Japanese Teatime Etiquette - Tea is Right-

You may know how to brew sencha. Did you know how to serve tea and wagashi (traditional Japanese sweets)? Unfortunately, many Japanese don’t care anymore, but there is an etiquette.
by Nikkei

1) Tea should be on the right side of the guest. Sweets should be on the left.
2) The pattern on the tea bowl, if any, are faced to a guest so that the guest can see it. Put the grain of wood of a saucer sideways.
3) Prepare a wagashi toothpick for sweets. (when needed)
4) Fold the wagashi paper with the edges out of line like going down to the right. 

When you feel like the Japanese way, please try at least 1). It's easy to remember because "Tea is always Right"! \(^^)/.

Anyway....we only three more days to go. I know many things are going on now, but I really hope the coming year will be peaceful, calm, and good one. 

良いお年を!(Yoi o-toshi wo!)  Wish you all the best for 2017.


Learn Japanese Tea from Non-Japanese Expert

As you may know, the bottled tea is very popular here, but Japanese people don’t make tea at home as much as we used to. If not tea geek, people don’t drink green tea a lot.  

On the other hand, I’ve known (of) some “non-Japanese” who love Japanese tea and work as an expert in Japan. They include people who manages an internet tea company, who work at the Japanese tea organization, and who work as a master of Sado(Japanese traditional tea ceremony). In addition to their deep knowledge and their love about tea, their Japanese (language-ability wise) are amazing! Once in a while I feel that they know more Japanese words than I do. There are more non-Japanese who involved in Japanese tea field although I haven’t met them yet. 

Recently, we sometime see the very interesting scene here and there. Japanese people attend the seminar or the lesson about Japanese tea hosted by a non-Japanese teacher. While listening about Japanese tea told by non-Japanese teacher and tasting some Japanese tea made by non-Japanese instructor, Japanese people are impressed by the taste, and surprised to know the taste of tea can be changed according to the brewing way. Actually, I’ve attended Sado class hosted by a Canadian tea master, and I learned a lot. 

I sometimes find interest in knowing about Japanese tea from their perspective. But at the same time, I feel like “What are we doing ???????!!!!!!!. We are born and bred Japanese, but we don’t know about it.”  I have to admit that many of us, including me, tend to feel the attraction of foreign cultures as the saying goes, “The grass is always greener.” I don’t think this is bad because knowing foreign cultures can be a good chance to think about our own culture. It should be....

Anyway. it is very happy to see that Japanese tea have come to attract the world, which we never dreamt of it.

frm Soft Kenkyusha 


Shincha (new tea) vs Ichibancha (the 1st tea)

Have you heard these words;  “Shincha” and “Ichibancha”?

“Shincha”  literally means “new tea” and “Ichibancha” means “the 1st tea of the year”.Usually, both words refer to “Sencha”. Even Japanese often mix them up.

Shincha is spring tea of the year. The fresh and greenish aroma  is the key character. But this kind of aroma is very delicate and  won’t last that long. In order to enjoy the fresh aroma, we are often told that we should use up the tea until the end of the rainy season, which is around the mid of July. After this, the freshness will disappear. So we don’t take the tea as Shincha anymore.

Ichibancha is the 1st flush tea of the year. It sounds the same as Shincha. That’s true in a way. Before the rainy season, we can call the 1st flush tea “Shincha”, but after that, we don’t. It can be called “Ichibancha”, but not “Shincha”.Does it make sense?

Let me put it this way. Let’s say, there is a tea plucked and processed this spring. Now (as of 2016 December) we can say, “ This is Ichibancha of 2016”, but not “2016 Shincha.” because our rainy season has gone. Shincha is a part of Ichibancha and a word for limited time.

Don’t get disappointed. Shincha will lose “the fresh aroma” around the mid of July every year, but it can be matured well and it creates more body if it is stored properly.

For the time being, try Ichibancha 2016 if you still have. 2017 Shincha will be ready in about four months.


Which is First, Tea or Sweets?

I am happy to drink tea. I am much happier to have tea with some sweets or food.

How do you enjoy tea and sweets? I mean which is first. Of course, you can do whatever you like. But this is the way that the tea people recommend.

When you have Matcha, it may be better to have sweet first. Matcha is strong and powerful since you consume the whole leaf. If you drink Matcha when you are hungry, it might bother your stomach. Also Matcha is a bit bitter. Having sweets first makes its bitterness milder. Actually, if you attend sado, or the traditional tea ceremony, sweets are served before tea. So you have to have sweets first whatever you say.

