Tip for Preparing Matcha

Have you made a bowl of Matcha at home? Has your matcha gotten lumpy? 

A friend of mine working at a tea company in Kyoto gave me a tip about making Matcha without lump: that is, adding a bit of water.
1.Put some Matcha into a bowl. (about 1.5 to 2 tea scoops for one bowl).
2.Add a bit of water (not hot water) over the tea and knead them with a tea whisk.

3.Then pour hot water into the bowl and whisk it until it’s ready.

 Please do remember this is OK for you to prepare Matcha at home. It will never ever be done at a traditional Japanese tea ceremony. 

One more thing. Matcha doesn't have to be frothy. It really depends on the school. Urasenke school considers tea with bubble better while Omotesenke school doesn't. Omotesenke tries not to make the tea frothy.  (ref: Omotesenke needs 1.5 tea scoops of tea while Urasenke does 2 tea scoops of tea) 

Either way, this is worth trying!


How to make "CHASEN (tea whisk)"

This is the way of making CHASEN (tea whisk).  
You will see Japanese master craftsmanship! Don't miss it!

* You Tube: Takayama tea whisk

* FYR, see the blog written on January, 2011


"Kyakudo" = soil improvement

---- To add fertile soil or soil from the different area into tea farm to improve the soil.

I’ve learned this word recently from a farmer that I know. Kyakudo literally means “guest soil” in Japanese. What an interesting word! It maybe natural for farmers to prepare good soil, but I re-recognize that “tea is not produced in a day”, and should appreciate their efforts.

doing kyakudo from Wazuka Black Tea Co.,Ltd

* Website; Wazuka Black Tea Co.,Ltd (KYOTO)  http://www.wazukakoucha.com/


Harmony with Nature - "Chagusaba" method -

Some tea in Shizuoka, especially Higashiyama area, is cultivated by the traditional “chagusa-ba” method, which is often translated as traditional tea-grass integrated system. 

The dried-grasses mainly bamboo and pampas called “chagusa” are cut down, dried, shredded and spread around the roots of tea trees as a mulch. Eventually it will be a good compost. It seems that “chagusa” prevents weeds from growing along the furrows, enriches the soil, helps retain moisture and fertilizer for a long period, and helps new leaves grow better. Naturally, the tea taste gets better and the flavor improves. 

This method is not only for making good tea. It is good for biodiversity. Since the grasses are cut down regularly, other fauna and flora including rare and endangered species survive in that area. (This method is designated as GIAHS 'Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System').

* You will learn about Chagusa-ba method "The secret to High Quality Tea by UNU Channel"

One of the farmers who grow tea with this method is  Kaneroku-Matsumotoen tea farm. Their family started tea business about 200 years ago and have been keeping the method since then. While keeping its tradition method and tea, they produce ’innovative’ tea like the first Japanese smoked-tea. Their signature is the Whisky-barreled smoked tea leave….and its bottled tea too! I think Matsumoto's tea is made from harmony of human and nature, and tradition and innovation.

from Kaneroku-Matsumotoen

Left: Not Whisky, it's tea made from his smoked tea in Whisky barrel


Hotel for Tea lovers - The hotel 1899 TOKYO-

“The Hotel 1899 Tokyo” will open in December 2018. 
Don’t say “So what?”.------Because the concept of the hotel is “TEA”!  

The rooms will be designed like “Iori (hermitage)” inspired by Japanese tea house. The restaurants’ signature will be tea, of course. We still have one more year to see what’s like, but it’s already the talk of tea people. 

* HOTEL 1899 TOKYO  http://1899.jp/hotels/tokyo/en/

Photos from Hotel 1899 TOKYO


Learn Tea from Tea Room

When I was younger, Japanese tea was served as a welcome drink with free of charge at eatery places. Nobody had imagined to pay for Japanese tea. No wonder we didn't see almost any Japanese tearooms back then. Now, we see them. Not popular as much as coffee shops and British style tearooms, but they are seen here and there.

I realize that Japanese tea rooms tend to introduce “hand-on” style unlike coffee shop and the British style tearooms. 

At some tearooms, you brew the tea yourself followed by the instruction. 

At a tearoom in Osaka, you prepare your own tea by whisking Matcha or freshly-ground Sencha. And you can choose the teacup you want to drink with. 


