Tag Archive for Japanese Tea

Tea 201 - Origin - Where Tea is Grown

Tea Origin by Percentage (c.o. Wikipedia.org)

Tea Origin by Percentage (c.o. Wikipedia.org)

It would not be a proper lesson on tea without sitting down and discussing the origin of tea.  Where is it grown?  More importantly where can it grow?

Let’s start with tea’s origin.  Where did it originally come from?

Originally its natural form was believed to have originated in China.  The most celebrated of teas come from the area of China known as “The Golden Triangle.” This area is found between the mountains of Huang Shan, Mogan Shan, Qi Shan and Tianmu Shan.

In the country of Taiwan, it is well known for its oolong teas.

India has grown in popularity due its Assam teas (which are grown in the Brahmaputra valley) and Darjeeling teas (which is grown in the ex-British hills of the Himalayas).  Darjeeling teas are known as the “Champagne of teas.”

This also spreads into Nepal.  In their side of the Himalayas, they have their own tea that resembles Darjeeling.

Sri Lanka is the source of the famous and fragrant Ceylon tea.  The principle growing regions of this country are Nuwara Eliya, Dimbula and Uva.

Of course, we can never forget Japan renowned for its green sencha, courser bancha and matcha.

But that’s just the Asian countries.

Tea growing has also made its way to East Africa to the countries of Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, and Tanzania.   These countries have made a dent in the mark by way of making large quantities of black teas.  However, they have not been able to deliver the same quality of Chinese Yunnan or Indian Darjeeling.

But it does not stop there.  Tea growing has also spread to the Americas to the following countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, and the good old USA.

Tea has spread all over the world and it will continue to do so as it continues to also grow in popularity.

Pretty cool, no?

Tea 201 - Why Japanese Greens Are Unique

Japanese Tea.  Usually this means green tea of some kind but why is it so special?  Honestly, it is because the Japanese have come up with several different ways to process their little Camellia sinensis plant.

Like typical green tea, it is the least oxidized of all of the teas.  Japanese green teas are also steamed so that they can maintain their bright green color.  Then they’re prepared several different ways.

Sencha is the most popular green tea in Japan.  It is harvested in the early season.  It is created by grinding the tea leaves.  It represents about 80 percent of the tea produced in Japan.

Gyokuro is a high grade of green tea that is grown in the shade.  In fact, it is actually grown in the shade for at least twenty days.  There is actually a different type of green tea that is grown in the shade known as kabusecha.  This type of tea differs from Gyokuro only because it is shaded for approximately a week.

Matcha is the well known green tea powder.  The leaves are steamed, dried and then ground into powder.  This is the tea that mostly used in traditional Japanese Tea ceremonies.  Today matcha is also used to flavor and dye foods like mocha, soba noodles, green tea ice cream and a variety of Wagashi (Japanese confectionery).

Hojicha is made by roasting the green tea leaves unlike most Japanese green teas that are steamed.  The tea leaves are fired at a high temperature which alters the leaf color from green to reddish brown.

Genmaicha is a blend of green tea leaves and popped rice.  It is also known as popcorn tea because a few grains of the rice pop during the roasting process.  This type of tea was normally drunk by poor Japanese farmers because the rice acted as a filler for and reduced the price of the tea.

Bancha is a tea made from the leaves picked in the late summer.  That’s about all the difference between Bancha and Sencha.

What about you, dear readers? Have you tried the different Japanese green teas?  If so, what do you think? Which ones are your favorites?

Japanese Tea Ceremony in Practice

And now….we will take a look at how the Japanese Tea Ceremony progresses:

Before the ceremony begins, the guests wait in a waiting room called a machiai until the host is ready for them.  When ready, the guests will then wash their hands and mouths from water found in a tsukubai (stone basin) as a purifying step.

The guests enter through a small door, which requires them to bow in humility as they enter.  The host greets his guest with a silent bow.

The ceremony begins with the host cleaning and preparing each of the teas serving utensils.  When this step is finished, the host adds three scoops of matcha (green tea powder) into a tea bowl and a little water.  The host then uses a bamboo whisk to mix the tea into a paste.  Then more water is added until the tea is thick like a soup.

