Friday, August 31, 2012

My shallow view

Can you guess the name of this confection?  At first look, I simply thought it would be just “green maple”, but it actually wasn’t.

My tea master usually buys the sweets for class from my favorite confectionery shop, Azumaken.  The fresh color of summer maple and watery sensation of jelly are perfect for this intensifying season.  I love this sweet.  Can you think of any unique name for this confectionery now? 

The name is komorebi, which means sunshine filtering through foliage.  I didn’t understand why it is named as sunlight.  But when I took a closer look, I kind of realized why it earned its name.  The confection has few straight tubal motifs in it.  I guess that they are describing the sunbeams streaming through the leaves.  How wonderful and elegant!  I was so impressed.  The Japanese confectioner tries to express not only the objects but even abstract concept like scenery.   I’m ashamed of my shallow view that I thought it’s just green maples, but at the same time I feel delighted to have learned this new discovery.

I think this is a good example of the great pleasures of Japanese tea ceremony.  If I see this confection in a tea ceremony, I would feel like the host is saying “Have tea under the cool shade of trees”.   I can exactly imagine the harmony and peaceful scenery.  We don’t talk too much in a ceremony, instead we enjoy the hospitality by feeling and understanding the idea it brings.  This unique way of communication makes the ceremony so much interesting and a memorable experience. 

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The best place to look for your teapot

The best place to look for your teapot has a huge selection of teapots made by various potters ever. At online shops, you can’t feel the texture and the weight nor observe the details, but here you can actually hold and touch them by your own hands to have a closer look .The special thing is it is only held in one place and a once in year opportunity.  It is Tokoname Ware Festival held in Aichi Japan!

This year (on Aug. 19), I went there to work as a staff at a temporary café for the festival.  We, Japanese tea instructors and advisers served gyokuro by preparing it in front of each guest.  Some people told me how they like green tea and some were surprised in learning how to prepare gyokuro.  It was pleasure talking to different people through tea.

Anyway, another advantage of this place is that you might get to see and talk to the actual potters of the products.  You can learn particular features of each craftsman.  One potter told me how carefully he selected his clay and another potter showed me a uniquely-designed tea strainer of his teapot.  I don’t think there are any other places that have such huge selection, and the opportunity of observing the actual products and talking to the potters.  It’s worth the visit.  Get the air ticket and fly to Tokoname Japan next time!

Tokoname Ware Festival (Japanese) >>

This is what we served at the cafe.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Sweet aroma of green tea

Can you tell the quality of tea by just looking and smelling those green dry leaves?  So, the other day, I attended another interesting tea-tasting workshop.  There is that kind of tasting that you can tell the difference of the quality of the tea from the good one to the bad one by smelling, feeling and physically observing 5 tea samples (You don’t actually taste the brewed tea).

We had a fruitful lecture before the actual tasting.  The teacher said that good tea possess sweet aroma.  So this time I paid attention about the odor and wandered for the sweet aroma in the samples.  What was interesting about it was that I found out the second-best tea has the most bold sweetness.  Well of course, the first-best tea also had a sweet odor.  Furthermore, the fourth tea had a sweet smell as well.  Interesting, wouldn’t you think?  They are all sweet but the quality of the sweetness varies.  The first-best one had a fresh fragrance with a green note which comes from the natural quality of tea.   The second and fourth ones had the sweetness with roasted flavor that is reminiscent of corn. 

The roasted flavor is called “hika” which is added by roasting the leaves at the final producing process.  Hika literally means fire aroma.  It improves the flavor of tea by giving more profound caramelic flavor and cornish aroma.  You may not find hika on high quality teas, but you often find it on ordinary teas. 

I gave the correct answer in this tasting practice.  I kind of relied on the appearance rather than the aroma, though.  I think improving smelling skills are quite challenging because memorizing the smell is not easy.  You cannot lean it by reading so you have to experience it on your own.  I could find the difference on the sweet aroma between the second and forth tea, but I’m not sure if I can remember the difference next time.  I definitely need more practice on smelling, hahaha.  If you have a chance to smell some different leaves, try to look for the sweet aroma and find out the difference of the sweetness.

Friday, August 3, 2012

How a Molded Teapot is made

Here is the answer for my little quiz from the previous entry. 

The mold for teapot’s body doesn’t have an inner mold (open speace).  First, you fill it up with the liquefied clay.  The clay dries up from the outside.  Next, you leave it for approximately 15min, and then dump away the clay.  The dried outer layer remains on the mold.  Leave it as it is, to dry it more, and you can take it out later.

It is a superb and effective method to create a desired thickness of the walls. The teapot’s craftsman put great care in controlling the clay density and drying process based on the appropriate temperature or weather condition of the day.

Do you know if your teapot is molded or wheeled?  I think it is quite difficult to distinguish between these two by looking at the products.  I’ll give you a tip.  Check the inside part at the bottom.  If you find a ring-shaped dent there, then it is probably a molded teapot.  You don’t usually find the dent on wheeled teapots.  The molded teapot has an even wall thickness.  Therefore, if the teapot has a stand on the outer part of the bottom, you will find the dent inside.  This theory may vary and may not always work, but can definitely be one of your guides.  Now you may want to check the bottom of your cute little teapot in your kitchen, don’t you?

Molded, Outside

Molded, Inside

Wheeled, Outside

Wheeled, Inside