2012/12/31

Thank you 2012

Sado (Japanese traditional tea ceremony) is deeply influenced by Zen spirit. In order to learn its spirit, there are many expressions known as “zengo”.

This is the one of them:
 
            * 日日是好日(nichi-nichi-kore-kou-nichi)
 
It refers to “Even if it is a sunny day, rainy day, happy day and even bitter day, every single day is the best day of your life.” In other words, no matter what happens, we should appreciate what I’m here and spending precious life now.
 
Hope every single day in 2013 will be the best day of your life too.

"Yoi-Otoshi-wo" (Have a good year!)
 

- Every day is beautiful - tomo

2012/12/26

Festive Tea -Obukucha-

2013 is just around the corner. Do you have special tea for the new year?

In Kyoto, “Obuku-cha” is a new year’s tea. Technically, it is not made from Camellia Sinesis, though.

It is a drink with umeboshi (pickled plum) and kombu (sea vegetable) in it. Because we believe that umeboshi protects us from evil and illness. Kombu is a symbol of happiness.

There are various views about the origin of the name. This is one of them. In 951, an epidemic raged and a lot of people suffered. At that time, a Japanese priest, KUYA gave a tea with a pickled plum to the people. Finally, it was waning. The Emperor then heard about it, having the tea later on. Since the Emperor had the tea, it came to be called “Obuku-cha”, which means “the tea drunk by the Emperor”. Nowadays, we call the same, but use different Kanji character, which literally means “large happiness”.

Hope 2013 will be filled with happiness!
 
Obukucha with umeboshi, kombu and powdered gold  -photo by T-
 

2012/12/20

Niroku's Tea

As you may know, Japan produces black tea. But not only that. Some farmers have started to produce Japanese oolong tea, too. The trailblazer is Mr. Niroku Muramats. He is also known as current Japanese black tea's pioneer and has established his black tea. But that was not his goal.


Mr.Niroku MURAMATSU
Now, the 72 year-old man is pursuing his new tea, pouchong tea. His pouching tea is made from “Benifuki”, a hybrid variety. I am fortunate to taste his tea some times. That’s amazing! It has a beautiful golden color, flowery rich aroma and substantial taste. Even only its aroma makes me really happy. His pouching tea hasn’t been on the market yet, but I am sure people will love it once it is.

Amid declining of Japanese tea consumption, those new types of tea would bring new wind in the industry and Japanese tea culture.



 

2012/12/13

Let's Do Tea!

Many, especially women, often say "Ocha suru? " when we'd like to take a break while being outside for shopping or so. Then we go the place to drink and take a rest. The expression "Ocha suru?" literally means "Shall we do tea?". But it isn't always the case. Some order coffee or juice.... not tea although we say "do tea". I had never ever thought this is interesting until a friend of mine pointed it out.

For Japanese, "tea" doesn't mean only drink to quench our thirst. It implies the time to relax.  Whether you're a tea-lover or not, whether you prefer coffee or not, let's do tea!

2012/12/06

Time to Gargle with Tea

It’s getting chilly in Japan. We have to take preventive measures against cold and flu. In that case, tea does help.

Japanese green tea is said to have a lot of catechin, which has the effect of killing bacteria. Some schools especially at the tea-production areas encourage their students to gargle with tea during winter. Between classes, after PE class, before school lunch…..the all students gurgle with tea. According to those schools, fewer students catch a cold since they have introduced this system.

Coarse tea has more catechin than high-quality tea. Even tasteless tea made from used tea leaves has enough catechin to work for killing bacteria. Tea is not only for drinking, is it?


2012/11/30

Milder Black Tea


Ad posters for "Kaga no Kocha"
Generally speaking, the characteristic of black tea is to have bitterness, which makes the tea special. But, that isn’t always the case in terms of Japanese black tea, known as wakocha.

