Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The difference between sencha, kabusecha and gyokuro

The appearance of sencha, kabusecha and gyokuro tea leaves looks very similar.  I can’t yet tell the difference just by the appearance.  I have to smell and taste them.  But, some experts can tell if it is sencha or kabusecha just by the hue of dry leaves.  Isn’t that impressive?  I need more training on that (^^;;

You might already know the difference of their taste and preparation among those three teas.  (If you don’t know them, please refer to the brief note at the bottom of this entry.)  Today, I want to talk a little technical stuff.   Basically, they are all made of the same tea plant and processed in the same way.  So, they all look similar.  Then, what makes them different? 

The difference is the cultivation of tea plant. 
Sencha: No covering
The tea plant is grown under the sun light for the entire time. 
Kabusecha: Light covering
Before picking the leaves, the tea plant is LIGHTLY covered with a screen to shut out the direct sunlight.
Light-blocking: 60-90% for 1-3weeks
You can make sencha-tic kabusecha or gyokuro-tic kabusecha by adjusting the degree of covering.
Gyokuro: Deep covering
Before picking the leaves, the tea plant is DEEPLY covered with a screen to shut out the direct sunlight.
55-60% for 7-10days + 95-98% for 10days = about 20days

Covering makes more umami in tea.  Main substance of umami is Theanine, which changes into Catechin (bitterness) by exposing sun light in leaf.  So, covered tea has more umami and milder bitterness.  (Japanese Tea Adviser Koza, Japanese Tea Instructor Association, 2009 May)

I think the extra effort of the farmers makes the tea premium and expensive.  Try to look at dry leaves carefully, if you can tell what they are just by their hue, you might already be an expert of Japanese tea, hahaha^^



Snecha: Most common green tea
Prepared with 70-90C (158-194F) water for 1 min
Good harmony of umami and bitterness

Kabusecha: Green tea in between gyokuro and sencha
Prepared as same as sencha
Similar flavor with sencha but has more umami

Gyokuro: Premium green tea
Prepared with very small amount of lukewarm water (40-60C/104-140F) for 2-3min
Condensed umami essence

Monday, November 28, 2011

What is a good place for long-term tea storage at home?

At room temperature, in the refrigerator or in the freezer.  I have three samples stored for six months at the mentioned places.  They were triple packed (plastic pouch, tea caddy, Ziplock) and they have not been opened for that duration. 

The samples
D: room temperature
E: refrigerator
F: freezer

What do you observe in the pictures?

I found some differences in dry leaves and brewed tea.  To tell the conclusion first, they are all bad.  Brewed tea D turned reddish in color, which is not a correct hue for shencha.  D also doesn’t have a depth in its taste and I found a dusty flavor.  E has a yucky bitterness that I tasted in the back of my mouth.  F is similar with E but much stronger.  F is the worst in taste.  I don’t want to drink any of these teas even for my casual consumption.  I am very disappointed with the result. 

Some of you who have been reading my blog might have noticed the reason of the failure.  The day when I prepared the samples six months ago was a rainy humid day.  The only cause that I can think of is humidity.  The leaves might have absorbed some moisture and I packed the leaves with humid air as well.  The moisture must have ruined the tea during the storing.  I’m sorry that I could not give you the answer for this subject.  But, from this experiment, I can say that it does not matter where you store tea if you pack it on a humid day.  Moisture is a very negative factor for tea storing.  So please avoid packing tea in a humid day.

I’ll try to do the same experiment again to check if I can get different results next spring.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Experimenting for the best recipe on high quality sencha

The manager of the temporal café I worked last Saturday said that somehow the tea was not in the best condition.  So, he re-dried the tea before we used at the café.    After closing the café, every staff was given a pack of the tea which is not re-dried.  It may not be as good as the tea served at the café but it’s still a high quality sencha.  I’m very happy with it.

I prepared it at home with the same way that I did at the café.  But, the taste was not good at all.  It was way different from what we served.  However, I found some possibility to acquire a better taste and it could be improved by brewing conditions.  I realized that brewing condition might not have been exactly the same.  I measured the amount of leaves and water, and the water temperature at a rough estimate.  It might be the reason.

So, today I wanted to look for the best recipe for this tea and tried brewing it in different conditions.  I used small cups.  My conditions 1.2.3 are all about the first brewing.  I used fresh leaves on each procedure.

Condition 1
This is the recipe we used at the café.  This time, I accurately measured the following conditions.
Tea leaves: 2g
Water: 40ml (1.4oz)
Temperature: 50C (122F)
Time: 2min30sec
Wow, this is good.  No bitterness and very mild.  It is pretty close to what we served.  It could be a little weak.  So, I’ll try another procedure.

