Do you consume green tea on a daily basis? Green tea is the Japanese’s daily elixir, prized for its sweet, earthy flavour and several health advantages (consider the Japanese lifespan!). Green tea is the most well-known type of Japanese tea. It is Japan’s most popular beverage, prized for its medicinal and restorative powers. Green tea consumption is ingrained in Japanese culture, with practically every meal in Japan being accompanied by a freshly made pot of green tea. It’s a way of life and a physical manifestation of Japanese kindness.
Brief History of Tea Culture
According to ancient texts, tea was initially introduced to Japan in the 7th century. Large envoys of Buddhist monks were dispatched to China during this time to learn about the country’s rich culture. These envoys were sometimes accompanied by Japanese professors. The first Japanese to be introduced to tea were Saicho, Kukai, and Eichu. Saicho introduced Japan to China’s favourite beverage by bringing back tea seeds. The vegetal scent and briskness of this regal beverage appealed to Emperor Saga. He supported the cultivation of tea trees, which resulted in Japan’s most popular beverage.
Tea has been an imperial beverage for about 600 years. Murato Shuko, a 14th-century tea master and Zen practitioner, discovered tea’s contemplative properties. On a mission to bring peace to the world, he established a Tea Hut that represented simplicity and equality. These rooms, which were graced with tatami or rice straw mats, ensured that everyone sat together, putting their differences aside and experiencing Zen while sipping tea.
Another scholar, Shuck, introduced tea rituals to Japan, which are now quite popular. The ceremonies, on the other hand, require years to learn. In these rituals, the act of preparing tea should be done in the most perfect, polite, and pleasant manner possible. In Japanese tea rituals, there are two concepts that run through them:
Ichigo Ichie: Every human interaction is thought to be a one-of-a-kind event that can and will never happen again in the same way.
Wabi-sabi: In all things natural, the emphasis is on finding beauty in the imperfect and appreciating the profound.
These ideologies transformed the Japanese attitude toward tea, making it more than just medication or a recreational beverage. Tea began to be revered as sacred by the Japanese.
Different types of Japanese Green Tea
Green tea is distinguished from black tea and other types of tea by the manner in which the tea leaf is grown and processed. The tea leaf is the same — it comes from the Camellia Sinensis shrub, which is an evergreen shrub. Because green tea is treated fast to prevent oxidation, it retains its vibrant colour and delicate flavour. The tea leaves are steamed and dried practically soon after harvesting.
Green tea comes in a variety of varieties, based on the manner of cultivation, the growth circumstances, and the steaming and drying procedure. Each type of green tea has its own features and flavour, and the following are some of the green tea classifications:
Sencha is the most widely consumed green tea in Japan. It’s made by selecting only the freshest tea leaves, then steaming, rolling, and drying them. Sencha is a fantastic everyday tea because it has a good combination of acidity and sweetness.
It (also known as Jade Dew) is often regarded as the highest-quality green tea. Gyokuro, like matcha, uses shade-grown tea leaves, which results in a tea with a considerably more concentrated flavour. The flavour has been described as sweet and slightly seaweed-like by some. With its deep, dark green leaves and unrivalled aroma, the tea is easily identified. Gyokuro may be the tea of choice for tea experts and people who like their tea with rich accents.
Matcha Green Tea
Matcha is known for its vibrant green colour and is made from high-quality tea leaves that are grown in the shade for a few weeks before harvesting to enhance the flavour and caffeine content. After then, it’s ground into a fine powder that’s commonly used in Japanese tea rituals. Matcha has become a sought-after ingredient in imaginative modern cuisines, as well as a trendy flavour in many kinds of wagashi (Japanese sweets) and western-style pastries, thanks to its distinct earthy flavour and recognisable colour.
Green tea that has been roasted and iced is known as Hojicha. The tea leaves have a roasted scent and a reddish-brown appearance. Hojicha has a moderate flavour and contains less caffeine, making it a great tea to drink after a late, heavy meal.
This traditional Japanese green tea is an intriguing blend of Sencha tea and toasted puffed brown rice, giving it a distinct toasted grain undertone. It’s a mildly flavoured tea with a taste that’s similar to popcorn. For those who like tea with less caffeine, this is a great option.
According to Sen no Rikyu, the creator of the tea ceremony, tea ceremony is being present in the moment and comprehending that each moment only happens once. “Ichi go ichi e” is his philosophy, which means “one time – one encounter”. This phrase approximately translates to “every moment is unique”, “cherish every moment”, “or “once in a lifetime opportunity”.
