Friday, June 28, 2013

The Tea that Makes You Happy without Drinking

“I’m pleased.”, “I feel so good.” or “I want to try it at home.”  On a TV program on NHK, the interviewees were answering such when they tried hojicha, a roasted green tea.  It seems that hojicha has an ability to make people happy.  Today, I want to talk about what I learned from the TV program.  

It is known that there is a substance in green tea to make you relax which is called theanine, one kind of amino acid which is umami flavor.  If you check the alpha wave in your brain, you can tell that you will get relaxed when you drink green tea.  Green tea in a broad sense can sometimes include hojicha in its category.  But in the TV program, they meant green tea in a limited sense as sencha, a most common green tea.  Hojicha is the tea produced by roasting green tea.

Left: before drinking tea,  Right: after drinking tea
The red part at the right bottom in the image represents the activity of alpha wave.
Alpha wave in the brain indicates relaxation.
The red part increased after drinking green tea.

How does it happen with hojicha?  Surprisingly, hojicha has only 1/100 of the theanine that green tea has.  Theanin (umami), catechin (bitterness) and caffeine decrease when producing hojicha out of green tea.   However, you can see as much alpha-wave increase with hojicha as the one with green tea.  That means that hojicha has an equivalent relaxing effect that green tea has even if theanin is at a much lower level.  It is a quite interesting fact.

Left: before drinking hojicha,  Right: after drinking hojicha

They had a test, in which they held a hojicha tasting in public.  In the beginning, they could not get many people to try the tea, but once they turned on a secret device, people started gathering and made a crowd at the site.  The device is a hojicha-aroma diffuser.  The odor has some kind of positive effect that attracts people.

They had another alpha test with using only hojicha aroma that showed a similar result as with drinking hojicha.  Hojicha can provide relaxation even without drinking it.  Just the aroma from roasting green tea can bring you happiness.

People living in other countries may not be familiar with the smell of hojicha.  Can you imagine the odor?  For Japanese, most of us know the aroma.  Many tea shops have a tea roaster and making hojicha while producing an inviting smell.  In a shopping mall, you can tell there is a tea shop by the odor from a distance.  I’ll talk about the fragrance of hojicha on the next post.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Greeting between the host and guests

The host and guests greet each other by bowing silently at the chumon gate in the garden and after getting into the tea room they finally exchange words and courtesies.  Today, I would like to talk about a philosophical aspect of Chanoyu.  Why don't you greet with words for the first time you meet?  I guess that there are not many tea people who can answer this question.

When you as the guests get in the tea room, the host won’t be in the room yet.  After entering the room, you go to and look at the hanging scroll, flower and utensils and then you take a seat.  The host would appear when all the guests have been seated.  There is another interesting rule at this point.  The host opens the door and tries to greet from outside of the room.  Then you say “Please come in”.  The host will come in and have the greeting in the room.  Why do you need to give the host permission to come in?  You were invited and came to the host’s place.  The tea room is the host’s property.  Isn’t it a little weird?  It is said that the tea room is prepared for you, so the host tries to express his hospitality by practicing a humility and showing you respect.  I first thought how complicated it is!  But now, I can understand it if I think it as a relationship between the guest and the staff at a hotel, hahaha. 

Let’s get back to the first question.  Now in the room, the host and you as the guests make greetings with words while expressing the gratitude of invitation or participation.  Why have you kept silent on exchanging courtesies at the chumon gate?  I read one explanation which satisfies me.  The idea might be quite spiritual.  The tea room is considered as a cloistered sanctuary.  The host from the tea room or the inner-garden is a purified man.  On the other hand, you as the guests are people from the real world which is different from this sanctuary.  It could be considered that the people from the different worlds cannot talk nor have a common channel to communicate.  This is the explanation for the silent greeting.  After the greeting, you purify your hands and mouth and get in the room.  Now, the host and you are finally in the same world and can vocally communicate.

Tea people may enjoy this kind of spiritual concept.  When I think that way, the perspective of the tea world becomes much more firm and exciting.  This is just one idea.  If you know different explanation regarding the silent greeting, please let me know.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Before getting into the tea room

The tea ceremony doesn’t happen only in the tea room.  Before it starts, there are some things that you go through.  The pictures below are from the ceremony I attended the other day at Bosetsuan in Toki.