Overall, wakocha has milder and lighter. Why? That’s because of tea variety.  Wakocha is usually made from the Chinese variety (the same as green tea with less tannin) or hybrid crossed with Assam variety which usually produces black tea with substantial bitterness. So, the taste of teas made from the varieties with less tannin is relatively milder. For those who don’t like the bitterness, it is good news. You don’t need to add milk or sugar to make it milder. As you may call it "self-drinker", you can drink without milk and sugar, which is healthier. Don’t get me wrong. I also do love tea with milk! I mean, the more choices, the better. 
"Shimanto RED"

As I mentioned on my last blog, about 400kinds of wakocha are on the market now, and the taste varies depending on the variety and the process. After all, wakocha is not only one. That’s why it is interesting.





Mr. Okamoto, the owner of wakocha shop "Kureha" -tea booth at the summit-

*Pictures are taken at the Japanese black tea summit on Nov 23&24, 2012 by tomo

 


 

2012/11/25

Past, Present and Future - Japanese Black Tea -


Ad poster of black tea summit in Takahashi 2012
 A Japanese black tea summit was held in Takahashi city, Okayama prefecture on the 23rd and 24th of November, 2012. It was the 11th time. You may be surprised that Japan produces black tea in addition to green tea. Believe it or not, around 400 kinds of Japanese black tea, known as wakocha (lit: Japanese black tea) or jikocha (lit; local black tea), are on the market now.

Strictly speaking, Japanese black tea is not a newcomer. It was one of Japan’s main export items a long time ago. Its history dates back to 1870’s. Since black tea was more popular than green tea in the world then, the government pushed the production forward. As a result, about 8,525 tons of black tea was produced at peak period, in 1955. (During the wartime, production went down, though.) However, it came to lose its competitiveness in terms of price and quality and the production dropped. In addition, the restriction on the foreign trade of tea was removed in 1971, which made the situation much worse. Finally, the production reduced to only three tons in 1975.

Since the 1990s, black tea began to come back once again. More and more farmers have gradually been working on its production. One of the reasons is a decline of green tea consumption caused by the spread of bottled tea and the change of our diet. A lot of people, especially younger generation, prefer bottled tea than tea from a teapot because of convenience. Westernized dishes, which don’t go well with green tea, are served at our tables more often. In order to break with the status quo, the farmers have started to feel their way through this new challenge.


sampling space
Amid this situation, the summit was first started 11 years ago for the farmers to work hard together for better black tea. At first, the participants were only tea-related people, but in 2012 it was a much larger-scale and more like a festival supported by the municipality. Not only tea people but also a lot of consumers enjoyed a sampling session, a tea café and a tea booth where the customers could buy wakocha from the farmers at the site. For tea people, there were several symposia and seminars by specialists including Mr.Kanzo Sakata (Emeritus Professor of Kyoto University), Mr.Takeshi Isobuchi (Tea specialist) and Mr. Niroku Muramatsu (Leading expert of black tea). Various topics such as production, marketing and the future of wakocha, all of which were really valuable and meaningful, were discussed.

At this point, wakocha is creating a buzz because it’s rare and new. But soon, it will not be purchased just because of its novelty. Its specialty and originality, to say nothing of quality, will be a must for it to survive in the future. Japanese black tea is evolving steadily. The sales are increasing surely. The tea helps revitalize the rural economy, too. Black tea could be the icebreaker of a “Japanese tea Renaissance”.

Tea cafe

                                                                                                                                       special thanks AH

2012/11/21

Matcha helps Gray hair!?

Does Matcha help dye to conceal gray hair??? It seems it does.

A beauty salon in Kyoto has started this service. According to the report, catechin in tea can absorb coloring matter when oxidizing. This new method takes fully advantages of the tea feature. Also, it won’t cause inflammation on the scalp as it happens sometime due to an acid dye.

The lady who experienced this service said this; “The aroma of matcha lasted another a couple of days after dying, which really relaxed me.”

Would you like to try?

Photo by Asahi Shinbun Disital





2012/11/15

Oyatsu Time!

Tea time means “o-yatsu” in Japanese and refers to 3:00pm in general. Strictly speaking, it used to be around 2:00pm and gradually became 3:00pm. Why is that?

In olden times, people used to have meals twice a day. At that time, farmers would have another snack between those meals to maintain their energies. The break time was usually “yatsu-doki” (the traditional Japanese time system), which means around 2:00pm. “O-yatsu” was named after the time called “yatsu-doki”.