It is not about the taste of tea in the tea ceremony. It’s all about savouring the moment and recognising that it won’t happen again. We must set aside everything else and concentrate solely on drinking tea in peace. It is not the same time when two persons meet in the same room and drink from the same cup. The tea meeting, which may appear to be a routine, should be thoroughly enjoyed because it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
The Japanese tea ceremony is known by various names in Japanese, including chanoyu, sado, and ocha, which all mean “Way of Tea”. The word “way” refers to the correct or ideal path to enlightenment and serenity of mind. Following the flawless methods and “forms” is the finest road to enlightenment, according to Japanese traditions. It has a thousand-year history and is connected to Chinese tea dealers. During the Chinese Tang dynasty (618 AD-907 AD) and the Japanese Nara Period, Japanese monks first brought back tea leaves, which they only used in their temples for sacred purposes.
Myoan Eisai, a priest, disseminated the concept that green tea could be used as medicine and that drinking it on a daily basis would assure good health. Tea was primarily utilised as a medicinal during the time, and it was only available to monarchs and noble families. Tea leaves were later utilised by Zen monks to stay awake during late-night prayers. The Samurai, in particular, adopted this practice and popularised it. Later, another priest is known as the “Father of the Tea Ceremony”, Murata Shuko, added extra importance and rites by powdering tea so that others may enjoy it. His emphasis on aesthetics became well-known, and it had a significant impact on the tea ceremony as we know it today.
Sen no Rikyu was a legendary warlord trainer who lived in the late 1500s. He is credited with inventing the tea ceremony. They explained the four main tea ceremony principles: WA, KE, SEI, and JAKU (harmony, respect, purity, and tranquility). He also popularised the WABI SABI style of tea ceremony, which roughly translates to “simple is the best”. The principles of Sen no Rikyu must be read in order to comprehend “the method of tea.” Sen no Rikyu was unfortunately sentenced to death by the regent, who was also his student. The explanation behind this is still unknown.
Over time, the Japanese transformed a basic tea drinking activity into a ritual in which connecting and obtaining peace of mind became the primary goals. Tea ceremonies were utilised by the samurai class in mediaeval times to build political connections. The tea ceremony is now conducted as a form of art and a distinct cultural heritage.
Japanese tea ceremonies are often held in specially built venues or rooms created specifically for the purpose of the tea ceremonies. While a purpose-built tatami-floored room is regarded as the best venue for tea, any space where the essential equipment for preparing and serving tea may be set out and where the host can make the tea in the presence of the seated guest(s) can be utilised as a tea venue. For example, a tea gathering, known as nodate, can be hosted picnic-style in the outdoors.
A chashitsu is a specially created room for wabi-sabi tea that is ideally 4.5-tatami wide and long in floor area. A chashitsu is often built with a low ceiling, a hearth built into the floor, an alcove for hanging scrolls and placing other ornamental artefacts, and separate entrances for the host and visitors. It also has a mizuya, which is an attached preparation space.
A 4.5-mat room is basic, but smaller and larger rooms are also available. In wabi style tea rooms, the building materials and décor are purposefully plain and rustic. Chashitsu can also refer to free-standing tea houses. Tea houses, as they are known in English, are structures that may contain many tea rooms of varying sizes and types, dressing and waiting rooms, and other facilities, as well as being surrounded by a tea garden known as a roji.
Thin and Thick Tea
Matcha is prepared in two ways for tea consumption: thick (koicha) and thin (usucha), with the best grade tea leaves utilised in thick tea. Tea leaves used as packing material for koicha leaves in the tea urn (chatsubo) were traditionally served as thin tea. Japanese historical writings regarding tea that distinguish between usucha and koicha occur for the first time during the Tenmon period (1532–55). The term “koicha” first appeared in print around 1575.
Koicha, as the name implies, is a thick blend of matcha and hot water that requires roughly three times the amount of tea to the comparable amount of water as usucha. Matcha and hot water are whipped with the tea whisk (chasen) to make usucha, whereas koicha is kneaded with the whisk to smoothly integrate the huge amount of powdered tea with the water.
Each guest is served thin tea in a separate bowl, whereas thick tea is shared among multiple people. Sen no Rikyu is credited with inventing this way of sharing a bowl of koicha, which first appears in historical sources in 1586.
The preparation and consumption of koicha, which is followed by usucha, is the most important aspect of a chaji. A chakai is a more casual, ending phase of a chaji that involves merely the preparation and presentation of thin tea (and related confections).
Chadogu is the name given to the tea ceremony apparatus. A vast variety of chadogu are available, and different forms and motifs are utilised for different events and seasons, with the majority being made from skillfully crafted bamboo. All tea instruments are treated with extreme care, being meticulously cleaned before and after each use, as well as before storing, with some being handled only with gloved hands. Some objects, such as the tea storage jar (known as “chigusa”), are so cherished that they were given proper names like individuals in the past, and were appreciated and documented by numerous diarists.