When you have Sencha or Gyokuro, the story is different. You don’t have to finish the tea, but drink the tea first at least one sip. The tea like Sencha and Gyokuro have a very sensitive aroma and flavor. You don’t want to miss those, do you? If you eat sweets first, you wouldn’t taste the delicate character enough, which is shame. Savor the tea a little first, then sweets. This is more recommendable to enjoy both tea and sweets.

I had Matcha toast at a tea room in Kyoto. It was not Matcha-ish, it was real Matcha toast as you can see from the pic. Plenty of good quality of Matcha powder and Tencha (the Matcha leaves before being ground) spread a wonderful aroma even before I took a bite.

In this case…. Enjoy it whatever you like.:-)


Japanese Black Tea Summit in Nara 2016

An annual Japanese black tea event was held in Nara on December 4 and 5.

My first impression was "A….. LOT"!! (LOL)

Around 40 tea farmers not only from Nara but from throughout Japan set up their tea booths so that the attendees could taste the teas and buy them if they like. In order just to get the ticket for tasting, "a lot of" people were in a long long line.

"A lot of" people were flocked to sample the tea while chatting with the farmers.

Other than tea tasting, some lectures and a symposium were held. They were not just for fun, they were more serious ones, but "a lot of" people came to listen.

I have attended this summit several time before, but I had never seen such a crowded scene.

This year, several mass media covered Wakocha, and some big beverages companies put bottled Wakocha on market and more. Thanks to those, the tea has gained recognition much much more. I could feel and see it from the scenes of the crowd.

Japan used to produce black tea after the opening of Japan to the West around mid of 19th century. It was to earn foreign currency. However, due to the poor quality and poor price competitiveness, the production of then black tea was almost died out once. But people who tried to revive their tea business in their local areas, they started to put new life into the black tea, which have been getting popular. Now, there are more than 600 different kinds of black teas in Japan.

In the 19th century, the government was leading the black tea industry. Now, the people in the local areas have been leading. Unlike the first black tea boom which people was forced to produce to export, now they produce the tea so that, originally and mainly, the local people enjoy with their local food while living in harmony with their nature including soil, water and weather etc.

Actually, other than Wakocha (literally means “Japanese black tea.”), there is another name for it, called “Jikocha”, which literally means “local black tea”. The present Japanese black tea are full of love by farmers and the power coming from the nature.

Attendees must have felt the nature power of  the producing-areas where the tea is grown and processed while drinking it.

Nara is a famous place for the Giant Buddha.
"Buddha bread" was sold at the venue.


Wakocha Event in Nara -Dec4&5-

The annual Japanese black tea event is going to be held this coming weekend (December 4 and 5) in Nara.  

One of the main events is that you can try a lot of Wakocha (Japanese black tea) at the Nara prefectural office. Since about 40 tea farmers will gather at one place from everywhere in Japan, you can taste around 40 different teas if you want while asking about the tea directly to the farmers, which could be very special moment of your stay.

Sightseeing spots including a giant statue of Buddha at the Todaiji temple and the Kofukuji temple are within walking distance. 

If you happen to be around Nara area in Japan, why don't you come over to see what they are like and to enjoy chatting over the cup of Japanese black tea!


My Handmade Black Tea

I joined a workshop to process handmade black tea under Yoshiyuki Takeda, D.Agr.
He brought various cultivar tea leaves including Benihuki, Benihomare, Benifuji, Izumi etc.
After the tea leaves are picked up, the leaves need to be withered (icho in Japanese) so that, mainly, the aroma can come out beautifully. The leaves he brought to the workshop have already been withered.

Next, rolling (junen). We kept rolling and rolling. If we roll them too hard, the finishing tea can be very harsh. But if it’s too soft, it wouldn’t work…..What should I do!????

Then, oxidization (hakko) on a hot plate. It is very homemade-ish, isn’t it? If the time to oxidize is too short, the taste would be very rough. If it is too long, it could have a bit of acid, which is bad. To be honest, I couldn't tell what was the Goldilocks time. I just followed his instruction, ha, ha.

Lastly, drying.(kanso)

And this is the very last, the tasting.(shiin)
We made a cup of tea and sampled the teas we produced. I knew it, but the taste and the aroma clearly differs from the cultivar to the cultivar, and depending on the person who produced, which was very interesting.