Nowadays we have three meals a day. Therefore, “o-yatsu” came to refer to snack other than meals and 3:00pm. What time is your “o-yatsu” time?

 

2012/11/05

TEAtopia Festival in Wazuka town

Visitors and a mascot -photo by T-
Teatopia festival was held at Wazuka town, one of the highest-quality tea producing areas, in Kyoto.

Under the theme “Delivering charm of tea from the tea field!”, lots of tea companies both from home and abroad set up their booths at the site. Also, various kinds of foods and sweets used tea leaves were sold at the stalls there. Those included tea-pizza, tea-noodles, tea-cookies, tea-dumplings, tea-curry and tea cutlet. Make you hungry, don’t they? Not only that. After drinking and eating a lot, I am sure some visitors needed an exercise. In that case, they joined a tea-field walking tour. An ideal for outing, it must have been a perfect for the tour.

During the two-day festival, around 2,000 people were really steeped in the tea day!
Thanks for tasty dumplings! -photo by T-

2012/10/28

Special Day for Black Tea


Do you have a special day for tea? We do. The 1st of November is “the day of black tea”, which was set by Japan Tea Association in 1983 to spread the consumption of black tea. Why November 1st?

Apparently, it was the very first day that Japanese ever had “black tea”. The person was a castaway, named Daikokuya Kōdayū. In 1783, his ship drifted on the way to Japan, but managed to escape to the Russian mainland. People there saved his life and he stayed for a while. Eventually, he was received in audience by Catherine II, Empress of Russia then and allowed to go back to Japan. At that time, he was invited to her tea party and had a cup of tea there. That was on November 1st.

Since it was the empress’s tea party, he might have been too nervous to enjoy the taste, but I am curious what it was like.

DAIKOKUYA Kodayu

2012/10/27

Harrods Tea Bar


photo by T
You must know what “Harrods” is. That’s the upmarket department store in the U.K. Their self-style tea cafe “Harrods Tea Bar” has opened in Japan, two branches in Tokyo and one in Osaka. All of them are in popular Japanese department stores and really small only with several seats. So, it looks like many order a takeaway. Their tea menu varies including several kinds of their original flavored teas and ice cream cone with using their popular tea. The company says that they are planning to open around 50 branches throughout the country.
 

Japan is a coffee country in terms of the market, and self-style “coffee” cafes are everywhere while tea ones are still rare. Is it tea's turn to overtake coffee and pass it up? We will see.
 
Photo by T
 
 
 

2012/10/17

Japan is not "Rice country" anymore??

If you ask me what the Japanese staple food is, I say “rice”. However, it doesn’t seem to be perfectly correct.  Surprisingly, the consumption of bread has surpassed that of rice.

This is the annual expenses per household of rice and bread.
*Rice: 62,554yen (1990) → 27,780yen (2011)
*Bread: 26,122yen (1990) → 28,368yen (2011)

According to the figure above, I think I should say the rice consumption has drastically dropped rather than that of bread has increased.

There seem to be some reasons why we have less rice. First, other than rice and bread, there have been more choices to eat and we don’t stick to rice every day. Second, making rice is more troublesome. To prepare rice, we need to rinse, cook and wash the rice cooker after cooking. Instead, we get bread from the bakery and simply eat it.
 
"Rice and green tea” is considered to be a great combination and the pillar of Japanese diet. But, we’ve been having less rice. I may have to say this is the one of the reasons the consumption of green tea has been decreasing.

2012/10/09

Tea Mascot

"chappy" represents tea seed with buds
Recently, “yurukyara (lit: easygoing mascot character dolls)” are everywhere. They are mascot character dolls in order to promote goods, events, campaigns etc. Some are cute, but I have to say some are a bit wired, but interesting-looking.

Of course, some yurukyara have a role to play in promoting tea; such as “Chappy” in Kyoto and “Yamecha-maru” in Yame. Tea consumption has been decreasing especially among younger generation.


Can they really save the tea industry?? We will see.

"yamecha-maru"represents teapot   (photo by T)

2012/10/05

Greenish or Yellowish?

