January 28, 2009

Matcha or coffee

Lately I seem to become more fond of the Japanese tea ceremony. Surely, I have been studying it for more that four years and have been to various tea events and Chaji meetings. But since the age of five drinking coffee has been a daily necessity. My morning cup is loaded with four sugar cubes and rich cream, it really gets me bouncing off the wall in five minutes. Whenever I have coffee in the morning, I need another cup between 10 and 11 am and a third one around 3pm. It's the caffeine and sugar boost which wares out after a couple of hours. Leaving me needy for a fresh boosting roast.

The soul of the Japanese tea ceremony is not the perfection of the ritual preparation, it is the time and efforts made to entertain and satisfy guests. This is what my tea teacher taught me and what I slowly begin to understand. For about two weeks now, I have been drinking a bowl of Matcha in the morning instead of coffee. It feels really good!! Matcha contains some caffeine which is however released over a longer period of time. Caffeine from Matcha is released over approximately 8 hours. See Matcha health and nutrition. Matcha contains a lot more that caffeine, it is filled with minerals, aminos, and vitamins. This is because Macha is powdered made from the whole leaf.

I felt really satisfied with drinking Matcha in the morning and didn't feel the need for drinking coffee. Last Monday two friends came over and instead of serving them coffee as usual, I brought my Chawans, Chasen, Chashaku, Natsume, and a pot of hot water. I tried very hard and had bought Manju which were on a Kaishi. This from was really simple and I should deliver a bowl of green tea in a minute.

Here we go... Some of you who have some experience with making tea know that after 5 - 7 seconds of whisking with the Chasen, the tea will start foaming (which is good). But as some might have noticed here, there wasn't a Kensui, which means that I couldn't warm the Chawan before making the tea. I tried very hard to get it foaming without appearing too desperate, but my efforts were in vain. I could get only a few foamy bubbles which were not enough even for Omotesenke which usually calls for foam around the edges and a little spinning foam in the center. It was apparent that the bowl and the Chasen need to be warmed to achieve the best results. This is something i learned the embarrassing way. My friends told me that the tea was good, but I know better...

For all of you reading this post, don't forget to warm the Chawan!

January 20, 2009

Hatsugama 2009

Finally, we had our first tea of the year during Hatsugama. Spirits were high and it was a busy morning getting the Chashitsu and utensils ready for this great event. Unfortunately we had some rain which resulted in the women staying indoors and not washing their hands and rinsing their mouth at the Tsukubai as is customary before entering a Chashitsu and especially during Hatsugama. All women wore their best and most expensive Kimono's which are made of silk and other fine materials and might get stains from the rain water. Entering the Chashitsu for the first time this year, we all paid tribute to the Kakejiku (hanging scroll), Chabana (flower arrangement) and the Kama (hot water kettle). Our teacher exchanged greetings with all students one-by-one, thanking for previous year's efforts and expressing wishes for a healthy and fruitful new year. First on the agenda was the re-firing/ re-lighting of the Ro (hearth). Before any tea is to be considered, water must first be warmed to almost boiling temperatures. Everyone gathered around the Ro to see the Sumi (charcoal) being arranged by our teacher around the few already softly burning pieces of charcoal. Since most of us are beginners, we awed at the teacher's smoothness and rhythm in which the charcoal was build. Returning to our seats, we we honored to view the Kogo (incense container) one-by-one.


Hatsugama is similar to a Chaji (full tea ceremony with meal) and the different parts such as Sumitemae, Kaiseki, Nakadachi, Koicha, and Usucha come in the same order.

As I might have mentioned in a previous post, one of the students is a Sushi chef and always prepares wonderful food. This time he prepared a beautifully decorated tray with Sushi and Kaiseki meal in boxes. Kaiseki came with sake and a relaxed atmosphere. Kaiseki meal contained boiled vegetables, fish, pickled radish and boiled rice. It was an absolute feast for our mouth and satisfaction for our tummies. Actually, students of a certain tea class have to prepare the Kaiseki meal together and divide various parts of the Kaiseki meal among each other. Or the person in charge of preparing Kaiseki should be rotated on a yearly basis.


Next, we were presented with the sweets in a Fuchidaka. Every layer contains one or two pieces of sweets. Shokyaku has only one and most other layers have two pieces. The Fuchidaka is placed in front of the knees as usual, then the second layer is slid away from the body by just a few centimeters, just enough to place a Kuromoji (wooden chopstick) in the bottom box. The remaining boxes are passed on to the next guests. From here on most boxes contain two sweets, thus from below, the second layer from below is slid backwards and two Kuromoji are placed in the bottom box. Leaving the bottom box in front of the knees, the other boxes are passed to the next and the next guest who again places two Kuromoji in the bottom box etc. Most of us had never used this style and needed to be guided by the teacher.


