Friday, March 30, 2012


At our city library, among a lot of Japanese books at the shelves for The Way of Tea, I found a book written in English.   It is entitled “THE SPIRIT OF TEA” by Sen Soshitu XV, who was the Urasenke grand master.

You can’t learn about the preparation of tea or how to conduct a tea ceremony from this book.  But, the great importance of this book is that you will be able to understand what we enjoy in The Way of Tea.  This book talks about the SPIRIT with a great quality of photos.  I realized that there is no other culture in the world which you talks about the SPRIT of beverage drinking this much.

In my tea lesson, I always practice the ceremony only by role playing in a tea room, and I don’t study these spiritual theories in a class room.  This book has some answers for the wonders I had on things in the tea ceremony.    It also taught me things that I have never realized. 

But, in some other parts, the ideas are abstract and difficult.  For example, description of wabi is pretty different from the other books I read.   That makes it more difficult for me to understand what wabi is.  I believe that the descriptions will differ depending on one’s point of view even if we are looking at the same thing.

In this book, Soshitu mentioned:
“The way of tea, chado, must be acquired by means of the movements of your own body and through one’s own experiences.  It cannot be learned by observing and listening to others thus by imitating them. There is no other method than this in pursuing chado.”

I think you also have to find out and understand these spiritual aspects all throughout your experience.  However, this book tells me about some of them, and helps me understand these essences a little faster than discovering them by myself.  This is one of the books that I want to re-read sometimes as I carry on The Way of Tea.   I’ll recommend this book for those who want to know more about Japanese way of tea.

Japanese Amazon >>>

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Look for your own tea ware

In tea history, there are some tea bowls made for other purposes originally, but some tea lovers used them for tea.  I as a tea enthusiast sometimes try to experiment using some table wares for tea.

The other day, a unique figure spoon rest caught my interest.   It is a small plate and has a dimple on its rim that looks like a spout.  I tried using it as a small personal teapot for gyokuro.  I know it doesn’t have a lid and the figure isn’t anything like an ordinary teapot.  But, I thought it is big enough for a single serving of gyokuro

I placed 4g of leaves, and poured a little amount of lukewarm water.
And waited for 2 min.

I poured tea into a small cup

The tea is a very small amount.
It had a rich flavor and I was very satisfied with it.  
I didn’t have any problem on the first serving, but on the second brewing I had some drips from the spout when I poured tea in to the cup.  I guess it only works if you use small amount of liquid.  I am disappointed that this spoon rest is not perfect as a tea ware.  But, this kind of experiments is fun!  Do you have any table wares that you are using as a tea wear?

Monday, March 26, 2012

Which tea has the longest history, sencha, gyokuro or matcha?

Do you know since when we have been drinking tea in Japan? 

I have attended a lecture for Japanese tea history.  I learned that some classic beliefs don’t have corroborative evidences, and some of them may not be true.  This lecture taught the history by introducing historical sources of the time.  It was pretty interesting and I learned the modern understanding of the history.

The oldest historical paper about tea is Nihonkoki.  In the document, it is said “Eichu served tea to the Emperor” (815A.D.).  You cannot tell exactly what kind of tea it was, but it was decocted tea.  So, you can say that the history of our tea started about 1200 years ago, at least.   

Then, what do you think of the question in the title of this entry?  When the teas that we enjoy nowadays: sencha, gyokuro or matcha were born?  (If you are not familiar with these teas, look at the note at the bottom of this entry)  Which has the longest history?   Tea cultures were originally introduced from China at times, and they were uniquely developed in Japan.  We created sencha, gyokuro and matcha here.

The answer is : (From the oldest)
Matcha - around the 16th century
Sencha - around the 18th century
Gyokuro – around the early 19th century

Matcha is the oldest, and surprisingly gyokuro is yougest in the tea history. 

We had powdered tea that is prepared by mixing hot water since 12th century, but its tea plants were grew only under the sun.  I guess the people were drinking much bitterer tea than now (^^;;  The matcha with covering cultivation like nowadays were started around the 16th.  At the beginning, the covering cultivation was not for improving the taste, it is originally to prevent frost damage.

