How to do a Japanese Tea Ceremony

In Japanese culture, being invited to a tea ceremony is a mark of respect and a great honour. Although tea ceremonies have been around in the East for hundreds of years, the Japanese take this ritual very seriously. Want to know how it’s done? Read on…

There are strict rules to a Japanese tea ceremony and they include just about all of the main art forms from calligraphy to flower arranging, it’s that special. The main type of ceremony is called Chanoyu and the rituals begin once you arrive at the teahouse (called a Chashitsu).

Firstly, you’ll be asked to spend some tine in the garden, observing the plants. These gardens can be very different to a traditional Japanese garden, often featuring no flowering plants, just greenery, rock gardens and usually some form of water feature. The path leading from the entrance will wind its way through the garden so that by the time you arrive at the teahouse, you already feel a little more relaxed
and mentally present.

It is only then will you be invited inside by the tea master. The entrance to the teahouse is usually lowered, so regardless of your social status, it’s necessary to bow your head as you enter. You’ll be given a drink of water and invited to wash your hands.

Guests sit – or often kneel – at low tables of around four people. The host will prepare the tea using green tea leaves or powdered tea and traditional equipment such as bamboo whisks. It is common for the guest of honour to ask where the tea came from, who made the utensils. This isn’t considered rude, in fact it shows great respect for the tea and your host. The host will wash and prepare all the utensils in front of theguests, artfully arranging them according to the fengshui of the room.

Before you drink your tea, you may be offered sweets. Not in the common, western candy style, but usually from thin layers of rice paper, bean curd and other natural ingredients. The guest of honour will signal when it is acceptable to take a sweet and you should do so only after they have. This time is used by the host to warm both the tea pot and the tea. In some, more formal settings, the tea ceremony may include a seven course meal, sake and resting breaks – this can take up to four hours.

Japanese tea ceremony room

The tea for all guests is ally made in the one bowl. Initially it is given, with a bow, to the guest of honour who takes a sips, rotates the bowl around as he passes it to another guest. Guests should take the tea with their left hand and carefully take notice of the positioning of hands, utensils and the other guests. The bowl is placed next to you and turned so you never drink from the side that was facing you. It’s picked up and drunk with the right hand. Once all the guests have drank from the bowl, they are invited to look and inspect the equipment used to make the tea. An additional bowl of tea is then made in the same way.

Sometimes guests have their own individual bowls, in this case it’s important to drink all of the contents. Again, you should place the bowl to the left of you and turn it 180 degrees. This shows great respect to your host – the side they presented to you was the best, but you are inferior and not worthy and so you drink from the opposite side.

A Lovely Matcha Green Tea From Japan

powdered matcha green tea from Japan

I got the opportunity to try a wonderful new tea today. It was called Kama Matcha and it is a ceremonial grade green tea powder that I bought online. I ordered it on a Monday and it arrived on Wednesday. Quick delivery; a good sign. When I opened the box, I found a nicely decorated little tin. It held 100 g of matcha powder. The color was a bright green, which is what you would expect given the quality.

I actually thought about sprinkling some on my lunch, but that would be a waste with a tea of this quality. Instead I got out my utensils—my bowl, my whisk, my spoon—and I got set to prepare my tea. I poured a little green tea powder in the bowl and poured some 80° water over it. I took my whisk and with quick motions, I beat the tea to a nice froth.

I couldn’t drink it right away because my mouth is very sensitive to heat, so I had to wait a few minutes. The suspense was killing me. When I was finally able to bring the frothy green liquid to my lips, the aroma hit me first. It entered my nostrils and went straight to my brain, signaling the deliciousness that was to come. The first sip of tea that touched my lips and flowed down my throat was amazing. It tasted bitter and grassy; it was everything a good matcha should be. I definitely recommend this tea to anyone.

For those who don’t know, matcha is a green tea powder made from the highest quality leaves. Produced only in Japan, it is one of the best teas money can buy. In fact, it is the tea used in the Japanese tea ceremony. It is one of the most difficult teas to brew, but when done correctly nothing can compare. You can get more information on matcha on this page: http://www.letsdrinktea.com/types-of-tea/green-tea/matcha-green-tea-powder/

This tea comes from several different regions in Japan, but the most famous is the Uji region near Kyoto. I had the good fortune to live in Japan for three years and to travel around Japan for many months. I spent three of those months in Kyoto and while I was there I tried a lot of teas. But the best I ever had was on a trip to Uji, where I had the good fortune to take part in a tea ceremony.

The cup of matcha they prepared for me on that day was one of the best things I’ve ever tasted. Ever since then, I’ve been trying to replicate the taste on my own and I think I’ve done a good job but I’ve never come close their tea. If you’re ever in the area, don’t do what most people do and only see Kyoto and Osaka. Make sure you leave time to go to Uji or at least one of the other famous tea growing regions in Japan. Not only are the rural areas outside the city beautiful, but they are much more authentic, too. There is no better place to try a cup of real Japanese green tea.

For a guide on traveling Japan on a budget: http://www.danielmcbane.com/travel-guides/east-asia/japan/

Chinese Dragon Well Tea from Longjing

Dragon Well tea is probably the best known tea from China. It comes from the Longjing region in the mountains near Hangzhou in Zhenjiang province. The word ‘Longjing’ means Dragon Well and this is where the tea gets its English name. The region itself has always been famous in China, but it is starting to see more international visitors as well.

longjing tea leaves steeping in glassThe Longjing region is characterized by steep mountainsides and very high humidity. Summers are sweltering and rains fall nearly everyday. This combination makes for tea leaves with a high chlorophyll content in the leaves, which means they also have more nutrients than usual, including a high number of catechins.