Condition 2
The previous one was mild so I tried a little higher temperature and shorter time.
Tea leaves: 2g
Water: 40ml (1.4oz)
Temperature: 60C (140F)
Time: 2min00sec
It got better.  This has a more refined body of taste, with a slight bitterness.  This is a good recipe but I wanted to look for better taste with mellowness.  I tried another procedure.

Condition 3
I wanted mellower tea with full of sweetness.  Condition 1 had good flavor but it was a little weak.  So, this time, I used the same condition as the first one but with more leaves.
Tea leaves: 2.5g
Water: 40ml (1.4oz)
Temperature: 50C (122F)
Time: 2min30sec
Excellent!  It was what I was looking for.  It doesn’t have any bitterness.  Umami and sweetness filled my mouth.  I’m sure I can impress people with this recipe.

When you prepare high quality sencha with small amount, a slight difference in the brewing condition affects the taste.  I realized it again that you should be sensitive about the conditions for high grade teas.  I encourage you to look for your best recipe with your premium teas.  It’s really fun!

This is how much 2.5g leaves look like on my spoon

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

How long do tea whisks last?

Sooner or later, the tines of tea whisks get broken.  When you get too many broken tines, it is the time to replace the whisk.  I wanted to show you a good example with many broken tines, but I could not find one.  The picture below illustrates a broken tine on my whisk.

My tea master has several whisks and they are frequently used in tea lessons.  She says that whisks last about one year or less.  I don’t prepare matcha at home that often, so I believe that I’m using the same tea whisk more than three years. 

It is difficult to determine its lifespan just by its term of use.  It pretty much depends on how often you use it and how you treat it.  In my opinion, it is okay to use a whisk with some broken tines at home for private use, but if you serve tea for some other people, you would not like to use a ragged one, with many broken tines.

I had some other questions about treating tea whisks from my blog readers.  There might be different opinions over treating tea whisks, but these are the answers that I heard from my master:

Question 1:  Should we "season" our whisks after opening a new one by soaking them for an amount of time?
Answer:  No need.  Just have it wet before each use

Question 2:  Some people advice to put it on a ceramic whisk stand after washing to dry up there.  Do you think this is better than hanging it or the same?
Answer:  Yes, it is better to use a whisk stand if you have one.  Over time, the opening angle of the tines gradually narrows and the figure of the whisk is getting thinner.  Keeping it on a whisk stand can prevent the narrowing. 

I, myself have a whisk stand, but I’m not using it.  So, I really don’t know how effective it is.  Some people are using the stands and some are not.

Monday, November 21, 2011

My debut as a Japanese tea adviser

Nishio in Aichi prefecture is one of the biggest matcha-producing regions in Japan.  Last Saturday, I joined a tea event held in Nishio.  Japanese Tea Instructor Association has a booth and we opened a café serving high quality sencha, which is a higher-ranking winner at a tea fair.   This was the first time for me to prepare tea as a Japanese tea adviser in public. 

At the café, we don’t only take the tea set to every table like what a waiter does; but we also prepare and serve the tea in front of guests.  Moreover, we also gave a little instruction with some tips for brewing delicious tea as we demonstrate the most difficult part of it.

Let me introduce the recipe that we used.  It was different from ordinary sencha preparation.  To bring out mellowness and richness of this high quality sencha, we used a small sencha cup and brewed it with lukewarm water. 
Tea leaves: 2g
Water 40ml (1.4oz)
Water temperature: 50C (122F)
Brewing time: 2min30sec
I attended a preliminary meeting to practice the procedures and instructions.   I also did imaginary rehearsals everyday at home.  I prepared well for the serving at the café.

It was raining on that day, but many people visited the event as well as our café.  At that time, my debut has finally come.  I walked with the tea set towards the table of my first guests who were two gentlemen.  I welcomed them with a greeting.  I started to prepare the tea and explained some tips as I practiced.  But, one of them said “I don’t need any instructions. Just serve it for me.”  He gave me his business card and it says he is a president of some kind of tea industry association.  Wow, I realized that it's no longer necessary to teach a fish how to swim!   I said “O.. Okay, as you wish, sir.”   It was such an awkward debut in public, hahaha(^^;;

Friday, November 18, 2011

Treating chasen

I’m sure that people reading this blog know what this item is for.  Yes, it’s a chasen, tea whisk.  It is use to mix matcha powder and hot water in a tea bowl.  But, do you know of any correct way of treating this utensil?  Which do you think is the right way of positioning the tea whisk among the three pictures above?

The tines are fragile.  Careless treating may shorten its lifespan.  If you think from the aspect of safekeeping tines, you will naturally see the answer.  Yes, the answer is “C”.  Tea whisk is usually kept standing upright, in a tea ceremony as well.  Resting it on tines may damage them.