When I am at Japanese tearooms, I sometime hear the conversation like those:

This tea pot is so pretty!
Ah, I see. This is how to brew it. Interesting!
I didn’t know there are many different kinds of Japanese green tea.
The taste is different from bottled one! It's tasty!

These days, people drink more bottled tea, and they don't brew tea at home. Some are eager to try when new bottled green tea are put on the market, but don't show any interests in brewing tea with kyusu and miss the chance to learn how to brew it. Those tearooms can help people especially younger generations begin to appreciate its value. 


Tea Gardens of Scotland

It is the year of tea in Kyoto. Lots of events are held in Kyoto throughout the year (from April 2017 through March 2018) under the name of “Discover Premium Green”.

One of the events, but the first one as an international version, “International Expo” was held on Nov.10 and 11. Some tea-related groups from overseas participated it.

One of the exhibitors is “Tea Gardens of Scotland (TGS)”, which is a group of nine of female tea farmers who grow tea in Scotland!

In Japan, it's generally said that Akita prefecture, which is located at lat.40 NL is the northernmost place for growing tea. Scotland is further north! So I was surprised to hear that tea has been cultivated in Scotland, and I was so excited to know that people who grow tea in Scotland were coming to Japan.

Ms Beverly Wainwright, the adviser of TGS, and Ms Catherine Drummond-Herdman, one tea farmer of the group attended this Kyoto Expo all the way from Scotland, and spoke about what they have been doing and their visions.

Micro-scale artisan tea production for Sri Lanka to Scotland by Mrs Wainwright

Megginch Castle  Our family tea story, so far by Mrs Drummond-Herdman

They also promoted these at the venue:

Tea “Kinnettles Gold”: the one of the group produced as the first tea grown and produced in Scotland, which means 100% pure Scottish tea. Many who came to the event were tea people including farmers, workers for tea factory and tea shops, who all know how tough the tea producing is. They were surprised, impressed, and amazed by what TGS members have been doing. And they really appreciate the tea with a delicate flavour, a hint of honey-sweet taste and a beautiful golden colour. I remember a lady who tasted said “ I can really tell this tea has been raised and produced with tender loving care."

Japanese style teacup known as yunomi by Crail Pottery, which is specially designed for this expo. You would feel warm and relaxed when you hold the cup gently and carefully with both hands as if you wrap it with two hands. Happy blending of Scotland and Japan.

Scottish sweets: savory seaweed shortbread from Stag bakers, and mini round shortbread from Your Piece baking company.

Actually, very luckily and happily, I had a chance to talk and spend the time with them privately.

The more I hear their ideas and passions, the more I feel impressed.The more I learn about their visions, the more I find common ground with Wakocha (Japanese black tea) ---- trying to produce unique tea, which can be made only in that region, working together with local specialty including food and pottery etc, deepening the band of community through local tea, boosting the local economy through local tea industry-----

Beverly has already succeeded in breathing new life into many tea estates and its community, and supported small-scale tea places. One of the places she revived is the Amba estate in Sri Lanka. It must have been a tough job. She said she made a lots of failures before she made a success, but she had never given up. I’m enormously impressed by her perseverance and strength when listening her story of tea life. Also the words she repeated stayed with me: that is; “ prepare for failure”, “failure is leaning”..

Nine members of “Tea Gardens of Scotland” including Catherine have been challenging the big project, which had never been done before in Scotland. Catherine says “Nobody did tea production in Scotland before. That’s why it’s good!” Also, when she talks about what she wants to do, she doesn’t use the word of “dream”. She says “vision” instead. I can see her strong determination and I can tell she can definitely see what to do.

I assume there are still lots of difficulties ahead of them. It won’t be easy to be a trailblazer. But I believe Catherine and other eight members will see them through, and their visions and passions will be realized under the advice of the person of indomitable will, Beverly. Yes, they will make it happen!

*Website: Tea Gardens of Scolandhttps://teagardensofscotland.co.uk/


Tea is a great contributor - Jikocha Summit in Minamata -

An annual Japanese black tea event known as "Jikocha (local black tea) Summit " was held in Minamata city, Kumamoto prefecture on Nov.4 and 5. It was the 16th event. 

