Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Purifying your hands and mouth

 I put the traditional sandals on.  I stepped into the tea garden that was partially covered with snow from the night before.  I have had a lot of chances to attend tea ceremonies lately, and this was already my third ceremony this year.  It was a tea ceremony work shop for us, the Japanese Tea Instructors and Advisers. 

The people lined up and practiced how to purify their hands at the stone basin and how to get into the tea room from the small crawl-in doorway.  You, as a guest, purify your hands and mouth with water before getting into the tearoom.  You crouch down in front of tsukubai, or the stone basin.  You use two scoops of water.

*** Steps ***
The first scoop:
1.    Scoop the water with the ladle using your right hand and pour the half of the water onto your left hand to purify
2.    Then switch the ladle from your right hand to your left, and pour the rest onto your right hand
The second scoop
3.    Scoop the water again with the ladle in your right hand.  Pour and receive the half of the water with your left hand palm.  Dab the water in the left hand on your lips
4.    Let the rest of the water trickle down the shaft of the ladle to purify it as it stands.  Then you return the ladle to the basin

Now you can carry onto the tea room.  Did you know how to do these steps?  You might have a chance to purify your hands during your trip to Japan.  You will find the purifying spot at many shrines.  Even some Japanese don’t know this proper way of purifying hands.  Remember these steps and impress people!

Practicing entering the room from the crawl-in doorway

Bend your back and slid into with your kneads

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Meeting a new tea

The host who appeared into the tea room was not wearing kimono.  I was a bit surprised.  What she was dressed in was a school uniform.  One of the ceremonies that I attended this weekend was held by high school students. 

Despite of a strained look on the young lady’s face, she prepared the tea smoothly and flawlessly.  Once the tea for the main guest was served, some assistants, also students brought the bowls of tea for other guests prepared at the back.  They moved carefully not to bump into each other in the small room.  The assistants then, depending on the number of guests and the situation, pass the bowl around as they see fit.  I could tell that they have practiced well for this ceremony.
I wish I could show you the photos of the active students in the tea room, but taking photo during a ceremony is not considered polite.  This is the flower from one of the ceremonies on the day.

Even though I was preoccupied with their splendid performance, my forces shifted to the taste of tea once I sipped it.  At this kind of local tea ceremony, the tea is often from a local tea shop.  I noticed that the flavor of the served tea was not something I was familiar with.  It may not be from one of the local shops.  It was as good as my favorite matcha, but it was much clearer in flavor.  The rounded green sweetness grew on my palate.  This could be a pure flavor of matcha that it should be.  I loved this matcha.  I asked one of the staff the name and the maker of the tea.  It is Shoun-no-mukashi from Hekien.   

I searched on the internet about Hekien, but I didn’t find a satisfying site.  It could be a small shop that doesn’t have a webpage.  But, there seem to be a shop in Toyota-shi called Hekien.  It could be the one.  I want to visit there when I have chance to be in Toyota.  Meeting a new tea is always delightful.  

Monday, January 21, 2013

Sencha review, Asamiya Asatsuyu

I’ve loved the super premium senchas that I’ve tried on the trip to Asamiya.  They were impressive.  So, I bought reasonable one to see how the average Asamiya tea taste like.  The sencha I got is Asatsuyu breed, which was 1000yen or 1200yen for 100grams.

The dried leaf doesn’t have the luster that premium ones have, but it still have a fine profound color and looks quite good considering the price.  I prepared this tea with my standard recipe.  The water color was not perfectly beautiful because it was slightly reddish.  The first impression of this Asatsuyu was weak.  The bitterness stood out in my mouth and I was not able to find satisfying umami there.  Comprehensively, I felt short on the flavor.  But, I didn’t miss the potential, the mild creamy sweetness behind the bitterness.

I tried another way of brewing to bring out the charm of this tea.  It is the method to make premium tea using plenty of the leaf (4g) and steeping it with a small amount (50ml/1.7oz) of lukewarm water (60C/140F).  Two minutes after, I've tried to check the aroma on the teapot.  It was filled with a pleasing sweet aroma like corn.   My assumption was correct!  The tea came out superb.  It still has earthy bitterness but also the rounded flavor of umami filled into my mouth.  It was very tasty.  As the super premium Asamiya teas I’ve tried, I find the bitterness delicious with this reasonable tea as well.  This is not as crisp or clear as the premium ones, but still its bitterness are very flavorful when it is blended with the corn like sweetness. 

I can say that this tea is quite distinctive so some people may not like it but some may love it.  I, personally very much like the Asamiya tea.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Hatsugama, the first tea ceremony in 2013

The first tea ceremony of the year is called hatsugama.  We had one at our tea school last Sunday.  It is special and formal than usual.  For instance, at ordinary lessons, most students do not wear kimono or we don’t practice on purifying our hand before getting into the tea room, but we did them at hatsugama.    I’m always excited about it.

