Friday, June 29, 2012

Color of tea cup

I love white color for tea cups.  You can see the natural hue of the tea.  I personally think that tea in a dark colored cup doesn’t look so delicious.  The cup’s color also has a significant impact to the impression of the taste.

The two cups of tea in the picture are the same.  However, don’t you see the obvious different impressions between them?   Can you tell why?

The cups are both made of white porcelain having the same texture but you can tell the difference between the colors.  The cup in the left is yellowish white, and one on the right is bluish white.  I’m not saying which is good or bad.  I just think that the tea in the yellowish cup seems to have a more rounded flavor with umami containing essence of genuine.  On the other hand, the tea in the bluish cup looks more refined and seems to have a clear and crisp flavor.  Again, they are the same tea, so they taste the same when you drink them.  Interesting, isn’t it?  Which one would you prefer?

You can make the taste of the tea look different by the color of cup.  It is one of the most important aspects when you choose your cups!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Exquisite cold sencha

Continuation from the previous entry

My method is basically cold-water brewing.  However, I use lukewarm water in the beginning to awaken the leaves and to help faster infusing.  The tea prepared with this method has much more profound flavor with ample bitterness than the cold brewed tea, and it also has much more sweetness of umami than hot brewed tea.  This method takes a little extra effort but it is worth the try!

One serving for a glass (or for three regular sencha cups)

Tea leaf: about double of regular amount (12g/0.42oz)
Lukewarm water: 50degC/122degF, Just enough to submerge the leaves (50ml/1.8oz)
Cold water: 200ml/7oz
Ice cube: adequate dose

The leaves shown here is not 12g.  They are 8g.  Sorry.

1.    Put the tea leaves and lukewarm water into the teapot and brew it for only 10 seconds.

2.    Add a few ice cubes and cold water and brew it for 10 minutes.

3.    Pour into a glass.

Best served in cold and enjoy the exquisite flavor! 

I don’t set the time for my second brewing.  I just refill the teapot with cold water and a few ice cubes and leave it while I enjoy the first serving.   The second tea will be ready in an hour or two; which is a pretty good timing for my second refreshment in the office.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Cold sencha brewing

How do you prepare cold sencha in the summer?

Easiest way will be preparing strong sencha with hot water and pouring it into a glass with a lot of ice cubes.  The brewed tea is very refreshing but it could sometimes taste too bitter.  It might be a little difficult to control the strength or flavor of tea. 
Another way will be brewing sencha with cold water over a night.  The tea prepared in this way will be very smooth, but it could sometimes be too mild.  The problem is that I don’t want to wait for such long time. 
What is your way?

This year, I’m into another method for preparing cold sencha.  It is just in between those two methods in taste and effort in preparing.  The flavor is exquisite.  It has a sweetness of good umami but it also has an ample amount of bitterness.  I’m pretty pleased with it and lately I enjoy my tea with this method in the office.

I have been preparing this tea by the rule of thumb.  I’ll measure the actual conditions and introduce them on the next entry.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Sea shell for sweets!?

In the tea lesson this week, sea shells were brought in front of me.   Sea shell for sweets!?  The guests smiled as they were looking at them.  I’m often surprised with the beauty of confectionery, but this time I was surprised with its unpredictability, the playful idea.

I opened the shell.  There was not any actual meat inside, and it was filled with golden jelly.  I scooped it by using the other empty shell and put it into my mouth.  It was indeed sweet.  Its flavor stimulated a Japanese pure caramel candy.  The dark brown part in the center gave a change in the flavor as I tasted it.  It is miso, fermented bean paste.  The slightly salty and distinctive flavor of miso harmonized the roasted sugar flavor from the beginning.  

It was very interesting and unique confectionery that I had ever tried.  It is made in Kyoto.  Serving this type of sweets might not be common in the tea ceremony, but I love the idea to give your guests a bit of surprise.  Have you ever tried any confectionary that amused you with a surprise?

Monday, June 18, 2012

Sencha producing process 2

This is the continuation from the previous entry.

c. Junen
EQUALIZE MOISTURE in the leaves by rolling with pressure.  This stage does not involved heating.

After junen, the leaves lose sliminess.

d. Chuju
Loosely ROLL and DRY
The leaves get deep green.

e. Seiju
Tightly roll into NEEDLE SHAPE on a thing like washboard.

1.   Drying
At the last step, the leaves are dried in a dryer.

Each step is processed on a different machine and it takes a half of a day to finish the entire process.  The machines can be controlled by a computer program and can make tea automatically.  But, I saw staff taking out the leaf samples from the line once in a while, and checking the leaf’s condition.  And, they adjusted the setting of the machines and determined the amount of time needed until the cycle is done. 
The most striking words from one of the staff were “Machines do not produce tea but our senses do.”

Control panel of a machine

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Sencha producing process

Do you know how sencha is processed on the rolling process?