In order to process green tea, tea leaves need to be steamed soon after plucking. Depending on the length of the steaming time, they have different names respectively Futsumushi (lit; regular steaming), Asamushi (lit; light steaming) and Fukamushi (lit; deep steaming).

Usually, tea leaves grown in the mountain (ex; Kyoto) are produced as Futsumushi, while the one in the wide flatland (ex; Shizuoka) are made as Fukamushi. Since the leaves in the flatland get more sun directly, they tend to be harder and have more bitterness in general. Interestingly, the process of longer steam gives tea milder taste and flavor. Another character for Fukamushi is the finished tea shape. It is relatively broken. Therefore, tiny tea leaves are poured in a cup and you have them with liquid. Actually, it’s good for you because the leaves contain a lot of nutrients.

If you want to know which one you drink, look at the tea color. Futsumushi  is yellowish or goldenish. Fukamushi has more green color because of the tiny leaves in your cup. Which is yours?

Fukamushi tea  -photo by T-


 
Futsumushi tea -photo by T-

 

2012/09/27

Future of Kyusu

The word of teapot is “kyusu” in Japanese. My mother used to make tea for us using kyusu when my growing up. Now, I make tea using kyusu. But, in general, this kyusu is like an endangered spices especially for younger generation. To them, tea means bottled-tea or teabag tea, not from teapot. They think using teapot is troublesome, even not having it at home.

This situation may have something to do with changing of our lifestyles to some extent. We used to have dinner with family and get together in the living room while chatting and watching TV. Then, mother would make tea using teapot. Nowadays, everyone is getting busier. Conversation is getting less. Family size is getting smaller. Even the word of  “ocha-no-ma (tea space)”, which refers to living room, is obsolete.

teatime   -photo by T-
I have to admit that bottled-tea or teabag is handier in a way, but I feel we are missing something. Something personal touch. It’s only kyusu, but it is kyusu, after all.

2012/09/23

Needle vs Comma

For most of Japanese, “tea” refers to green tea called as “ryokucha” or “sencha”. But sencha is not only one type.

In order to destroy the oxidizing action of the enzymes, different methods, steaming or pan-roasting, are used. Even for sencha with steaming method, steaming time varies. The shape of tea leaves differs depending on the process.

Most of sencha has needle-shape because the leaves are rolled well at the final stage. But some are comma-shaped tea, which are often called “tama-ryokucha (round-green tea) to distinguish from the needle-shaped one.

Which would you prefer? It is really up to you!


 needle-shaped tea :  photo by T

  comma-shaped tea (tama-ryokucha) : photo by T -



 

2012/09/17

Dumpling and Tea on the Tsukimi night


It is still hot, but at last I've come to feel a little bit of autumn. Nicer and more cozy breeze in the evening and the longer nights. Also, air is more limpid, which makes the moon look more beautiful.
 
Since olden times, we have a traditional event known as “tsukimi (moon-viewing)”, refers to Japanese festivals honoring the autumn moon. It takes place on August 15th and September 13th in the lunar calendar. (These days normally fall in September and October of the modern solar calendar.) Traditionally, we made” tsutkimi- dango” (rice dumplings for the moon-viewing) and offered crops in season together with pampas grass, appreciating the rich harvest of the year and hoping for good crops in the coming year.
 
Nowadays, the way of observance has changed, and less people offer pampas grass and crops in season. But, we still appreciate the nature, enjoy viewing moon and eating "tsukimi-dango" with a nice cup of tea.
 
 

2012/09/10

Harmony of Japanese and Western

Nowadays, a spice of western taste is added to many traditional things, giving the feeling of stylish more to them. We often call this style “wayo-sechu” in Japanese. “Wayo” is Japanese and Western. “Sechu “means eclectic or blending. So, I may translate this word as “harmonized style of Japanese and Western”.

Wagashi (traditional Japanese confectionery often served with matcha) sold at “Isshin” has this feeling. They are conventional Japanese sweets by their appearance, but ingredients are “wayo-sechu”. For examples, a cheese&yuzu (Japanese citrus) , and cheese &strawberry, passion fruit &red beans flavors etc. In this case, I would vote for black tea instead of green tea!



wagashi by isshin -photo by tomo-
 

2012/09/04

Memorial Service for Tea

Wazuka town in Kyoto is one of the traditional tea growing areas.