During Nakadaichi we all helped cleaning up the meal trays and prepared the room for Koicha and Usucha. It was still raining outside so we didn’t go out of the house.

Hatsu Koicha

To balance our pallets we were pleased with high-grade Koicha. However, there was a “special” guest invited by our teacher with almost zero experience, he was seated next to me but didn’t drink much Koicha and left a lot for me. Since I was the third guest to drink and finish the Chawan, it took me some time to drink about half a bowl of Koicha which is meant to be shared by three people.


Finally it was my time to get to work, a bit tipsy from the Sake but fully aware and conscious enough to pour my heart in every bowl of tea. There were in all about fifteen people who were thirsty for Matcha after having eaten their tummies full with really great food. First I brought in the Tabako Bon (box with smoking ware), then a tray of sweets. My Hanto (assistant) was and experienced older woman who liked doing that kind of job. It took me much longer than I had expected to prepare Matcha for fifteen people. I remembered some advise which I got from my wife a few months ago that I should move quicker because people are waiting for tea. I tried to speed things up but still for me it seemed to take ages. At the end my legs were completely numb so it took a couple of minutes to get enough blood flowing through my veins again to stand up and bring Mizusashi, Chawan, and Natsume back to the Mizuya. After this, our teacher prepared some presents for us, expressing her gratitude and hopes for a fruitful 2009.

January 17, 2009


Recently I've noticed various reports and stories about Matcha, this inspired me to do some more research on my own into that magic green powder which I so often pour into my Chawan, mix with hot water, and serve to my guests during a Japanese tea ceremony. Matcha obviously has a great history being introduced to Japan by China more than a thousand years ago. At early times green tea was only made from the leaves but after Japanese monks became more interested in this marvelous elixcer, powdered green tea was developed.

Matcha Production:

Matcha is the green powdered tea used during Japanese tea ceremonies. Only the leaves of trees which grew in the shadow are used to make Matcha. After the green tea leaves are harvested they are steamed, dried and then further processed to remove the leave veins, stems and impurities. Resulting in remains of only about 10% of the original harvest, and this is called the "Tencha". The Tencha is then ground to a fine powder (traditionally in a stone mill). It takes about one hour to produce an ounce of Matcha, because grinding any faster would result in a burnt tasting tea.

Matcha Increasing Popularity:
Matcha is becoming increasingly popular in the Japanese and international beverage and food market because of its versatility and health benefits. Matcha's flavour blends well in dairy-based recipes and its powder form makes it easy to work with. Matcha is being used in Matcha ice cream, Matcha cakes, Matcha chocolate, Matcha latte beverages, Matcha Mochi (rice cake) etc. There is no limit to the recipes that Matcha can be added to.

Matcha and Caffeine:
Matcha does contain a small amount of caffeine, but like all green teas also contains L-theanine. L-theanine increases the alpha wave activities in the brain, which creates a feeling of relaxation. L-theanine is associated with increasing the ability to focus and concentrate, but not agitate the nervous system. Researchers believe that this maybe on of the reasons that drinking tea tends to have a calming, refreshing effect, rather than the jittery effects of coffee. Because drinking coffee gives a quick,sudden boost of caffeine which is absorbed quickly unlike caffeine from Matcha which is released over 8 to 10 hours. It has been noted that Buddhist monks frequently drink Matcha, green tea, Oolong tea, etc, and rarely appear agitated or nervous. It could be the L-theanine!

Matcha Health Benefits:
When brewed, the powdered leaf is not strained or left in the pot, but is whisked into a frothy concoction and consumed. Since you are actually ingesting the green tea leaves when you drink Matcha you are receiving the full benefits of all the nutrients and antioxidants in the leaves. According to researches done in Japan, brewed Matcha contains nearly 10 times the polyphenols and antioxidants of regular teas, 2 times the antioxidants of a glass of red wine, approximately 9 times the beta-carotene of spinach, and 4 times that of carrots.Listed below are some of the many health benefits of Matcha green tea.

  • Significantly increases energy (over 8 to 10 hours) without the caffeine "jitters".
  • Improves mental alertness (L-theanine component).
  • Increases calmness and reduces stress (L-theanine component).
  • Boosts metabolic rate by 35-40%.
  • Powerful "Anti-Aging" activity due to the super-charged antioxidants.
  • Lowers blood pressure.
  • Decreases level of LDL or "bad"cholesterol.
  • Minimizes symptoms of PMS.
  • "Super" cancer-fighting and cancer-preventative activity (due to extremely high levels of polyphenols and catechins).
  • Eases constipation due to high level of easily absorb able dietary fiber.
  • Stabilizes blood sugar levels.
  • Powerful anti-biotic and anti-viral activity.
  • Strong blood detoxifier and alkalyzer, due to the high Chlorophyll content.