Yoritsuki is a waiting room where the guests get together before the ceremony begins.  At a formal ceremony, hot water in a tea cup is served in this room.  But at the ceremony where I attended, there was no hot water.  Instead, sweets were served in the yoritsuki.  The theme of the hanging scroll displayed in the room was associated with the rainy season.  

From yoritsuki (waiting room), the guests will be heading to koshikake, a waiting bench in the garden.  Usually there are traditional sandals for the garden prepared for guests. 

This is the koshikake, the place where the guests will wait until they see the host approaching to the gate called chumon.

The gate, chumon, separates the inner and the outer-garden.  When the host comes to the gate from the inner garden, the guests also go there from the outer garden where the waiting bench is located.  They meet and greet in silence by bowing across the chumon.

The guests will be heading to tsukubai, a water basin in the inner garden.  They purify their hands and mouth with water.  Then, they are ready to get into the tea room finally. 

These are the things you go through before the ceremony starts.  At a casual inexpensive ceremony, there might not be “greeting with the host at the gate” or “purifying your hands and mouth at tsukubai”.  The guests will wait in the waiting room and then just go straight to the tea room.  The ceremony in which I attended was inexpensive, it only costs 500yen, but I could experience these proper steps before getting into the tea room.  I don’t have much opportunity to practice those procedures even at my tea school.  So, I really appreciated and enjoyed this gathering at Bosetsuan.   

These procedures isolate or escape you from real life and take you to the world of tea.  Taking the time before a ceremony helps your mind to be ready.  Appreciating the scroll at the waiting room, silent greeting and purifying your hands may have important meanings.  I might not truly understand their essence yet, but I simply feel good waiting for the ceremony calmly.  

The tea room, Bosetsuan (Japanese) >>>

Friday, June 7, 2013

Water temperature for Matcha

I didn’t find the matcha that I prepared at home as tasty as the sample that I tried at a tea shop.  The sample at the shop had a very mellow but rich flavor with a mouth-filling umami, which is not bitter at all.  It was my favorite type of flavor that I'm looking forward to find in matcha.  When I tried it at home,  the rich umami was still there but the tea also became a bit of not so good taste.  It happens sometimes.  Even though, I get the same tea, it doesn’t taste good when I prepare it at home.  Have you ever experienced this kind of stuff?  You may think of various reasons, it could be the water, utensils or how you prepared it. 

When the lady at the shop was preparing the sample matcha, I noticed that she cooled down the hot water with a yuzamashi, ceramic bowl.  I got it!  Water temperature!  I didn’t give much attention to the water temperature when I prepared it at home.  Now, I got curious what would be the best temperature for this matcha. 

I prepared this tea with four different temperatures; 90, 80, 70 and 60C (194,176,158 and 140F).  What do you think about it?

From Left: 90, 80, 70 and 60C (194, 176, 158 and 140F)

I started to sip from the 90C tea.  I expected it to be bitter but it turned out quite great.  It has a rich flavor but it’s never bitter.  I love it.  I realized the excellent potential of this tea.  I tried tasting 80, 70 and 60 in turns.  They were getting milder as the temperature gets lower.  Each tea had a good sweetness.  The 90C tea has both sharpness and complexness in its flavor, while the 60C tea highlights its rounded umami mainly.  I found that the 90C tea was the tastiest at first impression and the 60C tea was too mild.  But then, when I tried them in the inverse order, from 60 to 90, I found a slight unpleasant taste in the 90C tea, and the 60 was the best.  The order has a big impact to my impression.   As I repeatedly tasted them, I got confused and I couldn’t tell which one I like the best.  Moreover, the teas seemed to get stronger and created more bitterness as the time passed.  

These four tea that I prepared today were relatively good when comparing with the tea that I had prepared previously.  The cause for the bad tea at home might not be the water temperature.  There might be some other reasons.  The difference between the previous preparation and this time is sifting.  I didn’t sift the matcha last time because it was a new tea that I just bought from the shop.  I found some lumps in the tea, so this time I sifted it before making the tea.  I guess that sifting has much to do with the taste of tea.

What I learned from today’s test are ..
-Sifting can be an important factor to serve a good tea. 
-High temperature water makes crisp tea with delightful complex flavors, and low temperature water makes mellow tea with abundant milky umami.
-I should consider the idle time after tea was served until the one to be drunk.  The tea gets stronger and bitterer during the period. 

Each tea was unique and attractive.  I can’t simply say what temperature is the best.   The temperature is only one of the many factors to serve a precious bowl of tea.