The host then presents the tea to a guest.  They exchange bows.  The guest admires the bowl, rotates it and then takes a drink.  The guest then wipes the rim of the bowl with a cloth.  The tea bowl is then passed on to the next guest who repeats the process.  This continues on to each guest until all have had a drink of the bowl.  The utensil is then returned to the host who will clean the bowl and refill it with.

During this time, the guests may carefully and respectfully examine each utensil using a cloth when handling them.  Once the guests have had their fill, the host will then gather the utensils and the guests will exit with a bow.  Then the ceremony is formally completed.

It takes years to master the art of this ceremony.  At first glance, it all seems so simple.  However, each movement is practiced over and over again until it is perfected with a graceful tranquility.  It’s awesome!

Japanese Tea Ceremony - Etiquette

Chanoyu Ceremony Etiquette

Chanoyu Ceremony Etiquette

Like any aspect of a Japanese Ceremony, every little detail has its own name and importance…let’s look at a guests’ etiquette:

There can be several guests in a tea ceremony; however for a small meeting the average is about four or five.  The first guest is considered a guest of honor and is called Shokyaku; the second guest is called a Jikyaku and the others are simply called Kyaku.  The last person also has a special name called Tsume.  These guests have a certain sitting order as well as special duties.  For example: the Shokyaku is the main person to communicate with the host (or Teishu).  Here’s information on the dialog between the Shokyaku and the host:


The Teishu would then have a bowl of sweets called a Wagashi.  The bowl is placed between the Teishu and Shokyaku and the Teishu will verbally indicate that the bowl is for the guests.  The Shokyaku then uses both hands to move the bowl to the right to the other guests.

The Shokyaku will then stand and walk to the tea bowl and sit in front of it.  The Shokyaku will then use his cloth or Dashibukusa in his right hand picks up the bowl and places it in the palm of his left hand.  The Shokyaku will then walk back to his seat and sit down.  Then bowl is turned clockwise two times.  Then the tea is drunk in only three little sips, leaving enough for the next two guests.

Then the rim is wiped with a Kaishi.  Then the bowl is passed to all of the guests until it reaches the Tsume.  The last guest will then return the bowl to the Shokyaku who will then inspect the bowl to be sure that there is no damage before returning it to the host.

The host will then ask the guests if they had enough to drink.  If this is so then the Shokyaku will ask the host to clean up and finish the ceremony.

Phew!  What a ceremony!  What do you all think??

Tea 201 - Chinese vs Japanese Green Teas

In the beginning there was a plant.  A green plant. Well…Green tea.   Grown in either Japan or China, this plant is harvested the same way but when it comes to the processing, there are differences:

Chinese – these green teas are mainly roasted or oven dried or sometimes steamed.  Other times the methods are combined.  Some examples are Biluochen (roasted then oven), Zhuyeqing (all three methods) or Houkui (simply ovened).

Japanese – is mainly steamed because it allows the tea to maintain its bright green color and more attractive.  There are sometimes that the tea is pan-roasted.

There are also a lot of varieties in the Chinese green teas.  There are about nine different shapes like loose balls (Dragon Pearls), tight balls (Gunpowder), or gently curled (White Monkey Paw).  There are those with flowers and fruits and others have jasmine.  It is also said that Chinese teas are more likely to be hand-processed instead of made in a factory; however that is only speculation.

Japanese green teas only come in two varieties: needles shaped pieces (Sencha and Gyokuro) and powder (Matcha).   There is also a type of green tea (Sencha) that is mixed with roasted rice that is quite popular in Japan.  It is called Genmaicha.  It is said that it goes quite well with stir-fried foods.

There is also the geographic variety between the teas.  In China, green teas are grown in 15 different provinces while Japan is not big enough to have 15 different provinces.

Who would have thought that there would be such a difference in green teas?  Here’s a challenge: the next time you go to buy green tea, try to found out its origin.  Is it Chinese?  Is it Japanese? Then consider and compare the flavors, do you notice a difference?