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Japanese Tea

Japanese Tea or "ocha" has a characteristic fresh grassy taste and aroma, with hints of ocean mist from this island nation. Tea was originally brought to Japan by Buddhist monks during the Song dynasty, after which Japan developed their own unique styles.

Every-day Japanese teas include sencha, a sweet green tea when brewed properly, and genmaicha, also called "popcorn tea", which blends loose green tea with roasted rice. Keep reading below and explore more about Japanese tea.

Highlights

  • Tea of one kind or another, hot or cold, can be found practically at all restaurants, vending machines, kiosks, convenience stores and supermarkets.
  • Tea was first introduced to Japan from China in the 700s.
  • The tea ceremony is one of Japan’s most enduring artistic traditions.
  • Anyone who attends a tea ceremony, whether they are Japanese citizens or tourists, should know about the formal tea ceremony etiquette.
  • Each tea gathering is a unique experience, so a particular assemblage of objects and people is never repeated.

Types of Tea

Almost all tea grown in Japan is green tea. There is a wide variety of green tea produced, differentiated by such factors as growing methods, harvesting time and processing methods. Green tea is avery familiar part of daily life in Japan, making it the most popular type of tea consumed by Japanese people.

Basic Green Tea

The Japanese style of green tea is characterized by steaming, where tea leaves are treated briefly with steam heat within hours of plucking. This will halt the oxidation process and bring out the rich green color of both the tea leaves and the final brewed tea. You can find basic green tea almost everywhere.

Mugicha

Mugicha is a tea not from tea plants, rather it is a barley tea. It is made by infusing roasted barley with boiling water. The drink is popularly served cold in summer, and some consider it more suitable for consumption by children because it does not contain caffeine from the tea leaves.

Hojicha

Hojicha is made by roasting Sencha or other types of green tea, which gives it a distinctive roasted aroma.The tea leaves are roasted in a roasting pan at a temperature of approximately 200⁰C and then immediately cooled. Through roasting, caffeine is sublimated and the Hojicha becomes less bitter.

Genmaicha

Genmaicha derives its name from the Japanese word for "brown rice”. The soaked and steamed brown rice is roasted and popped and then mixed with Sencha or other types of tea in a ratio of approximately 50:50. Genmaicha is popularly served as an alternative to the standard green tea.

Sencha

Sencha is the most frequently drunk and well-known variety of green tea. It is made according to the most common processing methods, whereby the leaves are steamed and rolled to produce crude tea.Sencha is noted for its delicate sweetness, mild astringency and flowery-green aroma.

Gyokuro

Gyokuro is regarded as the highest grade of tea made in Japan. It is made only with the first flush leaf and its special processing results in a tea with a sweet, mild flavor and fresh, flowery-green aroma.For any tea connoisseurs out there, and those who appreciate a tea with rich accents, Gyokuro may be your tea of choice.

Matcha

Only the highest quality leaves are used for Matcha, which are dried and milled into a fine powder which is then mixed with hot water. Matcha is the form of green tea that is often used in the tea ceremony.Matcha is also used extensively for making traditional Japanese confections and various savory dishes.

Japanese Tea Ceremony

The Japanese tea ceremony is called chanoyu, sado or simply ocha in Japanese. It is a choreographic ritual of preparing and serving Japanese green tea, called Matcha, together with traditional Japanese sweets, to balance with the bitter taste of the tea.The whole process is not about drinking tea, but is about aesthetics, preparing a bowl of tea from one's heart.

History

A Buddhist monk brought tea back to Japan. The tea ceremony is meant to encourage spiritual contemplation.Early on, it was also enmeshed with very earthly displays of power. Japan's 15th-century aristocrats and other elites adopted the esoteric practice, holding tea parties during which they would also display rare objects to convey power and wealth.

Equipment

The tea equipment is called dōgu. A wide range of dōgu is necessary for even the most basic tea ceremony.Different styles and motifs are used for different events and different seasons. All the tools for tea are handled with exquisite care.

There are thousands of pieces of equipment of varying style and color. Here are some of the essential components: Tea bowl, chakin (a white cloth), tea caddy, tea scoop, tea whisk, kettle, waste water bowl, hishaku (ladle).

Procedure

Before the ceremony begins, guests gather in a special room set up by the host, known as a machiai.After everyone has arrived, guests will walk across a dew-covered ground, a cleansing ritual that symbolizes the removal of dust from the world. Guests are required to wash their hands and mouths using clean water from a stone basin.

Once the purification rites are complete, the host greets each guest with a silent bow as they enter the tea ceremony site. Depending on the formality of the ceremony, small sweets or even a three-course meal may now be served prior to the tea being poured.

After all the guests have taken tea, the host cleans the utensils in preparation for putting them away. After putting them away, the guests leave the tea house and the host bows from the door, and the gathering is over.

Tea Houses and Clothing

A few things all tearooms have in common is that the floor is covered with tatami mats. Usually there is an alcove or tokonoma in the room, of varying size.There are different sizes of rooms which have names according to the number of tatami mats in the room or the layout of the tatami mats.

In Japanese culture, the kimono is worn for a formal or celebratory ceremony, usually a plain or undecorated one. Patterns are acceptable as long as the kimono is not flashy.If you do not own a kimono, western clothing is also acceptable in most situations.

Etiquette

In a ceremony,everything has significance, from the positioning of guests to the cleaning of the tools to the scooping of the loose-leaf tea. There are predetermined ways to enter the room, walk, stand, and bow during the tea ceremony.

Additionally, it is important to make appropriate comments about the tea bowl, the hanging scrolls, and other decorations, all of which have been carefully prepared by the host for the guest. It is important to practice the ritual and prepare the appropriate clothing prior to attending a tea ceremony.

Make Your Cup of Tea

Enjoy a half day tour to Uji, a traditional town near Kyoto that is famous for its superior quality green tea. Famous for its green tea, while Kozanji Temple in Kyoto is believed to be the original site of tea cultivation in Japan, Uji's tea became better known for its superior quality in the 1100s.

After a brief 20-minute train taking you directly from Kyoto into Uji, you will first head to your tea making experience.

In a group of no more than 5 people, your guide shall translate so you can learn from local Uji residents about the kneading and drying of the tea leaves in this 1.5-hour experience. Afterwards, stroll through the picturesque town sampling tea from local store sellers. You need not feel under any pressure to purchase, but if you like Green Tea, this is a great place to purchase while you are in Japan.

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