Matcha Nutritional Chart:

Per 10 grams.
Green Tea
Black Tea
0.3 g
0.02 g
0.06 g
1.0 g
0.07 g
0.03 g
2900 μg
Dietary Fiber
3.9 g
3.1 g
0.2 g
0.2 g
42 mg
3 mg
1 mg
1.7 mg
0.2 mg
270 mg
27 mg
9 mg
Vitamin A
480 μg
Vitamin B1
0.06 mg
Vitamin B2
0.14 mg
0.05 mg
0.02 mg
Vitamin C
6 mg
6 mg
2 mg

Besides this, Matcha also contains: Niacin, Folate, Riboflavin, Thiamin. Trace minerals, Magnesium, Copper, Iron, Zinc, Phosphorus. Sodium: 250mg per 10 grams.

With this post I hope more people will try drinking Japanese Matcha from now on. This long list of heath benefits is hard to find in any other vegetable, fruit, or tea. So I guess it's worth giving it a lash.

January 13, 2009

Japanese tea ceremony in January

January is a month with various celebratory events for tea people. Since I am not a tea master yet, I had to do some research on dates and related events. Doing this I stumbled into my book collection and came up with the following:

Kashi (菓子) Sweet cakes for January.

Shukou-mochi was favored by the great tea master Murata Jukou (Shukou), hence the naming. During the first days of January it is customary for Japanese to eat mocha (rice cakes). Mochi is made from pounded rice which is then heated on fire and then wrapped in Nori (seaweed) or placed in a stock-soup to make Ozoni. However, Shukou-mochi is made by dipping or soaking the Mochi into hot water to soften it, and then a blend of red and white Miso-paste flavored with sugar is put on top. Shukou-mochi is placed on individual dishes.

Hana (花) Flowers for January.
One of my favorites is the Fukujusou (福寿草) is a small plant which gives golden, yellow flowers. Apparently it is in the in the Buttercup family and its leaves look like those of carrots. They used to grow in the cold mountains but recently they are mostly cultivated. Fukujusou can be arranged in a small vase but it looks very cute when they are planted in a flower pot with a bed of white sand or small light stones. The flower pot can be placed on the floor of the Tokonoma. Fukuju means “happiness and longevity”. This flower is also called Ganjitsusou (元日草) or Gantansou (元旦草) which mean “first day of the year.”

Gyoji (行事) Events for January.

- Starting in the early morning of January first is Oobukucha (大福茶). This is usually Usucha poured over Ko-ume (tiny pickled plums). Water for this first cup of tea is taken from the well at four o’clock and is called Seika-sui (water drawn at four o’clock on Jan. first). For tea-families this event is attended by all family members and tea ceremony is commonly performed by the youngest member.

- San-ga-nichi (三ヶ日) or Gakyaku-mukae (賀客迎). For tea people is customary that friends or other related people come to visit (well-wishers) during these first three days (San-ga-nichi) of January. The Tokonoma alcove becomes a focal point during these days so an appropriate and auspicious scroll should be selected.

- Hatsu-gama (初釜), Tate-zome (点初), Keiko-hajime (稽古始), Hatsu-chanoyu (初茶湯) are all names for the first official tea ceremony practice of the year at the tea master or tea teacher’s house for his or her students. This event is usually a Chaji with a meal. The first tea (Koicha) is often served by the tea master or teacher which is a once-a-year performance. Other students might be asked to prepare Usucha.

There are many more flowers, cakes, and events to write about but that would take too much time and would bore you, the reader, because the post would get too long. If you have any comments or questions just leave a comment.

January 06, 2009

Japanese tea ceremony Bonenkai report

As I promised in my previous post, here is (a bit late) the report of the Bonenkai tea ceremony. I was afraid that I would forget my camera, and indeed, I did... However, we had a lot of tea because most of the students were given the year's final chance to Practice their preparation ritual. Some only did Sumitemae and Gozumi, while others whisked their final green tea froths. When my turn came, I felt comfortable and relaxed,but my weak point is that I often forget to take the lit from the Mizusashi before pouring hot water in the Chawan. Luckily my tea teacher was explaining something to other students, I guess she trusts most of my preparation movements and let me move freely without giving too many comments. I know this is not always good, there are tea teachers who are much more strict and unfriendly than mine. I think that is another reason why I am still able to cheerfully practice the Japanese tea ceremony. Making the same mistakes for months in a row, my tea teacher has great patience.

Anyway, after the four hour long tea Keiko, we the students and the teacher as well, were pretty beat, and so we went to a nearby Sushi master who always seems to have the best fish and most original dishes.

It was a great way the end the year, with this Bonenkai lesson and Sushi.