Last Sunday, Kontai temple at Wazuka held an annual memorial service for tea trees whose roles are completed. The monks lit a holy fire for the trees and prayed for prosperity their tea industry with local people attending. I believe they consider tea a gift from nature. So, since olden times, people living with tea there have treasured tea and showed their respects and appreciations to tea.

Their tea, especially Sencha, often enjoyed the highest-price in the spring auction. Maybe, local people’s prayers are granted and a tea god has watched over this town.


2012/08/30

Tea+Tourism=Teaism???

"Agritourism (green-tourism in Japanese)” is paid attention more these days. Some tea producing areas have already introduced the tourism.

Now, Ureshino city, another famous tea producing area, is planning to adopt the real-experience tour. Travelers will be able to visit tea farms, pick tea leaves and process handmade black tea known as wakocha. Ureshino is also well-known hot springs town. So, tea and hot spring will free you from stress and bring you soothing time there.

People learn more about tea and enjoy their experience. The tea-grown districts can take advantage of their rich natural resources and promote more tea, coming to live. This win-win tourism will be more and more in demand.

Hands-on experience in Kyoto  -photo by tomo-

2012/08/24

Pan-fire and Steaming

To process black tea, tea leaves are to be wilted and oxidized after picked so that their chlorophyll breaks down and tannins are released, which is generally called “fermentation process”. While green tea, soon after picked, tea leaves are needed to be stopped fermentation by adding heat, mainly by steaming in case of Japanese green tea. 


Kamairi-cha
Also there is another way to do that. That is pan-fired method. This is often done to process Chinese tea, but some Japanese green tea is also made by pan-fire. Unlike steaming type, pan-fired type has a distinctive aroma, which is great.

Actually, steaming one is more popular in the market, but recently, this pan-fired type know as called “Kama-iri ( kama:pan, iri:pan-fire)” has been paid much more attention especially to tea-lovers. People, including me of course, have been more demanding. Rather than mass production, now is the time for something special, something unique and something personal.



 

2012/08/20

Warabimoch -summer sweets-

Believe it or not, autumn has begun in Japan. This is only “according to the Japanese traditional calendar”, though. Actually, still hot! .

warabimochi

When summer comes, a confection known as “warabimochi” gets more popular. It is a jelly-like sweets made from bracken starch and covered with kinako (toasted soybean flour). This traditional snack with a simple taste and smooth mouth-feel gives us not only refreshment but a gentle and nostalgic feeling. It is a bit floury because of kinako, taking moisture in your mouth. So, it always goes with a nice cup of tea!



2012/08/16

Violence of Nature


The number of natural disasters has been increasing all over the world. Earthquakes, droughts, torrential rain, record heat wave……

Some well-known Japanese tea producing areas have also been suffering serious damage hit by torrential rain. Yame and Uji are two of the stricken areas, both of which are really famous for growing high-quality tea including Gyokuro, Sencha etc. Considering the extent of the damage, there must be a long way to go, but I am sure those teas will make a comeback.

Tea field damaged from torrential rain-Yame city-

2012/08/10

Summer Flavored Tea

Personally, I prefer regular tea such as Keemun, Assam, Uva etc. to flavored tea. However, many prefer flavored tea in Japan. Seems like this is a trend throughout the world.

Those are some examples sold only in summer at a Japanese tea shop.

-SUMMER SPECIALTY-
Mint & grapefruit flavored green tea
Pomegranate & jasmine flavored green tea
Chinese-style almond jelly & tropical fruit
Lemon soda flavored green tea topped with “Kompeitou” (pointed sugar candy balls)

lemon soda flavor topped with "Kompeitou"  By Lupicia

Again, I don’t drink flavored tea basically, but those teas are attracting more people for sure. I am curious about the special flavor for this autumn.



2012/08/05

Summer Specialty "Uji-Kintoki"

Summer is hot, of course, but Japanese summer is more than that. Humid, sticky and sweltering!! That’s a bad news….

