Friday, April 25, 2014

Thick Tea and Thin Tea

Two ways of preparing
There are two ways of preparing matcha; one is usucha, thin tea and the other one is koicha, thick tea. What I always talk about on this blog is usucha. It is the well-recognized way, which is often served at cafes and casual ceremonies. Usucha is light and has a bit of foam on its surface. Koicha is made with double amount of tea, so it is thick like potage and has a strong flavor. It is served in rare occasions. In a formal ceremony, koicha and usucha are both served. Koicha is regarded as the main point in the ceremony. The host and guests prepare and proceed the ceremony to appreciate koicha.

Left: usucha,  Right: koicha

Difference of tea
The tea used for usucha and koicha are basically the same. However, low-grade matcha is not suitable for koicha, which is supposed to be very thick. In past days, tea used to be preserved in a ceramic jar. Good tea was put in a paper bag and stored in it. The reaming space in the jar was filled with another tea. I guess that the tea used as a filler serves as insulator from humidity and heat‏. The premium tea in the bag was for koicha and the filler was used for usucha. Nowadays, it is just a matter of quality.

Sharing one bowl of tea
While usucha is served individually to each guest, multiple servings are prepared in one bowl for koicha and the guests share it. There are different opinions about the reason for sharing the same bowl. One is to shorten the ceremony hours. Another reason is that it is difficult to prepare only for one portion. The other explanation is that sharing one bowl of tea contributes a feeling of togetherness. I think that either opinion has both persuasive and unconvincing sides. I still don’t know what the reasonable explanation is.

Koicha to me
I sometimes find koicha tastes awful. However, once in a while, I am absolutely pleased with a perfectly-prepared bowl with delightful sweetness in the rich grassy aroma. That makes me want to explore more about it. At my tea school, we usually practice usucha and koicha separately. However, I sometimes have an opportunity to practice them in sequence. In a calm moment, the host and guests try to focus on one bowl of koicha. After the koicha session, people get to relax and enjoy usucha. At the moment, I can finally feel the difference between formality in koicha and casualness in usucha. I might need to think not only of koicha itself, but I have to try to see its role in an entire tea ceremony to understand what it is. Koicha is not the tea that I always find appealing, but it is definitely a thing that I want to explore more.