There is one thing very special about hatsugama that I look forward to the most.  It is that hatsugama is the only chance for me to see my teacher’s performance.  My teacher serves tea for us.  I took that opportunity and observed her performance closely.  I wanted to learn something out of it.  The served tea, koicha by her was excellent.  It had a perfect blend with profound flavor.  Even more than the taste of the tea, I was impressed with her movement.  Her gesture purifying the tea whisk was so graceful.  For purifying, you move the whisk in the tea bowl with water.  She lightly moved the whisk that it looked like dancing in the water. 

This is a picture of one of student, not my teacher

I realized that my movement is still stiff when comparing with her gentle and smooth gesture.  Maybe, I am too conscious that I want to move beautifully, and it makes my movement tense.  I think I need to move without thinking and without the ulterior motive, haha.  For the natural movement, I need to practice the simple movements over and over again.  That’s the only way.  

Monday, January 14, 2013

How barbaric I am

We, Japanese usually take a bath at night.  On these cold days, I often feel like having a cup of hot green tea after the bath.  Just one cup.  Cooling water when preparing or cleaning the teapot after use are not a big deal usually, but at this relaxing time, I find them troublesome just for one cup. 

I don’t want to go through the proper steps for preparing, but I want to drink tea.  I know this is something not to be proud of … but I found out other alternative!! 

I just put a few tea leaves directly into a glass and add boiling water.  That’s it.  The amount of leaves is only one third of regular recipe.  If you gently take sips from the surface, you won’t get much leaves coming into your mouth.  The taste is not perfect but it’s still fine.  Of course at the end, when you drink the bottom part, the tea gets stronger and a few leaves might slip into your mouth.  But, it’s okay and I’m happy as far as I can have a cup of tea after bath.

I think I should be ashamed of myself as a qualified Japanese Tea Adviser to have tea with this barbaric preparation.  I know you may want to advice me to use a tea strainer if I don’t want to wash the teapot.  But, I don’t even want to wash the strainer either.  I’m genius on thinking excuses, hahaha.  

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Home tea ceremony

What is a Japanese tea ceremony?  Some of you might have difficulty picturing it.  What do you actually do in the ceremony?   What do you enjoy?  Why do you find it yourself difficult of making it formal?  You might have many questions.  I haven’t been able to tell you what really the tea ceremony is like.

Does the taste of matcha served in the ceremony differ from the one at casual tea?  I can say that the tea served in the ceremony is way much better.  But, well … it is not exactly correct … honestly, they are physically the same tea and have the same taste.  What I mean is that you definitely find the same tea more delicious because of the special surroundings.  You can make ordinary tea special by putting a little effort on preparing and serving.  This is what the tea ceremony is all about.

Even though I use many words to describe it, it might be difficult for you to truly understand the enjoyment.  You’ll never know until you experience it.  The formal ceremony is quite complicated, so I’ll introduce the simplified ceremony that you can try at home.  I tell some tips about it on my Facebook- Japanese tea 101 -.  Check out Home Tea Ceremony on My facebook 

Monday, January 7, 2013

Face of tea bowls

Many books say that the face or front of tea bowl is the side that has drawing motif or distinctive pattern of glaze.  But, I don’t find much other detailed description about it.  It seems there isn’t any absolute rule made.  I myself am still on my training on sado, The Way of Tea.  I often experience difficulty in distinguishing the front part of tea bowls.

It is easy if the bowl has a distinctive form (distortion, dent, form of opening rim), drawing or glaze pattern.


What if the bowl has the drawings all around the walls?  I’ll consider that the front part is the side that has the main motif. 


What about the case with no pattern or no distortion?


Check the imprint at the bottom.  When you flip the bowl from your side, not side way, the imprint should be read facing the right direction, not upside down.

Some people say another rule.  The imprint is usually located left side of the foot. 

However, you cannot always determine the front basing on imprint shown.  Some tea bowls don’t have any imprint at all.  Some imprints are found in the middle of foot or at the right side.  And also for the tea bowls with no drawing, you might want to use your own discretion when it comes to deciding which the front for the attractive glaze pattern is.  A potter has to make the imprint before baking, but you don’t know how the pattern or design of glaze appear until it comes out from the kiln.  In this case, the imprint rule will not be applied.  I think you should remember this imprinting rule as preliminary information.  This kind of ambiguous rule makes it difficult.

To conclude, I consider that the front is the side with distinctive design that the host wants the guests to see.  If the bowl does not have a distinctive design, then you can follow the imprint rule.   My understanding may vary in the future as I study and experience The Way of Tea more.