Archive for the ‘Japanese Tea’ Category

Tea Ceremonies

Saturday, July 2nd, 2011

A tea ceremony is the ritualized way of tea brewing. It often has a strict set of rules to govern how different kinds of teas are prepared, what equipment is used and what drinking manner the tea drinkers should follow. These rules are there to make sure the best taste of a tea can be achieved through the process.

The ritual can trace its roots back 2000 years in ancient China. Old Chinese tea poems and history texts have recorded the brewing of tea following certain rules laid out by the “saints” and how nice the taste of tea was when the ceremony was performed by an expert. There are also ancient Chinese paintings depicting the ceremony, however these were painted at a later time in the Tang Dynasty from around 1000 years ago.

The tea ceremony is the center of tea culture in many tea drinking nations, namely China, Japan, Korean, Britain and its many former colonies. The ritualized process is called Cha-Yi in China. All kinds of Chinese teas are used in the Chinese tea ceremony. It depends on the region and geographic locations, tea ceremonies can be different from one place to another, like the local dialects in China, they can be so different simply by driving 10 minutes down the road. One of the exceptions is Kung Fu Tea ceremony. It is a brewing method that is quite uniformed across many South Eastern provinces of China and Taiwan. Chinese tea ceremonies are quite flexible in terms of rules, however, depending on the teas, water quality and water temperature are often tightly controlled by the rituals.

Photo By: Bruno Cordioli

The Japanese tea ceremony is better known to the world. It is called Cha-no-Yu or Cha-Do in Japanese language, meaning “the Ways of Tea” or “the Tao of Tea”. Japanese Cha-no-Yu originated from medieval China and was brought back to Japan by Buddhist monks who went to study Zen Buddhism in China.

Japanese powdered green tea, Matcha, is the main tea used in Cha-no-Yu. Unlike the Chinese tea ceremony which emphasizes the tea and drinking process, Cha-no-Yu has a lot of focus on the preparation and anything surrounding the preparation, such as the tea ware and the set up of the tea drinking room. There are very strict rules and manners in Cha-no-Yu. The ceremony is usually performed by a woman wearing a  traditional Japanese Kimono dress. However modern Japanese Cha-no-Yu is trying to move away from that image, as the result, you can see women dressed in a tuxedo performing the tea ceremony. Before she is able to professionally act in the ritual, a tea artist has to attend specialized school for years of training and education.

The lesser known ritual is the Korean version of tea ceremony, called Pan-Ya-Ro. The Koreans feel that it is very important to remain natural while drinking tea together. Although Pan-Ya-Ro also has many steps that may seem complicated at first, but there is no rules of minute gestures like the Japanese or complicated water temperature requirement as the Chinese, and it does not take long to master them. Performing Pan-Ya-Ro is less ritualized and emphasizes more on the natural aspect of tea drinking. Green tea is often used in the Korean ceremony.

How to Drink Green Tea Like a Japanese–Drinking Tea With a Difference

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

In the western world and America especially, seemingly ordinary things get cloaked in an air of mystery; the mundane becomes an enormous mountain to overcome. Take bicycle commuting for example. You’ll find forum after forum and site after site, discussing the intricacies of what type of bicycle to use, the best clothing, how to lock your bike up, what to do if it rains, should you cycle in the snow and on and on. The result is that a childhood method of transportation has been transformed into a grandiose event and in this same vein, so has Japanese green tea risen to mythical status. I mean you’d almost have to be blind to not see some of the claims being made about this beverage, everything from green tea for weight loss to green tea killing cancer. Whether the claims are true, is not what is being sought here though.

Photo By: JoshBerglund

But did you ever stop and think, how do Japanese people really drink green tea? I mean on a day to day basis because, while it is true, there are customs and ceremonies for drinking tea, as well as special preparations that have to be made, if we stick to those adherents, then green tea becomes restrictive and unenjoyable—kinda like having to use a $3000 espresso machine to make a cup of joe in the morning. Well it’s the, “everyday,” green tea, that this article is about.

The Tea
The most common tea drunk in Japan is called sencha, which is produced from tea plants exposed to full sunlight. Usually, this tea will be in loose form, meaning you’ll need a tea pot to brew it and that’s just how most Japanese people drink it. Sencha is also commonly available in tea bags, which are also widely accepted. There are other Japanese tea drinks, however. Another common tea is called mugicha. Mugicha isn’t really a tea, since it’s made from barley, but it is a popular brewed, tea-like (Japanese people don’t really differentiate) drink, especially during the summer months and enjoyed on ice. Finally, one other really common tea, you’ll see is genmaicha, which is sencha with roasted brown rice added. These are the different green tea drink that you will find in Japan.

The Equipment
If you’re going to drink green tea from tea bags, you won’t need anything other than the tea bags themselves. You’ll find tea that is meant to be served cold, sencha and mugicha, in convenient large-sized bags that make enough tea for a pitcher full.

If you’re going to be using loose-leaf tea, you’ll need a special tea pot called a kyushu. These are usually made out of ceramic and have a large side handle (yokode kyushu), a lid and a mesh screen inside the pot to prevent teas leaves from getting into the tea. Thin-walled tea cups are optional.

The Process
This is where everyday practicality and oriental romanticism start to diverge. By that, I mean I have never seen a Japanese person, go through a process for preparing green tea, like what I’ve seen on a lot of websites. The usual process when they want to drink tea goes something like this:

  1. Pour some green tea leaves into the tea pot using the pre-measured scoop included with the tea.
  2. Pour boiling water (usually from an electric kettle) on the tea.
  3. Serve.

That’s it, simple instructions on how to drink tea. No heating pots and bowls or temperature checking or timing, just add hot water and serve. I will add though, that if you’re serving tea for more than two people, you don’t fill one glass completely before filling the next but rather fill one cup partially, then the next partially and so on. Oh and don’t forget to keep your hand on the tea pot lid while serving, otherwise, it’ll fall off.

The purpose of this article wasn’t to belittle the importance of the Japanese tea ceremony or any Japanese custom for that matter. Nor am I suggesting that green tea doesn’t have a legitimate place among other exalted beverages like coffee, other teas, wine or beer. The purpose here was to give you a glimpse into how Japanese people enjoy tea on a daily basis because there truly is a parallel between the Japanese and their green tea and you and your daily cup of Joe.