Monday, June 30, 2014

Tea Ceremony at Home (video)

Pleasure in serving tea

When you have company coming over, the tea ceremony is a perfect way to welcome them. Sharing a calm moment over tea has some magical effect. The time runs calmly but at the same time, you can feel some kind of excitement. I as the host, can tell the fascination in my guests’ eyes from the exotic tea serving. I also feel elated by seeing a joyful look on them. It is like watching a good film together and sharing the same excitement. 

Video of casual tea ceremony

I made a video about holding a tea ceremony at home. I’m an amateur on making videos so I could not express the fascination in the footage. However, I will be glad if you can imagine what a tea ceremony is like and learn what we do.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Cold Gyokuro, A Substitute to Cold Sencha


Cold tea at the office

I want cold tea when I work at my desk in this season. It can be a cold mugicha (barley tea) or sencha. The other day, I wanted cold sencha but I didn’t have any sencha on my shelf. What only I had was gyokuro. This situation tantalizes my curiosity about tea. Can you brew a “sencha-tic” cold tea out of gyokuro?


I tried making sencha-tic cold tea with gyokuro

Gyokuro has mild bitterness compared to sencha. If you brew tea with high-temperature water, you can extract bitterness. I put a heap teaspoon of gyokuro into a teapot and added boiling water. A few minutes later, I poured the hot tea into a glass filled with ice. It was very easy to make, and the taste was excellent. It was much better than I expected. It had good amount of bitterness like sencha and at the same time, it provides abundant pleasing sweet flavor of gyokuro’s umami. It was very refreshing.

Trial and error for three weeks

I loved the sencha-tic cold tea with gyokuro, but the bitter flavor exceeds my expectation a little. So, I made it every day to adjust and improve the recipe to my taste. I tried many different mixtures with boiling water, but it was difficult to make the tea without strong bitterness. What I got after three weeks of trial and error is the recipe as follows;
- Water: 125ml/75C (4.4oz/167F)
- Gyokuro: 5g
- Brewing: 1min
- Ice: full in a glass
You pour 125ml of boiling water into an extra cup to cool it down. You leave it as you add tea leaves in your teapot and ice cubes in your glass. Then, the temperature will get around 75C and pour it into the pot. You brew the tea for 1min and pour the hot tea into the glass with ice. That’s it.
This tea is not strong and it has the delightful umami flavor of gyokuro. You can enjoy the gentle sweetness with a hint of fresh green note. 

The second brew

Right after the first brew, I put some ice cubes and cold water directly into the teapot. I leave the pot in the refrigerator for one or two hours while I enjoy the first glass. The second brew is surprisingly delicious with mild bitter flavor. There are some benefits in brewing with iced water. First, it’s very easy to prepare. Slow extraction will be good for tea at work, and the next brew is ready about the time when I want it. From the hygiene perspective, you don’t have to worry leaving the pot with used tea leaves in a hot room on a summer day and using it a few hours later for the second. The most significant advantage is about its taste. Brewing in cold temperature doesn’t extract bitter flavor so the taste gets extremely mellow and sweet.

As I did a series of test, I realized the great potential of gyokuro and I started to think not only I could brew a sencha-tic tea but one with a mellow sweet taste as well.

Friday, June 6, 2014

A Friend from Singapore

Meeting a new friend
Once I received a mail from one of my blog readers. He asked me if I knew any place where he can take a week of intense course to learn the tea ceremony during his trip to Japan. I didn’t know any, so I offered to serve him a bowl of tea if he can visit me. Here he came from Singapore last weekend! 

I found out that the tea room where I had tea the other day at our town festival is a city’s property and anybody from the area can rent it. It’s a small thatched hut and perfect for holding a private tea gathering for us.