You might have read how sencha is produced on books or on the internet.  It is produced by steaming, rolling and drying the leaves picked on the day.  The first step, steaming, and the last step, drying, are quite obvious and their process can be understood easily.  But, the rolling has five stages and it might be a little difficult to understand them from books. 

I had a chance to observe the actual producing line at the workshop that I attended in April.    I learned a lot of things that I cannot learn from books.  For example, I would not know that you have to do this like the following photo if I didn’t observe the factory.

I’ll introduce my notes from the workshop:

Fresh picked leaves sent to the line

1.   Steaming
In the beginning, you actually count the steaming time, and take out some samples of steamed leaf.  You check the appearance and texture of the leaves, and decide the steaming time of the day.  

Steamed leaves

Slightly slimy

2.   Rolling (actually drying at the same time)
a.    Hauchi    
DRY the leaves with hot air as if agitating them in a drum.  Cool them down gradually to body temperature.  The leaves are very moist and sticky, which stick on the fins and walls of the machine.
b.    Soju
DRY like the Hauchi.  The leaves get less sticky.  Water doesn’t come out by pinching them.  

Hauch machine
The inside
So, staff is taking off the stuck leaves on the fins and walls after the hauch process.  Did you know leaves are sticky during the process?

Leaves after hauchi

I’ll write about following processes in the next entry.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Shaking a bottle of green tea

You might wonder why I’m shaking a bottle of green tea.

It’s because this is the way how to drink this bottle.  I found this unique beverage on my Sizuoka trip.  

When I found it on the shelf, it looked like this; the inside of the bottle is clear with no color, and it has a bigger cap than ordinary bottles.  It is just cold mineral water and it has powered tea leaves in the cap.  The tea is not matcha, but deep-steamed sencha.  To prepare the tea, you release the leaves into the water by twisting the green cap.  Then, you shake the bottle like what I did in the first photo.  The tea is mixed and gets green like the following picture.  Now, it is ready for you to drink!

Isn’t this interesting?    

Even though I was disappointed finding the tea a little rough with a weak flavor, I think that the concept is excellent.  You can have fresh prepared tea anytime, and plus you can enjoy preparing.  I like the playful idea.   It might need a slight improvement, but in the future, this could be one of standards of bottled tea.  Do you see the potential?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Exclusive tea ceremony

Miwa (alias), one of our classmates from tea school held a private tea ceremony at her place.  Four guests; our master, another classmate, my wife and I were invited.  Big open tea ceremonies are not bad, but I realized that this kind of exclusive ceremony is more enjoyable.  

I found great hospitalities at Miwa’s ceremony, not only on her performance of the day, but also on the preparation.  Miwa thought about the menu of cuisine for weeks, and prepped it from the day before.  She cleaned her house and garden.  She picked fresh flowers from the field in her neighborhood in the morning.  Those unspoken efforts delight the guests.  The same kind of preparations is needed even for open ceremonies, but I was touched when I think of what she has done not for anybody but for us. 

Moreover, I was surprised to find out that she made the confectionary by herself!  I wonder how long it took her to prepare all these things.  The sweets were beautiful and looked like a seasonal flower, hydrangea placed on an actual leaf.

Miwa used a teabowl and tea container which she got from our master previously.  I think this was one of her consideration selecting guest’s related items.  It stimulated us to talk about the utensils and flowers. 

I feel that at the big open tea gathering, I focus on the ceremony itself.  I mean that I tend to care about manners and how the ceremony proceeds.  On the other hand in the private ceremony, the focal point is on the people and it has a friendly atmosphere.  I was able to simply enjoy the time with familiar fellows.

The homemade sweets

The meal served in the ceremony

Friday, June 1, 2012

Tea gathering at home

What utensils do you need to serve matcha?  If you want to hold a formal tea ceremony, many kinds of proper utensil are needed.  But, once it comes to a casual occasion at home, you can prepare matcha with few essential wares.

The other day, I had some friends coming over to my place, and we enjoyed matcha.  Nothing formal; No tea room, No brazier.   I brought some basic utensils onto the table and served tea to my friends.  This is nothing compared to a formal tea ceremony, but still people can enjoy the essence of the ceremony.    I think that those basic utensils contribute in creating the right atmosphere.

The Essential items for matcha preparation
1.    Tea bowl
2.    Tea whisk
3.    Natsume, tea container
4.    Tea scoop
5.    Thermos bottle
6.    Small linen cloth (to clean a tea bowl)
7.    Wasst-water receptacle
Only with these seven items, you can already enjoy casual tea ceremony at home.

I let each of my friends prepare their own tea on the second servings.  With awkward halting movements, they were able to perform the ceremony almost perfectly.  They seemed to really enjoy doing it.  We talked, whisked matcha, played with kids, savored tea and laughed!  It was a peaceful moment in Sunday afternoon.