lights from the lanterns and paper-screened door helped to create a good ambiance. We went through the garden and were led to an entrance for one of the huts. Each party can enjoy their dinner on their own private space. I really enjoyed their elaborately designed interior.

This is the guest room where we stayed. It had a wide window facing the city. So for those of you who would like to stay in a place that gives you a feeling of home away from home then I highly recommend this place. Jah!

Friday, May 13, 2011

What is tomeishi-stone?

Can you take a look at this picture? Do you find a small stone with black rope banded in front of the bamboo gate? Do you know what this is and why it is there?

Konnichiwa, it’s meヽ(^。^)ノ I found the stone at the corner of the court garden of Shogetsu. The stone is called tomeishi. You can find it at Japanese traditional gardens or tea gardens. Tome means stop and ishi means stone. Stop-stone? Now, can you guess what it is for?

This stone means “do not go any farther than here”. You can call it “keep-out stone”, maybe. For example, if there is a two-way trail in a tea garden, the stone is placed on one way and lead the guests to the other way for the correct trail. Don’t you think this keep-out sign is very modest? It could be ignored. You can easily move it or step over it. Some people may think that you should place a larger sign which says “Keep Out”, a robust barrier made out bamboo or even a yellow “Keep Out” tape in crime scenes. But, can you imagine a yellow “Keep Out” tape in Japanese gardens? Probably not. This implicit sign suits a Japanese garden. I think it’s very Japanese and I like it that way. Jah!

This is a picture of the court garden of Shogetsu from another angle. There is no tomeishi in this photo.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

What do you enjoy about greeting tea?

I kind of look forward to greeting drink and snack at ryokan, Japanese hotel. They are nothing special; just ordinary green tea and sweets. But they relieve the weariness of my trip. After a long drive, relishing tea over viewing Japanese garden or flowers at *tokonoma makes me feel relaxed. Woo, I sound like an old man, haha… (^^;;

*tokonoma: alcove in a traditional Japanese room where art or flowers are displayed

Konnichiwa, it’s meヽ(^。^)ノ I went to Gero hot spring resort in Gifu prefecture, again. The ryokan we stayed at this time was Shogetu. After passing through nice-looking gates, we were led to their lobby with a favorable court garden. I was impressed by the cozy space and the view there. Shogetsu is located at uptown of Gero city, so from the lobby you can see a great panoramic view of the city over the garden. We were sitting down while facing to the view. They also have a small inner garden behind where we were seated. It really helps to create a lovely Japanese air. We had the greeting tea there. The confection was good. I don’t quite remember the taste of the tea, but you know what? I remembered the special moment in the great environment and the view. So, I think that enjoying tea is not just only about the tea. At the same time, you also enjoy the atmosphere and savor the special moment with the tea. I have to say that I had an excellent greeting tea at Shogetsu. Jah!