The tea has been improved in the long history.  You can say that canned and bottled teas are inventions of our contemporary time.  I’m looking forward to new tea!


Most common green tea
Needle shaped leaf
Brewing in a teapot
Premium green tea
Powdered green tea
Milled powder
Mixing with hot water

Friday, March 23, 2012

Cheerful drink

Can you guess what the liquid inside the glass is?  Today, I’m not writing about tea.  

It is sake!  Japanese rice wine, which I had at a restaurant.  A waitress brought an empty glass to my table and poured sake into it from a big bottle in front of me.  As you might have noticed, there is a square wooden cup underneath.  She filled the glass up, but didn’t stop pouring immediately.   Some sake overflowed into the wooden cup.  What is this all about, and how do you drink it? 

You sometimes see this way of serving at some restaurants and bars in Japan.  Filling the glass to the top rim can be considered as generosity of bars.  The overflowed sake in the square is bonus.  This is not a formal way of serving sake, but I love this playful service.  When I see the glass in wooden cup, I always look at the manner of pouring with a greedy eye for how much bonus I can get, hehe (^^;; 

Since this way of serving is not decorous, there doesn’t seem to be a proper way for drinking it.  Some people drink it separately from the wooden cup and the glass.  Others take some sips from the glass to make a room first, and then transfer the bonus back to the glass.   Anyway, it is a cheerful moment at a Japanese bar.  I enjoyed it with good sashimi (sliced raw fish) and sushi.  This is sea urchin sushi (^0^)/

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


When I opened the package of Kaga-bocha (roasted twig tea), bright roasted aroma amused my sense.  It is never like a burnt odor, and it is pleasant and brilliant like Chinese tea.  The appearance is also bright.  The hue is beige, which is more whitish than dark brown from the common hojicha (roasted tea) sold in my area.


I have prepared the tea by following the instruction on the package. 
Tea: 3g
Boiling water: 130ml (4.6oz)
Brewing time: 20sec

The brewed tea has a clear golden color.  And its aroma got more profound than the leaves.  The flavor is creamy and sweet.  It also has a slight distinctive flavor behind which I don’t find in common hojicha.  I can’t tell what the flavor is, but I assume it is a greenish flavor like sencha.  Anyway, every time I sip, the air that rises to my nose brings a rich aroma.  The refined flavor smoothly glides on my tongue to the back by leaving a mild long trace.

I pretty much like this tea.  I think that I want to enjoy this tea with a nice cuisine.  It must be great! 

Friday, March 16, 2012

Stick tea for the Emperor

I got Kaga-bocha, as a present.  Kaga is an area in Kanagawa prefecture; while Bocha literally means stick tea.  It is actually a kind of hojicha (roasted green tea) made of twig tea. 

I found an interesting episode about the origin of their tea on a note which came along with the package.  Let me introduce some abstracts from it.

Maruhachi is the tea producer
Spelling differences: Bocha = Boucha,  Hojicha = Houjicha

*** Abstract ***
Boucha is a specialty of Kaga, Kanazawa.  In Kanazawa, tea is synonymous with Houjicha, especially Boucha most of the time.  It is drunk commonly everywhere: at home, work and gatherings.  (snip) 
There used to be a clear-cut understanding in the tea industry in Kanagawa including Maruhachi that Matcha and Gyokuro (refined green tea) are the best Japanese tea and Boucha is the tea for the common people since it doesn’t require high quality materials for production.  However, “the quest for delicious Boucha” started when Boucha was offered to the Emperor Showa, who only drunk Houjicha.  When the Emperor visited Kanazawa in 1983, he requested the best Houjicha and his hotel contacted us for help.  The request made us wonder what the best Boucha should be like.  It might sound somewhat out of date, but this was the start of our quest for a gentle and well-developed flavored Boucha.