It was originally started as the meeting where tea farmers gathering from all over the country share the information and improve their producing skills. Recently, it is also the opportunity to popularize and sell their black tea more.

People sampled the tea from more than 30 different tea farmers’ stands . Other than that, there are various local sweets shops, food stands too.

There were various seminars for farmers and tea people including:
how to produce better tea, the future of the black tea, the marketing, the research of “zairai (native tea)” for tea

For customers; how to enjoy Japanese black tea, and Afternoon tea with Japanese black tea etc....

During 2-day event, more than 6000 people in total came to the venue. As the event in a local city, it was a great great success.

This event is usually organized by local tea farmers. Other than them, a lots of supports from the local government and its community is a must. Without their help, the event will fail. 

This event is not only for tea farmers to learn more to improve the quality of tea. In addition to that, it boosts the local economy, helps the community work together, helps the local people both grow-ups and kids learn their own foods and drink.

This is more than just a fun event. This is just the beginning for community to be developed further. And tea is a great contributor to it.


Japanese Words for Geeks

The other day, I was asked what to say those in Japanese. So….FYR.

*Tekisai 摘採 tea plucking
* Icho 萎凋 withering
* Junen 揉捻 rolling
* Hakko 発酵 oxidation
* Kanso 乾燥 drying

Little bit more…..

* Zairai 在来Native tea grown of the region from of old, not the one propagated from cultivars. 
(Actually, since the origin of zairai is unknown, strictly speaking, some may not be really native. But it became a part of native over a long long period of time. )
* Yamacha 山茶: wild tea
* Misho 実生: seedling
* Sashiki 挿し木: cutting

Zairai is a tricky word. The definition is a bit ambiguous. Actually, zairai is sometimes explained the tea from seed, which is true. But tea from seed is not always called zairai in Japanese. Some cultivars are propagated from seed too.


Pan-fired, Withered Green Tea from Seed – Green Farm KAJIHARA-

Most of the Japanese green tea is steamed to stop its oxidation. But some areas, especially in Kyushu area, pan-firing method is used instead of steaming.

This called “MIYAMA” is one of the "kama-iri (lit; kama=pan, iri=firing)" tea produced by Mr Kajihara in Kumamoto prefecture, Kyusu area.

The tea plant used for "MIYAMA" was grown from seed in the wild mountains. We call this "zairai", or wild tea. Since the cutting, or ready-made plants are often seen recently, the production of wild tea. or grown from the seed are very small throughout the nation.

After the leaves are plucked, they are withered a bit. which can add a bit of extra aroma. Since most of Japanese green tea don’t require withering process, withered green tea is still rare in Japan.

- Pan-fired tea is special as Japanese green tea.
- Wild tea is not that common.
- Withered green tea is getting popular now, but still not that seen everywhere………but this tea has everything:-)

Worth trying!

*Green Farm KAJIHAR ; http://www.kajihara-chachacha.com/


Ichoka -Withered Japanese Green -

To process Japanese green tea, soon after the leaves are plucked, they are supposed to be steamed or pan-fired to stop its oxidation. Yes, as soon as possible after the leaves are plucked. Otherwise, the tea would be withered. 

The process of withering adds some aroma to the tea, and it is considered to make Japanese green tea quality worse since the distinguish trait of the tea is umami (savory), not withered aroma. In short, it is thought that withering could destroy the quality of Japanese green tea. This seems to be a rule made by the Japanese tea association during the mass-producing era when it was considered that the taste of the tea should be unified.

However, it’s becoming the thing in the past. Nowadays, Japanese green tea with a bit of withering are seen more and more.

The time has changed now and it is more “individual” era, not mass-producing era. "Unified" is not always needed. Recently, people, especially younger generation appreciate aroma. For tea geeks, it is exciting to find something different and special. So it is natural to see the tea with more aroma.

While a distinguish aroma of traditional shaded Japanese green is called “ooika (lit: ooi=shade/cover, ka=aroma)”,  the withering aroma is called “ichoka (lit: icho=withering, ka=aroma)”. As one of the tea geeks, the more choices, the more happier. 


Aroma of Bancha -banshu-

Have you heard of the word “Banshu”? Actually, even among tea lovers in Japan, this term is not that well-known. 