Another tip is leaving the tea whisk in water for about 30 min before each use, if possible.  Soaking will make it more elastic, less likely to break, and of course just last longer.

After use, wash it with water and air dry well to prevent molding.  Keep it standing or hanging even in storing.  Take a look at a picture below.  What can you observe about the tea whisks?  It may not seem to be apparent on the picture, but in the tea preparation room, there is actually a straight-shaped hook where you can insert the tea whisk for storage.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Tea bowl exhibition in the museum

Is “change” good?  I had this question after I went to a tea bowl exhibition at Matsuzakaya Museum (  The exhibition was about the Japanese domestic products from origin to contemporary pieces.   You can see the history of raku and Mino wares.

Most impressive piece for me was the raku tea bowl named “Kamuro” made by Chojiro.  It was very simple and rustic without any decorations.  The texture was earthy and size is smaller than I thought.  I could not imagine how perfectly this bowl fits in the Rikyu’s tea room, Taian.

In the end of the exhibition, there was a panel with a comment from Raku Kichizaemon XV.  I don’t remember the exact phrase, but he was saying something like “Tea is enjoyed more casually and freely nowadays and will be that way in the future. But, there won’t be the spirit of *Rikyu or **Wabi-Sabi there.”   I was shocked with his warning.  I’ve been thinking that enjoying tea casually is good thing, but it might not be totally correct.  I find his products very distinctive, and I thought he is a kind of person who is trying to create something new or something different.  But, he is actually worried about our tea culture.   I may need to learn from the past and create new for the future.

*Rikyu: the most significant tea master in the history who has perfected The Way of Tea
**wabi-sabi:  Japanese beauty found in simplicity and rusticity.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Efficiency of partial storing in the freezer

This is a test for the efficiency of partial storing in the freezer.  Imagine storing your tea in freezer.  I suppose you take out the tea from the freezer once a week to transfer some into your daily tea caddy.  In this case, your tea is repeatedly thawed and frozen, and more over, it is exposed to the fresh air which may encourage more oxidation.  So, my assumption is that partial storing can reduce those risks and I wanted to know if it is worth the effort.

Term: 28days
Sample:  Sencha and matcha
Container:  Triple packing (small plastic pouch, tin tea caddy, plastic bag with zipper)
Sample H: Opened once a week  (Once a week, it is taken out from the freezer and opened for a few minutes and returned into the freezer.  Every time before opening, it is left in room temperature for one hour to avoid gathering frost and moisture)
Sample J: Not opened,  (Kept in the freezer for 28 days and not opened)

According to my theory, J will be in better condition than H after one month.

H: Opened once a week
J: Not opened



Well, I could not find any significant differences between the two samples.  For sencha, Sample J was slightly better than H and I could not distinguish which is better for matcha.  There is a certain effect from the partial storing, but the impact is very limited for a span of one month.  I would like to conclude that in this test partial storing in the freezer is not so worth it for my casual tea considering to the effort.  (If you want severe storing for your expensive teas, this might work.)

Friday, November 11, 2011

Jake-gai tea

Have you ever bought a CD or record because of the attractive jacket even if you don’t know the artist or its contents?  This action is called jake-gai in Japanese slang.  It is a diminutive form of Jacket-gai (gai means buy in Japanese).   Nowadays, people can listen to samples and buy music online.  So, Jake-gai may be an obsolete phrase.

However, I have a tea that I bought in jake-gai this year.   In June, I went to Shizuoka prefecture, the biggest tea-producing region in Japan.  At a tea store, they have a large selection of Shiuoka teas and I found one which is nicely displayed.  I instantly fell in love with its cool package.  It was kabusecha and a 60g pack costs 1,575yen which is more expensive than my budget.  But, I decided to buy it because of the cover.  It’s a typical example of jake-gai. Ha,ha,ha^^

When I opened the package at home, a nice sweet aroma of kabusecha pleased my senses.  The leaves are very fine so I think they are deep-steamed.  The brewed tea was beautiful greenish-yellow.  It has refined sweetness and umami.  One thing that I wasn’t expecting though was the bold bitterness, which was different from what I wanted.  It is one of the fun parts of jake-gai.  Sometimes, your expectation leads to disappointment and sometimes you find a great piece!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Green Espresso

Can you guess what Green Espresso is?  Recently, there is a TV commercial that catches my attention.  It shows one samurai and ink paintings.  I like the commercial because it’s very artistic visually.  It says Green Espresso but doesn’t explain much why.  I got so curious about what it is.

Ordinary bottled tea comes in a plastic bottle, but I can tell the Green Espresso is caned.  So, I guess it’s a little different from ordinary bottled tea.  Maybe, it is sweated green tea late?  I was so excited to try it.  