It also says that they have visited fields around the country to pursue research on better “tea stem field” with producers.  They are actually growing stems not tea leaves.  They also think that technique of roasting is craftsmanship.  Everything from temperature, humidity and tea stems’ condition affects the taste.  It is all up to the professional’s skill to make full use of high-tech machines.  They want to care about the taste.

From this note, I learned that the manufactures want to make a delicious tea out of casual tea, and they have made a lot of effort for producing it.  This note made me want to try this tea even more.  I’ll write about it on the next entry.

Maruhachi Tea Webpage (Japanese)  >>>

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Sweets for early spring

We have a funny custom on White day (Mar. 13) in Japan.  On Valentine’s Day, ladies declare their love through giving chocolates.  There is also giri-choco, obligation chocolate for friends or co-workers.  White day is the day that men give women presents in return.  I believe these customs started from commercial promotions of chocolate and sweet makers. 

Cookies or chocolates are often given on White day, but I didn’t want to flow the scheme, haha (^^;;   So today, I went to a Japanese confectionery shop.  Traditional sweets could also be good for this, I guess.  In the showcase, lovely confections are displayed.  In this season, the colors used on them seem brighter than winter’s.  I picked a few items with pastel color for the present. 

I bought another one for myself.   It is dark colored one with a hidden beauty.  You will soon notice that there are white sprinkles and a small flower on the top.  They represent frost and plum bloom of this season.  But, take a close look.  It has an indistinct pattern under brown jelly.  I love the demure design.  I don’t know what this design means, buy it might be trying to express the upcoming bright spring, I think.

Once you put a piece into your mouth, roast sweetness reminiscent of caramel occupies your sense.  Two different texture, chunky jelly and soft paste amuse you.   The sweetness goes away momentary and only its scent remains, which pleases your nose.

It’s cold and I found needle ice this morning.  But, the weather is fair and I feel that it’s going to be a fine day.  Now, mild breeze are blowing.  The name of this confection is Kochi東風, literally East wind.  It means the breeze from east in the early spring.  This is a perfect confectionery for today.  This sweet seems to bring a real spring with Kochi ^^  

Monday, March 12, 2012

What happens if you change the water temperature while brewing?

There are some different ways of preparing gyokuro.  One of the unusual ways is that you put tea leaves into a teapot with hot water.  Later, you can then add lukewarm water, and then wait a little more while.  In this case, you lower the temperature during the brewing.  I wonder how it is different from ordinary even-temperature brewing.  And I also wonder what happens if it is brewed in the opposite way, while adding hot water later in the lukewarm brewing.  What do you think?

I don’t have gyokuro at the moment, so I tried three different brewings with kabusecha in the following condition: 

A, Even temperature (ordinary brewing)
60ml 70C (2.1oz 158F) for 1min

B, Hot lukewarm
30ml 90C (1oz 194F) for 30sec, then add 30ml 50C (1oz 122F) and wait 30 seconds more

C, Lukewarm hot
30ml 50C (1oz 122F) for 30sec, then add 30ml 90C (1oz 194F) and wait 30 seconds more

I used 3g of leaves in either condition.

These are the teas brewed in the different conditions.  “A” is relatively clearer than the other two.  I think this is because “B” and “C” are agitated by adding water in the middle of brewing.

I didn’t find significant difference among the three, but there are certain differences.
A, Mild
B, Bold and profound
C, Clear but densed
The result is pretty much the same as you can see in their appearance.  When I did a similar test in the past, I liked “A” the best.  But this time, I find “A” as too light and watery.  I like “C” most in this test, and I tasted a well-balanced flavor right after I sipped.  The flavor is never ambiguous and you know exactly what you are tasting.  It beautifully faded out in the end by keeping the elegance.   I think adding hot water sharpened the flavor. 

Now, I have more choices for brewing.  I might sometimes use method “C” as my secret tip.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Massage from Rikyu, an ancient tea master

At this point, what do you understand from The Seven Essentials of The Way of Tea by Rikyu?  Let’s take a look at them once again.