“Ban” is for Bancha, which is mainly produced from summer or autumn leaves. “Shu” means, in this case, aroma. So, “banshu” is the aroma of Bancha.

How do you describe this aroma, then? One of the experts said that it is like “the scent of futon aired out under the sun”. Sounds interesting, but I can feel it. 

Bancha is considered to be lower quality, not a special and connoisseur tea. If you look at it from a different angle, it’s an everyday tea, giving us the feeling of warm and secure. I can say it is like a "comfort tea".

The mornings and evenings is getting cooler these days. It is a good season to drink Bancha with warm and nice “banshu”.


Tokyo's Newest Sweets Treats

You may think Japanese are on a healthy diet. Japanese women desire to lose weight and eat less rice and meat…..BUT, many have a sweet tooth and cannot resist it!

This program has nothing to do with tea, but something to do with teatime. If you have a sweet tooth, check it out.

*Tokyo's Newest Sweets Treats by TOKYO EYE 2020, NHK world

(Available until Sep27, 2018)


Milk Tea Flavored WATER

Japan is a “bottled” country. Lots of bottled drink are seen everywhere. Flavored bottled water is one of them. I can say popular flavor are like lemon, orange, apple, peach for water. 

Now, “Suntory Natural Water -PREMIUM MORNING TEA LEMON-“ is on sale. (by SUNTORY HOLDINGS LIMITED). It’s clear, not tea color, because it’s water, not tea. But tastes lemon tea. Looks very curious. So I tried it. Actually it was not bad as a flavored water. It was really fresh and good for morning.

lemon tea flavored water by SUNTORY

To more surprise, the company will release “milk tea flavored water” called “PREMIUM MORNING TEA MILK” at the end of this month. Again, it's clear, not milk tea color. The company says this water has a lot of body and aroma of milk tea, and has a refreshing aftertaste. To me, it doesn’t sound right, but curious enough to try.

Milk tea flavored water by SUNTORY


Afternoon Tea with GYOKURO

More hotels and tea rooms serve Japanese style afternoon tea recently. The Hotel Granvia Kyoto is one of them. But unlike others, they serve it with gyokuro.

Usually, gyokuro is served by a small cup because rich umami (savory) flavor is condensed in it. Since the tea has very distinctive and strong taste, we often enjoy gyokuro as gyokuro, not with sweets (very little if any) . I mean gyokuro could overwhelm the food, or the tea could clash with tea food.

According to their website, jam for scones are not made from strawberry. It's made from veges grown in Kyoto instead. Sounds interesting too.

I haven't tried this afternoon tea yet, but I am curious how gyokuro is brewed, and how the tea food and the tea go well with. I should go to check it.

frm Hotel Granvia Kyoto

* Web: Hotel Granvia Kyoto http://www.granviakyoto.com/


Blend of Japanese Tea and Coffee - CHASHITSU -

At a tea shop called “CHASHITSU” in Osaka, I ordered this: “hojicha coffee jelly tea”. Is this hojicha? coffee??

According the shop, "this drink has coffee jelly, coffee essence and a slice of orange IN hojicha. You can enjoy the coffee as if you do tea." 
That made me more confused…..but I shouldn’t complain it until I try….so I did.

Surprisingly, it was not bad. I tasted coffee rather than hojicha, but like I said, it was not bad. Better than I expected. It was difficult to tell what it was, but  as a summer drink, it was good. A slice of orange gave it refreshing aroma too. Actually, an elder guy at the next table said “Wow, it’s more tasty than I expected.”

The shop has relatively ”conventional” drink too, but also soda of blending of hojicha and coffee with some grapefruit, coffee with thick Matcha cream on, coffee mixed with hojicha.... and so on.

I prefer tea as tea, but it's interesting to try something else once in a while. I should remember that tea can be anything. And I should be more flexible without being held back by fixed ideas.:-) 

* CHASHITSU   http://chashitsu.jp/


"Funmatsu" vs "Kona" Tea

There are two kinds of Japanese teas which mean very similar, but different. One is “kona-cha”, the other one is “funmatsu-cha”. Name-wise, both of kona and funmatsu mean powder in Japanese. Therefore, people get confused.