I went to a convenience store and got one.  It says “shake before opening” on the cap.  So, I did.  I opened the bottle and smelled it.  It smelled normal.  Then, I had a sip.  Wow, it is not a green tea late.  It’s not sweetened either.  It is more like an ordinary tea but has more flavors.  I looked at the description on the bottle.  It says Kabusecha and Matcha.  Humm, it makes sense.  If you mix brewed kabusecha and matcha it would taste like this.  It sure has the sweetness of tea and it’s kind of new type of bottled tea, but I personally didn’t like it so much.  I appreciate the good TV commercial and the effort to come up to a new product.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Feature design with my persistence

I’ve just got the samples of my originally designed tea cup.  It took a long time before they got here, after a lot of revisions in the drawings and remaking of the plaster samples.  The biggest challenge was the cost, because everything that I want to do has an additional charge.  I didn’t just want to make reasonable and ordinary tea cups.  I wanted to make them simple but have well-thought and elaborate details.  They may not be inexpensive, but I wanted to make them affordable.  Let me introduce a few details of my persistence.

The most favorite of my work is the texture. I wanted to make stylish white tea cups, but I think that white porcelain cups are sometimes too shiny to accompany a pottery teapot.  So, I got the outside of the cup bisque-finished and sanded.  (FYI: Bisque-finish refers to a non-glazed finish)  The texture is matte but smooth.  The contrast to the shiny glazed inside is beautiful.  It can go very well with pottery teapot by reason of the matte outside.  This procedure costs a lot and which is one of the reasons why pricing higher.  But I think it is worth it.

Another work that I adhered was the logo mark at the bottom.  I actually wanted to print the logo but printing is expensive.  So, I decided to have it engraved, which is more reasonable than printing.  Nonetheless, the engraved mark turned out pretty great.  It is way nicer than I expected.

Overall, I was very much satisfied with the samples especially with the details.  I will probably be able to manage the affordable pricing.  I may need a few months before releasing the products.  I can’t wait!  ^^

Friday, November 4, 2011

Tea production regions far from Fukushima

Tea that contains more than 500bq/kg radioactive substances is restricted for distribution in Japan. So, tea sold on the market is basically safe.  However, as I introduced on the previous post, there were two special cases of defects on the inspection in June.  

Some of you might want to know tea producing regions far from Fukushima.  Listed prefectures are top ten producing regions (except Shizuoka) and I have not heard about any contaminated tea from the areas.

2. Kagoshima (Ei, Chiran, Makurazaki, Ariake)

3. Mie (Ise, Mizusawa, Suzuka, Kameyama, Iga)

4. Miyazaki (Miyakonojo)

5. Kyoto (Uji, Ayabe, Ryotan, Wazuka)

6. Nara (Yamato, Tukigase, Yamazoe)

7. Saga (Ureshino, Karatsu)

8. Kumamoto (Yabe, Izumi, Sagara, Kahoku)

9. Aichi (Nishio, Toyota, Shinsiro)

10. Nagasaki (Ureshino, Sonogi, Sechibaru, Goto)

Information on the Great East Japan Earthquake at Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (English) go to >>>

My past entries about the radiation and tea

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Chakabuki, tea tasting competition

How confident are you with your sense of taste?  Can you tell different teas by blind tasting?  I attended a chakabuki event this weekend.  Chakabuki is a competition or game of blind tea tasting.  The game originated in China.  It got popular in Japan about 700 years ago.

You blind-taste 5 different kinds of tea and tell what they are.  You repeat it 5 times.  We tally the points and whoever got the most correct answers after 5 rounds wins.  (We actually did 4 rounds only, instead of 5.)  In this game, we had sencha, deep-steamed sencha, gyokuro, kabusecha and roasted tamaryokucha.

One of the most difficult parts is that you don’t taste and compare all five at once before answering.  You've got to give the answer one at each tea.  For example, you have to answer right after you taste the first tea even if you haven’t tasted the other four yet.   
Another is the tea preparing method.  In this game, all tea was brewed with boiling water for one minute, which is not ordinary way of preparing.  The tastes differ from what you usually have at home.  Have you ever tasted gyokuro brewed with boiling water? 

At the end of the contest, the result was announced.  You know what?  I got the best score among all 12 contestants and won the first prize!  Yes!!  Is it because of my talent or was I just lucky?  I hope I did not spend all the luck for my whole life, hahaha.

Small cups are used

You can take a memo and check how you did on each round.

Before the game starts, you have a quick chance to observe dry leaves.  Each tea is passed around on a tray one by one, and you don’t see the 5 at one time.

In the game, tea is served in random orders and you smell and taste it.

You have five chips with symbols, which represent each tea.

You drop one of the chips for your answer into the ballot box.  After answering, the next tea is served.