The seven essentials:
1.    Prepare the tea just right
2.    Place the charcoal appropriately to boil the water
3.    Arrange the flowers as if they were in the fields
4.    Make it seem warm in winter, and cool in summer
5.    Do things ahead of time
6.    Have umbrellas ready even if it is not raining
7.    Care about the guests
These are a little abstracted, so I came up with my own interpretation for each.  The following are the important points that I thought of:

1.    Considering appropriate points on things
2.    Preparations of things
3.    Making things natural or being natural
4.    Environment of things
5.    Leeway on your mind
6.    Preparing for any contingency
7.    Consideration to others

Did you notice that the essentials don’t include much about tea preparation?  Rikyu could have told us how to prepare delicious tea with the right amount of tea, correct water temperature or how to whisk.  But, he left different things as the essentials.  The taste of tea might not be the one, and there are more important things.  I think that the vital key is to spend a peaceful time, and these important lessons are for that reason.

You find the hospitality of the host from the beautiful simple flower displayed in the room, and you feel warm by communicating to other guests through greeting.  The feeling of other’s kindness will make the ceremony even more special and meaningful, which has captivated many people throughout history.  The essential is not just about the tea, but also consideration to others.

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

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The essentials: 7. Care about the guests

The ancient tea master, Rikyu once said “Care about the guests”.  This is one of the seven essentials of The Way of Tea, which I introduced on the previous entry.

I think this is the most important lesson among the seven.  You can feel the spirit of caring for others in the movements and gestures in the tea ceremony.  This is not only the host’s responsibly, but also the guests’.  Thus, everybody in the ceremony is expected to show care to each other. 

For example, when the host hands out the tea to guests, he turns the tea bowl, and makes sure that its front side is facing the guest.  This is an act of being caring.   Before drinking, that guest bows to the guest(s) next to him as a sign of respect, or sometimes to ask that guest if he wants another round.  The greetings to each other strengthen the bond among the guests.  Then, the guest turns the bowl to avoid drinking tea from its front, which is the crucial part of a bowl.  Those courtesies shown to and by each participant make the ceremony heartwarming and meaningful

I think the other six essentials are all based on this lesson.  “Preparing the tea just right” and “Doing things ahead of time” should be considered for the other participants, as well.  Without the spirit of caring for others, the tea ceremony won’t mean anything; it is going to be just a tea drinking event.   That is why I consider this lesson the most important.

My interpretation of Rikyu’s “Care about the guests” is that
Consideration to others is important.

Related entries

Friday, March 2, 2012

Tea as an aftertaste

(This post is a continuation of the last entry.)

The tea brewed in boiling water was indeed strong.  I first tasted thick kabusecha’s umami and its aroma rose to my nose.  It wasn’t bad but it was one of the strongest aromas I have ever experienced.  Then soon, I was attacked by an intense bitterness.  It filled in my mouth and I felt that the heavy flavor went down on my throat to my stomach.  It is definitely new but I don’t consider it tasty.

After tasting, as I was taking note of the flavor, I still felt its aftertaste.  It has a lingering flavor which probably lasted for a few minutes.   Despite the substantial bitterness, the aftertaste was pleasing, though.  I could feel a gentle tinge of green flavor remaining at the back of my palate.  It is a mixture of smooth bitterness and flattering sweetness.  Now, I understand the meaning of “You taste sweetness after 2-3 minutes”.

To explore more, I tried the brewing in a different condition.
Tea leaf: 2g
Water: 50ml /1.8oz
Brewing time: 40sec
This tea still has a thick flavor, but surprisingly I didn’t find much bitterness.  Since other flavors were bold, I was not satisfied with the weak bitterness.  The lingering taste is alive and well.

My recipe needs more improvement but I found a good potential in this brewing method.  You just boil water with a kettle and throw tea leaves into it.  That’s it.  If you find out the correct amount of leaves and brewing time, it will be much easier than the usual ways.

This is not the type of tea to quench your thirst.  This is tea to be sipped in small amounts and relished the rich flavor of fine tea.  Of course, savoring the long and soothing aftertaste will be the most brilliant part of this tea.  I hope you enjoy it in your own way!