Exclusive tea ceremony
From the preparation room, I heard that he and other two guests got in the room from the crawl-through doorway. Then, I opened the door of the host’s entrance and I saw him sitting nicely with his settled posture. The room was filled with a comfortable light from the paper windows and a bit of tension. Maybe it is because of the classic tatami room, utensils and me wearing kimono. The proper arrangement of The Way of Tea has some kind of magical effect to create the special atmosphere. I felt his gaze once I started preparing tea. With his both hands, he carefully held the bowl, which I served. As if he was trying to make sure of every essence of the tea, he thoroughly relished the bowl sip by sip. At the moment, we were isolated. There might have been some sounds of car outside but I didn’t hear them. I concentrated into the moment just for us. I cleaned the utensils as usual and left the room. I could see his fascination and excitement in his smile after the ceremony. I felt certain that he truly enjoyed this gathering. We went back in the tea room again and spent a relaxing moment, taking pictures and telling how to prepare matcha. Then, he served a bowl of tea for me. It was so much fun.

Limit of words
Once I saw a TV program about sado (The Way of Tea). An instructor explained reasons why we do this or that in the ceremony. His words didn’t appeal to my mind. The grand master of our school says that there are reasons for every single movement in the ceremony but he doesn’t like to give the explanation for everything. When I started learning sado, I wanted to know those reasons. But now, I’m kind of getting what the grand master was saying. Words cannot describe everything and even create a limit on things. When you watch a Picasso drawing or listen to a Mozart symphony, you don’t need someone’s explanation. You just feel and discern it, then you will find an overwhelming sensation. If you try to express it in words, it loses its profoundness. 

I and the friend from Singapore were together only for a half day but we could get on personal terms. It is because of the tea ceremony and the benefit of it. It’ll be vain if I say it in words that the tea ceremony is to escape from daily life and enjoy the fellowship. However, I’m sure that he realized the reason after experiencing it why Japanese do the tea ceremony. He mailed me a short massage the next day, “Words cannot describe my gratitude for a perfect day.” I totally understand what he means. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Evolution of Bottled green tea

Decaf culture
There was a thing that surprised me when I went to the United States about one and a half decades ago. At coffee shops, some people were ordering a kind of coffee that I’ve never heard of. It was decaffeinated coffee, which was not common at all in Japan. It was difficult to understand the existence of decaf coffee for the person like me, who can enjoy thick matcha. Today, I checked the Starbucks Japan website. I still couldn’t find decaf coffee on their beverage menu. (Some people say that you can get a decaf at Starbucks even if it’s not on the menu.) I have to say that our decaf culture is still a few decades behind than American’s. Even if I say so, it’s also a fact that the decaf drinks are finally getting attention in Japan these days. Kirin released a new product, Decaf Namacha. It’s the world first bottled decaf green tea.

Decaf Namacha

Added Value Tea
The market of bottled green tea in Japan is quite competitive nowadays. Many products come in the market and fade away. Makers try to launch new products with added value like the decaf green tea. Here are two more examples. One is Shokumotsusenni-ga-oishikutoreru-ocha or Green tea with fiber from Itoen. You can intake 7.5g of dietary fiber out of a 500ml bottle. Another example is Iyemon Tokucha from Suntory. It is a green tea that takes off your body fat. This tea contains an amount of quercetin glycoside, which is equivalent to the amount that can be found in three onions. It is a kind of polyphenol that helps to break down fat. We may be a primitive nation regarding decaf coffee but we might be the most advanced country regarding bottled green tea. If you have a chance to visit Japan, it’s fun to try some of our latest green teas!

Green tea with fiber

Iyemon Tokucha

Review of the Decaf Namacha
The original Namacha is one of my favorite brands. Its flavor is very mellow and aromatic. It has less bitterness than other brands so you can guzzle it when you are thirsty. Now, let’s try the decaf Namacha. At first, I noticed that it smells really good. It smells sweet like freshly-picked young tea leaf, which I can only find in high-grade sencha. Its taste also has the same note. It’s not bitter at all and the mellow sweet flavor of young leaf fills your mouth. This is totally different from other brands, which have bitterness in some degree for refreshing taste. Namacha preserves mellowness but it could be too mellow for some people. One disappointing thing is that a flavoring ingredient is added, but I really like this tea after all.

Following sites are all in Japanese.

Kirin Decaf Namacha:

Itoen, Green tea with fiber:

Suntory, Iyemon Tokucha: