37 minutes ago
Monday, May 17, 2010
The bitter leaf
A cup the anvil to forge
My sweet desire
First Things First
Lets make sure we're all speaking the same language here. I'm be referring to green tea throughout this post. We're not talking about the tea-bags in the box marked "Japanese Green Tea." Oh, no... What we're talking about today is the real deal, no holds barred, loose leaf green tea picked off of a hill somewhere in Japan. (Preferably somewhere in Uji.)
If you're green tea experience is pouring boiling water over a tea-bag or ordering 'O-cha' at your favorite sushi joint this post is for you.
Today's Vocab Lesson
So here you are. You're at least curious enough to see if I know what I'm talking about. Sencha is the tea for the day. This is the most common tea drunk in Japan.
前- Sen - earlier / before
茶- Cha - tea
Sencha is usually the 2nd or 3rd flush of tea leaves. After it is picked it is steamed then rolled and dried. It is fired for flavor and as a preservative.
Forging your tea
So here's my confession. I'm not a tea 'expert'. I haven't spent any time as a tea maker's apprentice. And while I have in fact hand waxed and buffed many cars.... These skills have not contributed to the honing of my tea-making-kung-fu... (I've also tried my hand at painting fence posts too... still no help when it comes to tea-making-ninja-skills).
What I have done, however, is personally made about... oh I'd say 1,825 cups of tea. That at least gives me a little experience I suppose. My greatest accomplishments, of course, have been from my blunders and missteps in the process. Though traumatic, I've remained relatively unharmed........
There are a number of different ways to get a cup of green tea going... Most importantly, you really must get out and by some loose leaf Japanese Green Tea. Chinese tea is made differently, and while it is good.... it just isn't Japanese now is it!
1-Get some good tea
Heck, if you really cared about this.... you would get up, fly to Japan, and buy yourself some nice green tea! -come on! You've earned it! While you're there get me some too...please?
2-Water Temp.... Once you've returned from Japan you need to get that water the right temperature. In the US we tend to boil water, then pour it on our tea and expect the burning screaming embers of the remaining tea leaves to taste like something besides charcoal....... cool down bro... cool down...
STOP POURING BOILING WATER ON YOUR GREEN TEA
Here's the trick; If you want your tea to be astringent and bitter by all means pour on that boiling love.... If you would prefer your tea have a nice fresh flavor with a sweet taste that lingers on your tongue... simmer down. If you have a thermometer or an automatic tea pot with adjustable temperatures you are set. Turn it on, set the temp, and pour away....
If you don't have the time or the technology here's your best bet.... As the water in your tea kettle (pot) boils, pour 1/2-1 cup cold water in to knock it back to a reasonable temp. Then just as small bubbles form on the bottom pour the water onto the tea...
Another way, that I used to save time, was to soak my tea leaves in cold water just before pouring hot water on them.... This gave them some protection from scalding.
Over the last year or so I have kept my water temp at about 195 deg.
The packaging usually recommends 95 degrees Celsius, which comes out to 204 degrees F. Here's my take... this is still too hot.
So you're tired of drinking tea leaves with your tea? Aww how sad....There are a number of ways to get good flavor without chewing on tea leaves.
A couple of things to avoid...
-Don't use tea balls... these things don't circulate the water around the tea enough to get good flavor
-Don't use a French-Press... this is coffee technology, it is a pain with tea leaves.
-Tea pots with filters at the nozzle.... This is just begging to be clogged
-Get a tea pot, and then find a screen that fits into the opening for the tea to be suspended in the water. This is hands down the most efficient way to use a tea pot.
-Put the tea directly into a tea pot, then pour into a cup through a filter.
How much tea?
Well this depends on how big your tea-pot is... I would recommend 2-4 teaspoons depending on your taste for a standard Japanese tea-pot (pictured above).
Vacuum Sealed Teacups
For the modern tea junkie one can either trek to Japan in search of them... or pick up one at REI.... These tea-cups are vacuum sealed, so they hold the heat in all day long... but are cool to the touch on the outside... (Very cool stuff). They have a filter at the lid, that allows the tea to set directly in the water. These rarely clog with tea-leaves and are great for all day outings / refills.
How much tea?
Again, this is totally preference based on volume of water.... I would go 2-3 teaspoons. Mmmmm
Direct cup forging.....
This is simple, easy, and often times the best flavored tea. Grab your filter, pictured above, toss 1-1.5 teaspoons of tea in it and then pour water over the leaves. Let it sit about 2 minutes, remove the filter and tea and enjoy your single. Expect your second cup to have more flavor than your first.
One last trick.......
Say you are pouring tea for yourself and your closest friends. Pour a small amount in each glass, then start at the last cup you poured and pour back to the first, again in small amounts. Then if there is still room, fill from the first to the last. The richer, tastier flavor will collect to the bottom of the tea-pot. Pouring this way will ensure everyone gets a good cup.
1-The 茶 symbol in stone is at the Tea-Museum in Hanzhou China.
2-Women picking tea leaves in Hanzhou China
3-The tetsubin (iron kettle) was purchased in Kyoto
3-The blue/green cup was hand made by a master potter in Uji, (and happens to be a friend of mine!)
4-REI stopped selling these vacuum sealed cups for a while..... Yeah, that's right I went to Japan to buy some! Now you can get them again for ~$24.
5-Another hand-made tea cup purchased by a friend on Kiyomizu-dera.
Speaking of tea cups... You should select a color that enhances the green quality of the tea, White is not the best, however blue and green can really bring the rich green color of the tea in stark contrast. You can see the light tan of my tea-cup brings some of the color out, yet it has a yellow hue.
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