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Teas of Japan
The first country to be influenced by the Chinese tea culture
was Japan. Tea first arrived in Japan
around the ninth century when Buddhist monks who traveled to
China to learn Buddhism
brought back the leaf after witnessing the increased awareness
brought about during long periods
of meditation. Tea was once again introduced to Japan by Eisai,
a Buddhist monk, this time the
seeds accompanied the traveling monk, who had witnessed the
restorative healing powers of tea
more below in the History and Origin section.
Thus, the first tea plantations were developed
in the Uji and Kyoto regions.
Tea was used primarily as a health beverage and spiritual drink
until the 14th century when tea
was introduced into Japanese nobility.
All teas produced in Japan are green tea and once again, all
tea leaves are of the same species of
plant, Camellia sinensis. The finest teas of Japan are grown
in the district of Yamashiro, near
Kyoto. Gyokuro tea or "Jade Dew" is the most highly
prized tea in Japan. Just before the picking
season, the tea is hidden under specially constructed sun shelters.
This treatment imparts a
special sweetness to the leaves. Only the buds of the first
flush are made into Gyokuro.
Nearly 80% of Japans tea production is called Sencha tea, and
tea producers use variations of
steaming, firing and blending to make their own distinctive
blends. Japan consumes most of its
green teas, hence good Japanese green teas are difficult to
obtain outside the country however the
few that are available are of an excellent quality.
For the Japanese, tea is more than just a drink. Whenever tea
is made in Japan, it represents ageold
methods of cultivation and appreciation. The tea ceremony, whose
aim is to help the spirit find peace, has effectively
straddled centuries and borders.
Sencha, has three quality levels, high, medium and low, is the
most popular Japanese tea. The
highest quality Sencha comes from the two youngest leaves on
a stem and must be hand picked,
the tender leaves and shoots are used for medium grade and the
remainder for low grade. The
leaves are immediately steamed after picking to destroy the
enzymes that are responsible for
fermentation. After which the leaves are rolled then dried in
a heated drum or with warm air.
Shincha [chibancha] means New Tea or ichibancha
means First Tea leaves of the first flush,
picked in May produce a high quality tea.
leaves picked from later flushes in August and October,
produces a medium to lowgrades.
Gyokuro my favorite
"Gyokuro" literally translated means Pearl Dew.
This tea represents some of the finest nonceremonial
tea produced in Japan. The tea is grown in the Uji district
of Honshu near Kyoto,
where tea was first grown in the year 1200. The tea is picked
from the old bushes that are
protected with bamboo blinds to reduce the effects of photosynthesis.
This is the absolute finest
grade of Japan leaf tea, a premier green tea. It is a very scented
tea and has increased
accumulation of nutrients and antioxidants. I suggest sipping
slowing to appreciate and savor the
sweetness of this magnificent green tea.
Matcha incredibly wonderful!
Matcha is a powdered tea used exclusively in the Japanese Tea
Ceremony and must be prepared
to exacting standards using a precise method so it will return
to the preparer its profound
qualities. It is probably the finest green tea in the world
and is exceptionally smooth and easy to
drink. A perfect balance between aroma, taste and vision (the
three quality characteristics sought
after in a tea). It is high in several vitamins including vitamin
History & Origin
The Japanese names for the tea ceremony are Chanoyu
translated as hot water for tea or
Chado or Sado, both meaning the way of tea. As with
any ceremony and ritual, the true
meaning of the tea ceremony can only be appreciated with some
knowledge of its background.
Buddhist monks from Japan visiting China around 800 AD were
first introduced to tea but in
1191, Eisai, the monk who established Japanese Zen Buddhism,
returned from China with tea
seeds that would become much of the tea grown in Japan today.
He also introduced the tea ritual
that was practiced in Chinese Buddhist temples.
In his book Preservation of Heal Through Drinking Tea,
Eisai proposed that tea drinking could
prolong life and in particular that green tea was beneficial
for the heart. . The early association of
tea in Japan with Zen Buddhism led to playing a major role in
the art, philosophy and history of
Japan. Offering tea to Buddha, drinking it themselves from a
common bowl and then giving
some to lay people became part of the Zen monks daily
religious exercises. By the 14th century,
monasteries established a rule that set down the
proper etiquette for serving tea.
The ceremony influenced aristocrats and samurai to hold tea
contests in extravagant halls
decorated with luxuriously objects dart, using only the
most lavish tea bowls and utensils.
Shuko, a Zen monk, was disheartened by the poshness and waste
emphasizing that serving tea
with a humble heart was more important than trying to outdo
one another. He urged the upper
class to become less ostentatious in their tea practices suggesting
a small grass hut rather than
large spectacular furnished halls encouraging a more simple
trend. Takeno Joo, a trained tea
master continued the practice of simplicity. Sen-no-Rikyu, a
student of Takeno Joo, considered
the most important of the tea masters, expanded the trend toward
simplicity by calling attention
to the spiritual dimension of tea. He built a 2 mat teahouse
[approximately 6 x 6] made his own
tea scoops and flower containers from bamboo instead of ivory,
designed tea-bowls and water
vessels and encouraged the less wealthy to enjoy the way of
Central to Rikyus concept of the tea ceremony was wabi,
a Japanese word that has both
imaginative and spiritual connotations. Wabi refers to beauty
that is simple even imperfect as
one embraces less than rather than more of
leading one to an inner source of riches, free of attachments.
Since the end of the 15th century, four values have been central
to the practice of Chado:
harmony [wa], respect [kei], purity [sei] and tranquility [jaku].