In order to cope with this season, shaved ice dessert, known as “Kakigori”, helps a lot. There is a wide variety of flavor such as strawberry, lemon, melon, and “Uji-kintoki”, which is my favorite. “Uji” is one of the most famous Japanese tea producing area's name, and “Kintoki” is another name for red beans. That is, sweetened tea, matcha, and sweetened red beans are on the shaved ice. Both sweetness and a bit of bitterness of matcha are well-balanced, saving us from the heat for a while.

Kakigori  "Uji-kintoki flavor"  -photo by Mr.Akasu-

2012/07/30

Tea and Food culture

Japan is a green tea country. However, its consumption has decreased while that of black and oolong teas has been increasing. The change of eating habits could be one of the reasons.

Speaking of Japanese food, you may think of sushi, sashimi and vegetables stuff, which are considered healthy food that brings out the taste of the ingredients. But that’s not always the case at table in Japan now. Rather than those, our diet including home-cooked meals are more westernized. More meaty, oily, cheesy and oily….In that case, the fermented tea such as black and oolong teas go better with since the teas clean richness in one’s mouth. Of course, green tea is a must, but we have more and we will.




2012/07/20

"Fizzy" Trend

The new trend in bottled beverage is “fizzy drink” in Japan. Orange-flavored fizzy drink has been introduced from France, and lemon-flavored one was just joined into the Japanese market. Soon, coffee-flavored and tea-flavored ones will be on the market.

Why fizzy drink this summer? Recently, the media talk about fizzy water a lot, saying that it helps lose weight, making you feel full with a small amount of food. Also it is good for your digestion so it would be good for your skin, too. Those “effects” might attract a lot of customers.

There is another reason behind this trend. It is “energy saving” that Japan is facing this summer. Since 3.11, the most of nuclear reactors have stopped after those regular inspections and we are trying not to waste our energy including air conditioners.
The beverage companies believe fizzy drinks give us more refreshed feeling than the other drink to overcome this heat and we want it. The business competition over the drink is heating up!

2012/07/12

Summer Tea -Mugicha-


When summer comes, a tea known as “mugicha” becomes a staple in Japan. That is a roasted barley tea, not made from camellia sinensis. So, you may say this is tea-like tea, not tea-tea. But whatever you might say, it is considered to be a must as a cooling summer tea. 
Mugicha


Thanks to caffeine-free, men and women of all ages gulp their “mugicha” to overcome scorching heat!


2012/07/09

Means a lot –Morning Tea-

My morning ritual is drinking tea. I choose tea from my 'tea box' according to the mood of the moment. 

Tea makes me feel better in the morning. But, morning tea seems to be more than that. It could bring happiness and drive away problems you may suffer. Why do I say that? Because there are some proverbs about Asacha (morning tea) in Japan.

*Asacha wa Shichiri Kaettedemo Nome
You should drink morning tea even if it is a long return trip. The tea protects you from problems.
* Asacha wa Fuku ga Masu
 Morning tea increases your happiness

*Asacha wa Sonohi no Nannogare
 Morning tea wards off accidents.


Tea leaf (Izumi variety)  -photo by tomo-

It’s only morning tea, but it is morning tea, after all. Morning tea means a lot to us!



2012/07/03

Tanabata -Star Festival-

July 7th is Japanese star festival known as Tanabata (lit: the seven evening), which celebrates the meeting of the star Vega and Altair. Legend says that these lovers are allowed to see each other only once a year on July 7th, separated by Milky Way except  that day.

Nowadays, we usually celebrate the day by writing wishes on small pieces of paper and hanging them on bamboo branches. Vega was believed to be good at weaving and people would think that “I want to be as good at weaving or so as Vega.” or “I wish I were as good as her.” So, the bamboo filled in peoples’ wishes are displayed in hopes that their wishes reach to Vega in the sky.

In my area, the bamboos with colorful papers are displayed here and there. I wonder what people are wishing to the star. My wish is….let me think about while enjoying teatime. 
Tanabata decolation at the local sweets shop -photo by tomo-


- traditional Tanabata song-
"The bamboo leaves rustle,shaking away in the eaves.
The stars twinkle on the gold and silver grains of sand.
The five-colour paper stripsI have already written.
The stars twinkle, they watch us from heaven."
                                 translation: -Wikipedia-