BTW, he showed us some interesting samples. The middle one in the photo is the Camellia sinensis var.assamica. Both side are Benifuki cultivar, which is hybrid in Japan. What a Huuuuuuuge difference!!! Everyone can imagine easily that the tea character between Wakocha (Japanese black tea) and the tea like Ceylon and the African can never be the same, right?. They don’t have to be the same, anyway. I believe Wakocha should seek its own character.

 And this is mine made from "Benihomare" cultivar. It looks tea, doesn't it?  This is "my cup of tea":-).


Classical Music-Fed Tea

I'm not well versed in classical music, but the music would give the elegant and graceful essence to my life. What will happen if "tea" listen to the music while growing?
Some green tea called "Mozart Tea" and "Chopin Tea" are on the market. The leaves listen the music everyday during the time from the buds are out till the leaves are plucked. I don't know how the classical music affect the tea's aroma and flavor. 
In any case, they are "well-bred" tea, I guess,,,:-).  I should drink them in a well-mannered way.


Trick or Tea

As you may know, October 31st is Halloween. Even in Japan, its popularity has been getting bigger and bigger. The economic benefits from Halloween are enormous now.

As you may not know, October 31st is the day of Japanese tea. Until recent, I didn’t know that…..Oops!!
According to my humble research, October 31st (the New calendar) is considered the day when Eisai, a Japanese Buddhist priest returned to Japan from Sung (the current China) in 1911. It is believed that he brought back some tea seeds and the cultivation method. That’s why the day is set as Japanese tea day.
Why don’t the shop take advantage of well-known event??
They do…..under the slogan “Trick or Tea!” The day of Japanese tea has nothing to do with Halloween, but I like “treat”, and “tea” too.

by Hitohi


Tea and Coffee -TEAVANA in Japan-

Starbucks Coffee Japan opened its tea brand shop “TEAVANA” on October 3.
Around the world, tea sales reached 125 billion dollars, which is bigger than coffee as of 2015. So the company hopes for a big success in Japan.

Their signature drink for its opening is "yuzu citrus & tea". The tea has a lot of pulp of yuzu citrus, pink grapefruit and white grapes.The company says that it's not only tasty, but pleases the eye, and the customers will enjoy the tea using the five senses.

photo by TEAVANA

Thinking about the trend around the world, it seems to be a bright prospects for TEAVANA in Japanbut it won't be easy. According to ITO EN Co.Ltd, the 2015 beverage sales in Japan is as follows;

   *Coffee: 942 billion yen
   *Black tea: 458 billion yen
   *Green tea: 415 billion yen

Against the world trend, Japan is a coffee giant!

Starbucks have growing rapidly for last 20 years and now ubiquitous in Japan. Comparing tea and coffee may be like "apples and oranges". But.... can its new brand, TEAVANA, let some fresh air into the coffee country??  We’ll see.....I want to see it:-)


Past, Present and Future of KYUSE teapot

Have you heard about Kyusu, a Japanese tea pot? Have you make a tea with Kyusu? It used to be a "must" for our daily lives, but not anymore.....

I've found very interesting YouTube site about the past, present and future about Kyusu. Check it out!

< JAPANESE TEA REVIVAL PROJECT>   English subtitle is available: 

Japanese Tea Rivival Project


Selling Like "Wakocha" in Osaka

A shop of Wakocha, or Japanese black tea, Creha, in Saga prefecture (in Kyushu area) set up its booth at the one-week exhibition at the most popular department store in Osaka.
a peaceful exhibition hall  before their opening time

As far as I know, Osaka is rather "coffee area", not "tea". Osakan are known as very friendly, sometimes “too friendly” (I can say “aggressive”, ha, ha), and call a spade a spade...... Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complain about them because I am also one of Osakan! I was worried that how much they would enjoy Wakocha and  they would buy. But…..no need for such concern at all. The Japanese black tea captivated so many people here, much much more than I expected.

The customers were surprised to know that there are so many black tea produced in Japan. They were impressed to learn that every Wakocha has a different taste depending on its cultivar, tea farmer etc.
selection of wakocha

Although every black tea has its own flavor respectively, compared to conventional tea such as Keemun and Uva etc, Wakocha in general has a rather sensitive aroma and flavor. Thanks to its sensitiveness, the tea can harmonize with any foods and sweets, not clash with. It is versatile!