Dragon Well tea is pan-fried to stop the oxidation process early on, leaving it virtually unfermented. It is mostly produced by hand. The high quality is the reason it has been bestowed with the ‘China Famous Tea’ title. The leaves steep to a yellow-green color.

In China, Longjing Tea is often brewed in a simple tall glass, but a gaiwan is also often used. The advantage of the glass is that you can watch the long leaves unfurl and slowly sink to the bottom as they release their essence into the water. The water used to prepare Dragon Well should be around 75 degrees Celcius. Traditionally, this tea was brewed in a purple clay teapot known as an yixing. This is still the best way to get the most amount of flavor from your tea leaves.

The highest quality varieties can be quite expensive, but you can find lower quality leaves that are much cheaper, too. Longjing tea is divided into six grades. The highest quality is called superior and the others are graded 1 through 5. The higher qualities are recognizable by tender leaves that are all of a uniform size after they have been infused. Before infusion, they are light green and have a tight, flat shape.

Authentic Dragon Well tea comes only from the West Lake area of Hangzhou. These days, this type of tea is produced in a number of provinces around China, but none of the copies come close to the complex flavor and aroma of the original. Sometimes the copies are labeled as such, but often they are falsely labeled as coming from Xihu (West Lake). You’ll also find teas labeled as high quality that have a few top quality leaves mixed in with a bunch of lower quality ones. It can be difficult to find a credible seller, making it hard to know if you are getting an authentic tea.

If you do get a top quality Longjing tea from the West Lake are of Zhejiang province, you’ll most likely fall in love with the delicate taste and aroma. Good quality Dragon Well is one of my favorite teas and one I love drinking all day long. To ensure you get the real thing, I recommend buying your tea from an online tea shop. If you have one you trust, they will almost certainly carry this variety of tea, as it is very popular.

Why You Should Buy Japanese Sencha Online

My mom came to visit me recently. While she was here we did some sightseeing, did some shopping, and did a lot of eating. Since she knows that I drink tea every day and that I really like sencha, she tried to do me a favor and buy me some.

sencha tea leavesShe was at one of the many outdoor markets here in the area, when she came upon a tea vendor. The woman had a lot of teas on display, mostly loose leaf, in the appropriate containers. The prices were all apparently very low and my mother thought she was getting a good deal and bought me some of the sencha. Let’s just say this tea reminded me why I always buy tea online. This page can help you make sense of all the different online tea stores.

When I first opened the little baggie I immediately saw all the stems. That’s never a good sign. Good quality sencha is mostly leaves. The second thing I noticed was the made in China sticker. This variety of tea comes from Japan and you don’t want to buy it from anywhere else. You definitely don’t want any from China. They have a lot of great teas there and if you want Chinese tea you should buy one of theirs, not one of their copies.

When I tried the tea, it tasted about as good as you could expect. I’m going to use it as my everyday tea, meaning I put the leaves in the bottom of a large plastic walk-around cup and keep brewing new tea on top of the old all day long. It’s a simple way to get my tea fix, but not something I would ever do with a good quality tea. Usually I use the generic brand you can find in most supermarkets, but this tea my mom bought would do just fine. Brewing good sencha is a bit more complicated.

As I mentioned, I always buy tea from online stores, mainly because it’s so difficult to find good quality varieties outside of Asia. Unless you know a tea shop you can trust, one that supplies excellent teas for a good price, I would suggest you do the same. Many of the online tea vendors have great suppliers in China and in Japan and the teas you get from them are excellent.

For the differences between the above-mentioned matcha and sencha, go here.

My first Pu Er Tea

I recently went to the Asian store here in my area and came away with a decently priced Pu Er tea. I had heard about this variety a lot but had never tried it before, so I was really curious. I was a little worried I was buying the cheap variety and I wouldn’t get a good idea of what this tea should be like. That was probably a valid concern.

brick of pu erh teaWhen I got home and unpacked the tea, I noticed a rotten smell immediately. Not really rotten but just a little musky I guess; either way it wasn’t the most pleasant thing I’ve ever smelled. When I brewed the tea and tried the first sip, it didn’t taste good at all. It tasted kind of like dirt. It was even a little gritty.

So I did some reading online to see if that’s what it should taste like or if I simply got a bad batch. Turns out that’s pretty much what it should taste like. What I did wrong was I didn’t dump out the first infusion or two. You see, you want to let the tea steep for about 10 seconds then pour that out. I’ve actually started doing that twice in a row. Then I let the third infusion steep for the normal amount of time, about 2 minutes, and that’s the one I drink.

This method really works and I end up with a decent tasting cup every time. I recommend you do the same. And after the third infusion you can actually prepare two, three or even four more and they still taste pretty good. Following this method, I actually enjoy drinking the Pu Er. Although to be honest, I still prefer pretty much any other variety of tea. This one, from Yunnan province in China, just isn’t to my liking. I know many people love it more than any other variety of tea though, so it’s really just a matter of personal taste. You should get yourself some and try it. Preferably get yourself a better quality one than I did. Don’t be cheap like me.