Friday, January 30, 2015

Trying a tea ceremony in Japan

Public tea ceremony

The best places to try Japanese tea ceremony are the casual ones which are held as a city event or monthly gatherings at a local tea house. They are often reasonably priced. Maybe it is around 500yen and you get to have one sweet confectionery and a bowl of matcha. Those places usually welcome anybody even those who are not familiar to the tea ceremony. You can tell its causality by the admission. The formality is often proportional to it. The downside is that they are held only on certain days. Check the city information where you are going to visit. The monthly gathering of tea houses can be a bit formal. In that case, it is better to go with a person who is familiar to The Way of Tea. 

Otemae and tatedashi

A tea-ceremony workshop can be another place where you can try it. However, it costs more, probably a couple thousand yen.  Some temples in tourist sites or some cafés also serve matcha (500-1000yen), but they are not usually in a ceremonial style. The tea is just served from the back and you don’t see the host preparing in the room. However, some tourist sites might serve it in the traditional fashion. Useful Japanese terms for you to remember are “temae” and “tatedashi”. In Japanese, we call the procedure or performance of preparing the tea otemae or temae. On the other hand, the way of serving the tea prepared from the back is tatedashi. You can ask if the tea is served in otemae or tatedashi style.

The main guest

I sweated at the tea ceremony that I attended this weekend. In the session that I was in, there were some elderly ladies wearing kimono and looking obviously experienced. However, unexpectedly I got to be the main guest. I get stage fright easily. In the ceremony, I could have talked about the weather as a greeting. Also I could have asked about the hanging calligraphy scroll or the amorous water container with a brown luster glaze. Fortunately, the host was friendly and led the conversation. I didn’t make a big mistake but I could have done better. I don’t remember much about the taste of sweets and tea. After the ceremony, one of my co-guests came to me and told me that she had a good time. I realized again that it is important to simply enjoy it, which I could not do myself. 

What to enjoy

Feel the light from paper screen or listen to the sound of boiling water. You might find the contrast interesting between the primitiveness of bamboo scoop and the smooth glossy finish of urushi tea container. Greeting the guest next to you is simply heartwarming. You will see the host purifying and checking the whisk somberly but with heartfelt actions. While drinking the tea, you might feel and enjoy the texture and weight of the pottery bowl. What I needed to do was to savor the atmosphere. If you have a chance to join a Japanese tea ceremony for the first time, don’t worry too much about the manners and try to sense and appreciate these simple things in the tea room. It will make your experience profound and delightful. This is a lesson which I learned this time.

Related links

Tea ceremony manners for guests 1
Tea ceremony manners for guests 2

The tea ceremonies around my city

- Links are Japanese.
- There are off months, check the schedule before you visit.

500yen, Few times a year
At the tea room in Seto Culture Center

250yen, The second Sunday of the month
At Koshoan in Iroganeyama Park

500yen, The second weekend of the month
At Bosetsuan in Oribenosato Park

400yen, The second Sunday of the month
At Shunshuan in Culture Forum Kasugai or at another place

Friday, January 16, 2015

Common Beginner’s Mistakes in Making Matcha

Confident on your procedures?

This entry is for the people who havejust got started with matcha. They might have learned it from books or YouTube, and they might not have experienced people around who can give advice. How sure are you if you are doing the right way? There are some mistakes that beginners might make. I’ll show them on the following video. Please watch it and find the mistakes.

How many mistake did you notice?

Let’s take a look at the mistakes one by one.

1. Laying the bamboo whisk

At the beginning on the video, the whisk was laid. The tines are delicate. Do not rest it on the tines and keep it standing. Damaging the tines might shorten the life of the whisk.

2. Putting the lid of natsume container upside-down

Natsume is usually coated with beautiful urushi lacquer. By placing the lid upside-down, it might damage it. You don’t want to see scrapes on the top of your lid. When placing it on the table, place it just as its orientation.

3. Not fully wiping off the water

I’m sorry that it is difficult to notice it on the video and this image. After warming up the bowl with hot water, if the bowl was not wiped carefully enough, some water droplets will remain in the bowl. If you put matcha in the wet bowl, matcha might absorb the moisture and create some lumps. It doesn’t have a good effect to the taste of the tea.

4. Pressing matcha

When breaking the heap of matcha in the bowl, I used the flat part of the scoop tip. It was kind of packing the matcha. It can be an obstacle in mixing matcha and water well. Above all, the tea won’t taste good with compacted matcha. In this video, I also noticed that the packed matcha doesn’t get frothy much. Use the edge of the scoop, and try not to press matcha when breaking the heap.

5. Keeping the lid open

I didn’t put the lid of natsume back after putting the matcha into the bowl. I kept making tea with the lid open. You should not give your matcha unnecessary exposure to the air. Getting moisture and oxidation are not good for matcha. It might help the matcha go bad quickly. Put the lid back right after you put the matcha in the bowl. 

6. Placing the natsume with an impact

When I placed the natsume back on the table, I put it carelessly with an knocking sound. The impact may compact the matcha inside. Compacting matcha is not good for the taste and even more it doesn’t look nice. 

Consideration to the tea

Please pardon my skills if you can see other mistakes in this video. The examples that I introduced here are not rules. They just come from consideration to the tea and utensils. Treating the tea and utensil with care are not only for art form, but also it directly affects the condition of your utensils and the flavor of the tea that you are serving.  These consideration make a big change.

Thursday, January 8, 2015


The tea that I crave for once in a while

The tea is sometimes served after cuisines at a restaurant or you might find it in a tea set in a hotel room. I used to have it at my grandma’s place as well. It is ume-kobucha. Ume means plum and kobu is a kind of seaweed, kelp. It is originally powdered dried seaweed and plum. Nowadays, artificial flavors seem to be used on many products. It is prepared by mixing with hot water. This is not a kind of tea that I have every day, but it is the tea that I crave for once in a while. The other day, I bought ume-kobucha on impulse when I saw a lot of them on the shelf at the supermarket, hehe.



Its aroma is reminiscent of ocean. A hint of shiso plant or Japanese basil adds an elegance on its aroma. The flavor mainly consists of the rich umami of the seaweed and gentle salty taste. It doesn’t have a bitter taste like green tea has. It is like having a good soup. Delicate sourness of plum and shiso enhance the fulfilling umami flavor and gives a refreshing accent onto it.


Tea of the good old days

Western people might not like the seaweed or umami at first. Too much umami can be disgusting. However, once you get used to it, it will be quite seductive. I prefer thinly prepared ume-kobucha. It’s relaxing and peaceful concoction. It is the tea of warmth which is associated with a moment with family in a tatami room on a chilly day.