Wakocha agrees even to those who don’t like its bitterness. Wakocha goes well with Japanese sweets which has very sensitive flavor, and even with a slightly westernized-Japanese food.Of course, some prefer the tea with the stronger character. I like those kind of tea too. But since I’ve became a big supporter of this versatile tea, I’ve enjoyed selecting tea depending on my mood and what I eat with.

The customer enjoyed the marriage wakocha and sweets
@ temporary tearoom

photo by Creha
Japanese tea consumption has been decreasing. Hope more people will enjoy Japanese black tea, and it can be a good chance for them to have an interest in Japanese tea including green.

*Creha Websitehttp://creha.net/
                                      (Only in Japanese.)


More Umami, Less Bitterness

According to the survey conducted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, the production of “covered tea” has increased. It refers to the tea which is covered for a certain time before the leaves are plucked so that the tea can remain theanin, the source of Umami, instead of creating more catechin, the source of bitterness. 

The covered tea include “*tencha”, “gyokuro” and “kabusecha”. Since the covered tea is thought to be a value-added tea, many tea-producing areas have been producing more.

<Production of Covered tea:year-on-year figure>
Shizuoka: increase by 17.2%
Kagoshima: increase by 19.1%
Kyoto: increase by 11.8%

This trend toward more Umami and less bitterness may continue….

*Tencha is the tea before being ground by a stone mill into powder. This powdered tea is called “matcha”.

Mt Fuji Tea Bag!?

The number of the tourists to Japan has been skyrocketing over a couple of years. It seems “exponential increase”.

One of the popular souvenirs is TEA! Good quality tea such as Matcha, Gyokuro and Sencha are really popular at tea-producing areas like Kyoto and Shizuoka. Also, the design-oriented tea are seen here and there.

If you want some, “Japan Shadow Tea bag”? Look at the string. While you are making tea, you will enjoy the shadow of Ninja or Kabuki actor. Sumo wrestler, and Samurai too.

What about “Mt.Fuji tea bag”? You will feel “the JAPAN” while making tea, won’t you?


I wouldn’t buy those for myself, but maybe it can be a funny item for souvenir :-) 


Drip Tea, not Steep

A tea pot known as kyusu is supposed to be a must to make tea. But due to overwhelming popularity of bottled tea, many people, especially younger generation, don’t use/have a kyusu at home, which is shame.Therefore tea people have tried to attract more people to make tea with kyusu instead of bottle.

Amid such a situation, a design company, LUCY ALTER DESIGN Inc. has proposed a new idea of making tea. Which is.....Use “dripper” named Green dripper, instead of kyusu.
Their catch phrase is; Are you still using kyusu??!!

Japan is a coffee country rather than tea. So people might think it is cool to use dripper even to make tea. I believed that tea need to be unraveled properly for the flavor of tea to be extracted. I’m not sure how it works with this.

Tasting is believing. I should try it when I have a chance.


Bottle, bottle and bottle.....

As you may know, Japan is a “bottled” superpower. Bottled drink is available anywhere and anytime due to countless vending machines and ubiquitous 24-7 convenience stores. Unfortunately, for many Japanese now, “tea” might mean bottled tea instead of tea made with a teapot.

Anyway… another new tea will be put on the market next on August 15. It is called “Nihon no Kocha”, or Japanese black tea, by Ito En Ltd. This product seems to be slightly sweet because of molasses. I’m not a big fan of bottles, but I am curious how its sales will be.

If you have a chance to come to Japan, why don't you try to count how many kinds of bottled tea you will be able to find? I would give up because it's too many to count....


Memory of the UK !?

I came across those below when I visited the UK this past Spring. Nothing to do with Japanese tea, but I found them funny in terms of English!

"Traffic Jam" jam! I wonder how it tastes like.......:-)

I didn't know "Junk" can be high class!

It has "more than" a lot to do with Japanese tea....
What does GMC stand for??? It's "Genmaicha"


English Breakfast Udon Noodle!?

What’s “English full breakfast”??
I would say that the meal including eggs, bacon, sausages, mushroom, tomatoes, baked beans and some toasts…with a pot of tea with milk, of course!.

I heard that a restaurant in London named “KOYA bar” offers their signature menu, “English breakfast Udon noodle”.