Harmony refers to the relationships of the participants, with
the setting including the natural
surroundings of the teahouse and its interior furnishing and
utensils. Respect implies that one has
the humility to give respect to the participants and other elements
involved in the whole
ceremony. Purity is symbolic of removing worldly cares and concerns
in order to immerse into
the essence of the ceremony. The end result
of mind and spirit!
Japanese Tea Ceremony
The complete formal tea ceremony can be a 4-hour affair that
includes a meal and 2 types of tea,
thick tea koicha and thin tea usucha.
The meal is served when participants first enter the tearoom
followed by an intermission before
tea is prepared. In a less formal gathering, the meal is omitted
and only tea and sweets are served.
For preparations of both thick and thin teas powdered tea [matcha]
is used, the very same type
used by Eisai in the 12th century. Unlike drinking tea with
leaves steeped in hot water, the
drinking of powdered tea involves consuming the leaf material
itself in a much more
The host spends days going over every detail to make sure that
the ceremony will be perfect and
so every aspect of the tea ceremony is savored. Each detail
reminds me of a choreographical
sacred dance, as the essence of an intriguing ritual unfolds.
The setting of the tearoom, the
procedure in the preparation of tea, the manner and movements
of the host, the contents of
conversations, the proper utensils used in each step, the presentation
of tea including how the
host holds and turns the tea bowl before presenting and the
manner and response expected of the
guests, all are inseparable parts of a tea experience that is
both uniquely different each time and
traditionally the same every time.
In his book entitled, TEA, HEAVEN ON EARTH, by William
Woodworth, describes the ceremony as follows:
The host enters with the chawan [tea bowl] which holds
the chasen [tea whisk] chakin [the tea
cloth which is a bleached white linen cloth used to dry the
bowl, and the chaskau [tea scoop], a
slender bamboo scoop used to dispense the matcha, which rests
across it. These are arranged
next to the water jar which represents the sun (symbolic of
yang); the bowl is the moon (yin).
Retiring to the preparation room, the host returns with the
kensui [waste water bowl] the hishaku
[bamboo water ladle] and futaoki [a green bamboo rest for the
kettle lid.] He then closes the door
to the preparation room.
Using a fukusa (fine silk cloth), which represents the spirit
of the host, the host purifies the tea
container and scoop. Deep significance is found in the host's
careful inspection, folding and
handling of the fukusa, for his level of concentration and state
of meditation are being
intensified. Hot water is ladled into the tea bowl, the whisk
is rinsed, the tea bowl is emptied and
wiped with the chakin.
Lifting the tea scoop and tea container, the host places three
scoops of tea per guest into the tea
bowl. Hot water is ladled from the kettle into the tea-bowl
in a quantity sufficient to create a thin
paste with the whisk. Additional water is then added to so the
paste can be whisked into a thick
liquid consistent with pea soup. Unused water in the ladle is
returned to the kettle. The host
passes the tea bowl to the main guest who bows in accepting
it. The bowl is raised and rotate in
the hand to be admired. The guest then drinks some of the tea,
wipes the rim of the bowl, and
passes the bowl to the next guest who does the same as the main
When the guests have all tasted the tea the bowl is returned
to the host who rinses it. The whisk
is rinsed and the tea scoop and the tea container cleaned. The
scoop and tea container are offered
to the guests for examination. A discussion of the objects,
presentation and other appropriate
topics takes place.
Preparing for Departure
The fire is then rebuilt for usa cha (thin tea). This tea will
rinse the palate and symbolically
prepares the guests for leaving the spiritual world of tea and
re-entering the physical world.
Smoking articles are offered, but rarely does smoking take place
in a tearoom. This is but a sign
Zabuton (cushions) and teaburi (hand warmers) are offered. To
compliment usa cha, higashi (dry
sweets) are served. Usa cha and koi cha are made in the same
manner, except that less tea
powder of a lesser quality is used, and it is dispensed from
a date-shaped wooden container
called natsume. The tea natsume is more decorative in style;
and guests are individually served a
bowl of this frothy brew. At the conclusion, the guests express
their appreciation for the tea and
admiration for the art of the host. They leave as the host watches
from the door of the teahouse.
Resourcefulness, imagination, and originality play a role in
this age-old ritual and tradition. Thus
tea gradually evolved into a spiritual practice in its own right
and became a Way. I drink to your health!
Reference for the tea ceremony:
TEA, HEAVEN ON EARTH, by William Woodworth.
Printed in the USA, 1994.
Published by Griffin Printing, Sacramento, CA.
Reference for Teas of Japan adapted from:
Chado: The Way of Tea: A Japanese Tea Masters Almanac
Author: Sanmi, Sasaki
Translator: Iwasaki, Satoko
Tea Life, Tea Mind by Soshitsu Sen
A very interesting explanation of tea. For drinking my favorite
Japanese teas are Genmaicha,
Mugicha for summer and Umekonbucha for calm. Genmaicha is a
robust roasted tea with brown rice.
Mugicha is barley tea which is popular as a cold summer tea
but is good hot as well.
Umekonbucha is a tea made with pickled plum and sea kelp. This
is an original tea of Japan
drunk by fishermen. It is very interesting for its sour brine
flavor. I find the scent and taste to be
very balancing. The Chinese, Indian and Thai teas have even
more variety. Currently I enjoy
Tuocha Puu-er aged for years like wine flavor varies, Osmanthus
which is sweet, Five flower cha
and Jasmine. Korean Jujube tea is good also. All of the teas
have associated medicinal properties.
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