2011/01/29

Tea with Furoshiki

You will be surprised to see how much PET bottles are sold in Japan. I have to admit that I also buy it once in a while, not often.

In that case, I like to use furoshiki, a type of traditional Japanese wrapping cloth, to carry the bottle.



Photo by Musubi



Furoshiki is a versatile cloth. Depending on how you tie it, it can be used like a bag or wrapping paper. When not in use, it can be folded and put away. Since there is a wide variety of size, color, pattern and materials, we can select it according to the time, the circumstances, and tea.

What would you wrap with furoshiki ? A bottle, a tea canister, or tea and sandwiches for picnic? It's up to you!

*My Favorite Furoshiki Shop "MUSUBI" (Japanese only)

2011/01/26

"Wakocha" Japanese black tea

I hear more countries in the world have launched new tea business. Japan is no exception.

More Japanese black tea called *Wakocha are being produced at various areas including Shizuoka, Kyoto, Nara, Mie, Kagoshima, Kumamoto, and Okinawa. Perhaps, “Japanese black tea” sounds brand-new business to many, but technically, this is not. The Japanese current trend can be said “the rebirth of black tea”.

Its history dates back to 1870’s. Tea was one of the most important exported items, then. It is reported that about 8,525 tons of Japanese black tea was produced at peak periods, in 1955. However, its production sharply dropped, especially after the restriction on foreign trade of tea was relaxed in 1971. Japanese black tea was not as good as Indian tea and Ceylon tea in terms of quality and cost performance. Eventually, few tea farmers made black tea.

But now, Japanese black tea has made a comeback under the name of Wakocha. In addition, Japanese oolong tea (Waoolong) are also being made these day.

It shows tea made in Japan has entered on new phase. I hope the further improvements will bring much more refined Wakocha and Waoolong to our teatime.

*Wa for “Japan”, and kocha for black tea”

2011/01/25

Tea for Mothers-to-be

Recently, I received wonderful news! A friend of my chatomo (tea-lover friends) is expecting a baby. Congratulations!!

Speaking of which, it is often talked about possible effect of caffeine on mothers-to-be. Caffeine is contained more or less not only in tea, but also in coffee, chocolate and some other drinks.

Of course, it is really important to pay extra attention to what you eat and what you drink. But, does this mean expectant mothers have to avoid all of them? What is Japanese common idea on Japanese tea?

Although the data based on scientific grounds are uncertain, most of the women tend to avoid taking a lot of caffeine during pregnancy. Therefore, teas such as Hojicha (roasted tea), Genmaicha (green tea combined with toasted brown rice) or Mugicha (roasted barley tea), all of which contain less caffeine, seem to attract them rather than Sencha.

Having said that, Sencha is not always something to avoid. There is a view to support as follows: Sencha contains zinc, which will benefit expectant mothers.

Generally speaking, many seem to drink tea as controlling caffeine, since tea could be a supporter for them to relax and spend happy "mothers-to-be" time.

2011/01/22

Craftsmanship "Chasen"

When we prepare Matcha, a bamboo whisk known as a chasen is a must.

Takayama town, Nara in Japan is its birthplace where most people have been devoted to the amazing work of producing them. The process to complete a chasen is tremendously hard and long, which is partly to be seen at the Bamboo Garden and Museum in the town.

The long work starts from the preparation of materials. 2 or 3-year-old bamboos are usually selected. After harvested, bamboos are boiled to remove oils, and dried outside during January and February. Then, they have to be stored for more than a year, preferably, more than three years with attentive care in order to make the best quality products. It has already been many years only for the preparation for materials.


At last, artisans set to their hands making the shape of the chasen. The picture (left) shows the process of their work.







A leaflet issued by the museum says, “The head of a tea whisk may have as many as 60 to 120 split fibers, depending on the school and the utilization of materials. Each of the fibers is carefully split with a small blade. If a single fiber is mistakenly cut, the whisk is ruined. This delicate work continues to produce fine products and can truly be called a traditional handcrafting art.”            

No doubt!          

2011/01/19

Tea Color is.......

Tea is said cha in Japanese.

As you have expressions and idioms using "tea" in English, Japanese also use "cha" in daily conversation. For examples, "mucha (literally, no tea)" refers to reckless, "ocha wo nigosu (literally, make tea cloudy)" does fudge an issue, and "chairo (literally, tea color)".

Here’s a question for you. In this case, what kind of color would you think of?

Japanese tea is usually called green tea, so you might come up with green. But, surprisingly or not, chairo refers to brown. Why not, green!?

Imagine that you use tea for dyestuff. What color would you get? Or, imagine that you wipe spilt green tea on a table? Don’t you see brown stain on the towel? This is the origin of the word chairo.