What is that!!?
That's the one! Bacon, mushroom, eggs or so are on Udon^^)

by KOYA bar website

I visited London this past May, but I didn’t know this and missed it. I’m not sure whether I had tried even if I had known it. But I believe green tea would be better for this breakfast.


The real McCoy –Sencha-

I am not sure what's the definition of Sencha in the strict sense of the word. I just believed... or I "wanted to" believe that Sencha is the one produced in Japan. However, non-Japanese Sencha have been seen here and there throughout the world, which puzzled me more...
Anyway, this is about Japanese Sencha. Actually, Sencha is not only one. As far as I know, there are several types.

<Sencha (standard)> 
It is most popular and common green tea in Japan.
The shape of high-quality Sencha is beautifully rolled into needle shape, and the color keeps beautiful dark green. They are more seen grown at mountain side in Kyoto or so.

<Fukamushi-Sencha> also called "Fukamushicha"
"Fukamushi" refers to “longer steam”. When the tea is produced, the heat is applied to stop oxidization. For Fukamushi one, the time to steam is longer than standard sencha, which makes the leaves a bit more crumble and the tea steep quicker. They are more seen grown at flatland in Shizuoka and Kagoshima.

<Kabuse-sencha>also called "Kabusecha"
Kabuse means “covered”. Sencha is usually grown under the blue sky. But for Kabuse-cha, they are covered for about a week or so, which is shorter than Gyokuro and Matcha. This method will give the tea more umami.
 (When the leaves are covered, they will keep L-Theanine, a kind of amino acid, which will give the tea more umami.)

<Kamairi-sencha>also called Kamairicha
Most of tea in Japan, the leaves are steamed after being plucked. But in this case, the leaves are pan-fired. It’s mainly produced in Kyushu, the south part of Japan. As you can see, they are curled unlike the standard one. (”Kama” means pan, and ”iri” means fired.)

Moreover, there are various varieties of tea. The taste of Sencha differs depending on which type of Sencha you will choose and which variety is used for the tea. Every time you sample tea, you may find different taste. When you come to Japan, enjoy an authentic Sencha. And  you can tell this is, what I believe, the McCoy:-) 


Cheese and Green

To begin with, let me explain this;
Tencha is the name for tea leaves used for Matcha. In other word, Tencha is ground into powder. Once tencha become powdered tea, it is called Matcha.

Also, when green teaespecially high quality tea including Tencha, is brewed with water, not hot water, it will be richer in "Umami", a kind of amino acid. It is called “mizu-dashi” method. (“mizu” is water, and “dashi” means brew)

OK,now......at a Japanese tea room in Osaka.
They served me this: Cheese and iced Tencha tea brewed in “mizu-dashi” method.
Actually, I knew cheese and black or Oolong tea can go well. But I just thought green tea won’t. I don’t know why, I just had such a fixed idea. But….interestingly, it was good combination. Both cheese and Tencha tea have amino acid and they didn’t clash.

Then, they served this too: Cheese with black pepper and Sencha tea brewed with hot water, not high temperature.
It was more interesting. When I drank the tea after having cheese, the cheese became much milkier. Then, aroma of pepper remained a bit, which was good.

Many of you may know the marriage of cheese and green tea already. I should’ve known that much earlier. My today's lesson was.... “Think outside of the box!” :-) 

BTW, the variety of the green tea is very very special. An annual production of the tea is....just 10kgs! Lucky me!


"Water brewed" and "Ice-cube brewed"

While I was in London this May, I joined a seminar conducted by a well-known tea maker. Some, from Australia or South Africa or so, were talking about if tea can be brewed with water or not. I told them, “Yes, that is what I often do especially in summer in Japan!.” They were so surprised that tea can be brewed with water, even iced-cubes. No wonder, even some (or many) Japanese don’t know.

Even those who didn’t know about “water-brewed ( known as “mizudashi” ) green tea ” or “ ice-cubed brewed (known as ”koridashi”) green tea”, they start talking about it…..thanks to “bottled tea”.

A tea company, ITO EN. LTD, released “water-brewed green tea with Matcha” and “ ice-cubed Gyokuro”.

Anyway…….the season for “mizudashi” and “koridashi” has come in Japan!

*You may be interested in this;  about Japanese green tea by ITO EN LTD

photo by ITO EN, LTD

Kamairicha made by Mr Kajihara in Kumamoto

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