“Kona-cha” is dust tea. It is a by-product and the leaves are very very tiny, but cannot be dissolved completely into hot water. So kyusu teapot is required to make "kona-cha".
kona-cha by Wikipedia

“Funmatsu-cha” is powdered tea. Unlike matcha that shade-grown tea is ground by a stone mill, funmatsu-cha is usually powdered sencha, which is grown in the sun. Funmatsu-cha is dissolved into hot water like instant coffee. Sushi-go-round restaurants in Japan usually have this tea, so you may have had this tea if you've visited Japan.
I heard funmatsu-cha has sold well recently.  Maybe, it is because that some media have been talking that the powdered tea is good for you since you can consume all the nutrients in tea. Also they say that you don’t have to clean up a teapot afterwards. That sounds attractive for some consumers.

"Funmatsu-cha" is powdered tea, while "kona-cha" is dust tea----- 

Even Japanese people get confused which is which, and some even don't know they are different. Also both “funmatsu-cha” and “kona-cha” are often translated as powdered tea in English. People recognize the teas, but unfortunately can't remember their names.


The Pride of Shizuoka

In Shizuoka, there is a prefectural ordinance which bans on adding any additives like flavoring, coloring and so forth. For examples, if you want to add some dried flowers or fruits to produce flavored tea, you have to report it to the governor to get permission, whose procedure is said to be very complicated. 

Recently, some people had voiced concern over the future of their tea business, saying like "Amid growing the demand on flavored tea, this rule can disturb the business to expand." , “People’s demand have diversified. Shizuoka tea business will get left behind due to the rule.” "If “umami” additive is allowed to use for the second flush, even the tea can be sold at the higher cost, which can help the farmers continue their business in the long run." and the like. 

In response to those voices, Shizuoka government discussed if they should abolish this rule. Opinion seemed to be divided on it. Some say that abolishing this rule can help create more variety tea products, which should meet the demands and be good for the tea business to expand, while some say that it can lose customer’s trust in Shizuoka tea, and the quality of the tea can go down. 

After due consideration and discussion, the controversial issue is likely to be brought to a conclusion. The rule will not be abolished. Which means that, basically, they only rely on the taste of tea without adding any additives, although the procedure to get permission to use additives seems to be simplified to some extent as a compromise plan.

Delivering honest Shizuoka tea to customers------This is the pride of Shizuoka as one of the biggest tea producing areas.


Rediscovery of Japanese Tea

I joined a seminar titled “The Charm of Japanese tea” lectured by Mr Oscar Brekell, a Swedish certified "Japanese Tea Instructor" in Japan. Actually, this certificate itself is not easy even for Japanese to pass. In the first place, he must’ve had a really hard time to learn Japanese, not just a spoken Japanese. This exam is done only by Japanese and has so many lingoes written in Japanese including Kanji characters, which is sometime hard to read even for Japanese. 

Anyway, during the seminar, he explained what makes Japanese tea “Japanese tea” while introducing us three different kinds of varietal teas, which are the cultivars of “Shizu 7132”, “Zairai” and “Koshun”. To me as a tea-lover, their tastes are familiar, but they are not for most of participants who are not really into tea. Usually, people don’t know the Japanese tea has so many different kinds of cultivars. 

Cold-brewed “Shizu7132” and “Koshun”, both of which have a distinctive aroma, are served with wine glass, which made the people surprised.

"Shizu 7132" has Sakura-ish aroma. It reminds us of Japanese spring.

"Zairai" (wild tea ) with a sweets. Wild but the scent of the mountain.

"Koshun" has a herby and floral fragrant, and a long finish.

In Japan, the blended tea is mainstream, and the trend of “single estate, single cultivar” tea style is still new. But these single origin teas make the Japanese tea world more attractive. Mr Brekell said, “Now is the best and the most interesting time for consumers to try tea.” I agree.

Besides him, I’ve seen other non-Japanese tea people who works for the Japanese tea industry, and they have been working on spreading Japanese tea not only abroad but home. 

Unfortunately, green tea means bottled one for many Japanese now. Many of them are forgetting what is the tea for them. Thanks to the people who love the tea and came all the way from overseas to Japan for the tea,  Japanese are re-discovering the charm of the tea they used to cherish more.