There is also another view. Nowadays, Japanese tea is often associated with Sencha. However, tea for ordinary people in the past was much more coarse. Picked tea leaves were first boiled, then rolled roughly on a straw mat, and finally dried in the sun. Thus, the finished tea looked dark brown. Even the tea liquid, which was usually decocted in a kettle, was red-brown or brownish-yellow.

Does it make sense? Anyway, that’s it for today’s Japanese lesson!

2011/01/17

Eco-friendly Tea: Furikake

After you prepare tea, what would you do with tea leaves in a teapot? Most of you would say, "throw away". Japanese usually do the same. However, used-green tea leaves can turn into food. (Personally, the word "infused-green tea" sounds better because "used-green tea" sounds miserable, though.) 
One of the examples is furikake.



Furikake is a dry and flaky condiment which is sprinkled on top of steamed white rice. Ingredients for furikake vary. It typically consists of a mixture of dried and ground food such as fish, vegetables, seaweed, sesame seeds, perilla leaves and egg. Furikake with good flavor always stimulates Japanese appetites.

Used-green tea leaves can be one of its ingredients if leaves have quality. Here is a recipe for tea furikake.(made by Mother)

1) Microwave used-tea leaves till they get dry.
2) Mix them with dried and chopped food including shiowakame, shiokombu (both are salty seaweed), jako (seasoned tiny fish), and sesame seeds.

A lot of beneficial components are still left in used-tea leaves. So, don’t you think "recycle of used-tea leaves" is good for both our health and environment?

2011/01/15

"Ippuku" for Medicine and Tea

Thanks to the recent study on tea, its benefit is now widely well-known. However, this is not brand-new findings. Looking back the history of tea, we can see that it was originally treated like medicine. This original idea has long been alive even in Japanese language.

Nowadays, Japanese usually say ippai for "a cup of" tea in our daily lives. In the past, the term ippuku was more common instead. Interestingly, this ippuku also refers to "a dose of" medicine now, as then. That is, both tea and medicine were expressed by using the same word. This may be proof that tea was considered as precious as medicine was.

As I mentioned earlier, although the word ippai is more common for tea now, Matcha, served at Japanese tea ceremony, inherits a tradition.
"A bowl of" Macha is still called as ippuku.

In addition, ippuku can be put "break" or "rest" in English. This may show that tea is essential during break time.

I am sure today’s topic makes you complicated. So, Ippuku shimasho! (Let’s have a break!)

2011/01/13

Mecha

Have you heard about “Mecha”?  Have you tried it before?

‘Me’ means buds in Japanese, and ‘cha’ does tea. Yes, ‘Mecha’ is buds tea, which is a kind of Japanese green teas.

You may be curious how Mecha is produced. Actually, this is regarded as a “by-product tea”, known as demono in Japanese.

At the last stage for processing Japanese tea such as Gyokuro and Sencha, the leaves are shifted with coarse mesh nets. Small tea buds are dropped from nets at that stage. These buds are sold as Mecha, whose production amount is limited. Since it is derived from high-grade tea, Mecha is often reputed for its good quality with umami and deep flavor. And, what is better, it is reasonable. Isn’t that good news? Worth trying!

*Other “by-product tea”: Kukicha (stalk tea), Konacha (Sencha powdered tea)

2011/01/12

Treasure Pot: Hohin

This is a type of tea sets used in Japan. Actually, the set in the pictuer has been handed down from my late gramdma.

It includes a teapot with no-handle called Hohin (literal. a treasure pot), two small teacups, and Yuzamashi (literal. to cool hot water), which is a temporary vessel for adjusting temperatures of hot water.

Obviously, if you prepare black tea using Hohin, you would get burnt because it has no handle. You should remember it!

Hohin is used for Gyokuro and high-quality Sencha, both of which are characterized by plenty of umami. In order to take great advantage of the character, lower-temperature hot water is a must. Infusing at too high a temperature extracts catechin (astringency ingredient) together with theanine (umami ingredient). Therefore, boiling water is not appropriate for preparing Gyokuro and high-quality Sencha.

This explains why Hohin won’t hurt you, creating "treasure" for you instead, doesn't it?



2011/01/11

The first chapter of the "Japanese Tea Story"

Do you still believe that Japan only produces green tea?

The answer is NO.

We produce black tea and oolong tea, too. Not as much as green tea, though. Unlike black tea and oolong tea that you have in mind, Wakocha (Japanese black tea) and Waoolong (Japanese oolong tea) have something different, which are “umami”. Does it sound interesting? They are still “experimental tea”, but I am sure those newcomers will attract you soon.


I will give you information on tea in Japan through my blog. Hope you will enjoy!