Some of the more important elements of a tea ceremony are:
The chakin is a little rectangular white linen or hemp cloth that is mostly used to clean the tea bowl.
Tea bowl (茶碗, chawan)
Tea bowls come in a variety of sizes and shapes, with distinct styles used for thick and thin tea. In the summer, shallow bowls are used to allow the tea to cool quickly; in the winter, deep bowls are utilized. Bowls are frequently called after the inventors or owners of the bowls, or by a tea master. Bowls dating back over 400 years are still in use today, albeit only on extremely rare occasions. Hand-thrown bowls are the greatest, and certain bowls are highly costly. Irregularities and flaws are praised, and they are frequently presented prominently as the “front” of the bowl.
The little covered container into which powdered tea is deposited for use in the tea-making process.
Tea scoop (茶杓, chashaku)
Tea scoops are often constructed from a single piece of bamboo, but they can also be made of ivory or wood. They are used to transfer tea from the tea caddy to the tea bowl. In the most informal design, bamboo tea scoops feature a nodule in the approximate middle. Larger scoops are used at the mizuya (preparation area) to transport tea into the tea caddy, but guests are not aware of this. Various tea cultures employ a variety of styles and colours.
Tea whisk (茶筅, chasen)
This is the tool used to combine powdered tea with hot water. A single piece of bamboo is used to carve tea whisks. There are several kinds. When holding a chakai or chaji, the host should use a new tea whisk because they soon become worn and broken.
Procedure for Tea Ceremony
A full, formal tea ceremony lasts several hours and begins with a kaiseki course dinner, is followed by a bowl of thick tea, and concludes with a bowl of thin tea. Most tea ceremonies these days, however, are significantly shorter affairs that are limited to the enjoying of a bowl of thin tea.
The ritual of a tea ceremony is detailed down to specific hand movements, which change significantly between schools. Regular tourists are not expected to know the regulations in full in most circumstances, but understanding the essential elements below can help make the event more polite.
1) Dress code
Avoid ostentatious clothing and perfume that detracts from the tea experience. Wear modest clothing, take off any jewellery that could damage the tea equipment, and avoid wearing strong scents.
The traditional tea ceremony location is surrounded by a garden, although many modern locations do not have one. To inspire a serene atmosphere, the garden is purposefully maintained tranquil and basic. Flowers with bright colours or strong fragrances are avoided since they are distracting. The approach to the teahouse is made up of stones of various shapes and sizes. A stone lamp hangs near the door, next to a stone basin where visitors can wash their hands before entering the tearoom.
Traditionally, the ceremony is held in a tatami room. Guests’ entrances are sometimes kept low so that entering guests must bend over, representing humility. The tearoom’s decorative components include an alcove (tokonoma) where a scroll or seasonal flowers are placed.
The chief guest enters the chamber after a bow and takes the seat closest to the alcove, followed by the remaining guests. Ideally, guests should sit in a seiza position on the tatami floor. Once visitors have taken their seats, it is customary to bow once more before inspecting the carefully chosen decorations for the event.
4) Preparing the tea
In most cases, the host prepares the tea in front of the guests. The tea whisk (chasen), tea container for powdered green tea (natsume), tea scoop (chashaku), tea bowl, sweets container or plate, and kettle and brazier are the primary pieces of equipment. Each piece of equipment was carefully chosen based on the circumstances and has a designated place.
5) Enjoying the tea and bowl
A Japanese sweet is provided before tea and is meant to be eaten before the tea is consumed. The tea bowl is put in front of you on the tatami mat, with its front-facing you. With your right hand, pick it up and place it on your left palm. Turn it clockwise by about 90 degrees with your right hand so that its front is no longer facing you. Take a few sips of tea and place it back on the tatami. After getting and completing your tea, bow and express gratitude.
Lifting the tea bowl at the end of the ritual will allow you to inspect and appreciate it. When you’re finished, turn the bowl so that the front is facing the host. The host may inquire if guests want another round of tea, and if not, the tea ceremony concludes when the host washes the tea utensils and returns the equipment to its original location.
Tea schools across the country provide courses in tea appreciation and the specific steps that are a hallmark of the ceremony for anyone interested in learning more about this age-old custom. Such classes are still popular among young women and are thought to be a sign of respect via grace and correct etiquette, despite the fact that being an expert in art will take many years. Even experts of the ceremony who have spent their entire lives studying its subtleties will say they are continuously learning.
When it comes to green tea, a fresh loose leaf tea is always the best option. Utilize your senses to locate the freshest tea leaves with a crisp, vivid scent. A good rule of thumb is to purchase from a reputable tea grower or supplier who believes in ethical tea growing and has an extensive understanding of green tea production, processing, and preparation.
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