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The Experience of Tea

Posted Sep 03 2009 9:29am
This is the first of many Thursday blogs about my recent trip to Japan. That trip was an exploration and appreciation of Japanese traditions.

Some of my favorite traditions are tea (cha-no-yū), incense (Kōdō), Japanese textiles (Samue and Farmer's jackets called Noragi), Zen cuisine (Shojin Ryori), and music (Shakuhachi).

Today's blog is about tea. While in Kyoto, I spent an afternoon with Nagahiro Yasumori, owner of Horaido Tea on the Teramachi shopping street in Kyoto. I traveled to the oldest tea store on the planet, Tsuen, located next to the Uji River bridge for the past 850 years. I also walked the hillsides of Uji (photo above) to wander among the bushes that produce the world's finest tea.

I drink 4 kinds of Japanese tea - Sencha, Gyokuro, Genmaicha, and Houjicha. I'll cover Matcha and tea ceremony in its own blog entry.

Sencha is traditional Japanese green tea. The leaves are picked, steamed, rolled, shaped, and dried. It has a grassy aroma and a bitter taste. Sencha Fukamushi is steamed a bit longer than regular Sencha and has a more intense flavor.

Gyokuro is a rare/fine tea grown in the shade rather than full sun. It's brewed in small quantities at lower temperatures and has a sweet, intense taste.

Genmaicha is Sencha mixed with roasted rice. It has a light, mellow flavor.

Houjicha is a roasted tea with a smoky flavor.

To make tea, I use a traditional Japanese ceramic teapot (a Kyusu) made of Banko ware. I preheat the teapot and brew the tea with dechlorinated hot water. I keep all my teas in airtight cherry bark tea caddies. Here are the proportions of water/tea, and the temperature I use:


Sencha
Tea leaves: 1 1/2 tablespoons (7 - 8g)
Water temperature: 176F (80C)
Amount of water: 200ml (7.04fl oz)
Brewing time: 1 minute

Sencha Fukamushi
Tea leaves: 1 1/2 tablespoons (7 - 8g)
Water temperature: 176F (80C)
Amount of water: 200ml (7.04fl oz)
Brewing time: 40 - 45 seconds

Gyokuro
Tea leaves: 1 1/2 tablespoons (7 - 8g)
Water temperature: 104 F
Amount of water: 100ml (3.5 fl oz)
Brewing time: 2 minutes

Genmaicha
Tea leaves: 1 1/2 tablespoons (7-8g)
Water temperature: 176F (80C)
Amount of water: 200ml (7.04fl oz)
Brewing time: 1 minute

Houjicha
Tea leaves: 3 tablespoons (7-8g)
Water temperature: boiling water
Amount of water: 200ml (7.04fl oz)
Brewing time: 15 - 30 seconds


Nagahiro Yasumori made us an extraordinary pot of Gyokuro by brewing it for several minutes at a very low temperature. The flavor was sweet, intense and almost wine-like in its persistent finish. We bought Kame-no-yowai Gyokuro and I'm sure I'll be buying from him frequently.

During my travels I consumed many great cups of tea and learned how to choose my tea wisely (buy from Horaido or Tsuen), care for my tea (use only fresh tea, kept in airtight containers), and brew the perfect cup (as above). If you visit me in any of my offices, you can be sure I'll greet you with a fresh pot of Sencha.

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