Review: Kusmi Tea – T Ching


Despite being given the option of picking out some specific teas to try, I happen to love surprises so I let Kusmi Teas pick out which ones they sent me. Thus, I received their BB Detox loose tea, White Anastasia loose tea, and Jasmine Green tea bags.

If interested, check out Kusmi Tea online for more information or to order.

Images provided by author.



Tea for Generations


Is there anything new in the world of tea? Thank you for asking, of course, there is! What is old is what is new that’s always for certain but for the new, modern tea drinker, adaptations must be the rule.

Put young Japanese tea drinkers together with a Japanese tea master, and you’ll not only see what transpires you’ll be able to taste it, too.

It was my own personal observation in 2011, in a life-changing trip to the magnificent tea-growing area of Japan known as the Shizuoka Prefecture, that well-established tea fields had been abandoned and left to grow wild.

For the tea fields that were actually being cultivated, it was often elderly couples, husbands, and wives, well into the seventies doing the physical work. The couples used a hand-held tealeaf cutter, walked up and down the bumpy rows of tea bushes, one on either side of the bush, and cut the tender tea leaves and simply allowed them to fall on the ground for compost.  

If you will recall, 2011 was a tumultuous year for Japan. That was the year of the tsunami, the nuclear reactor incident, and the loss of 20,000 lives. Radioactive cesium was detected in tea leaves, so the fresh, young leaves were not used to make tea at many of the tea farms. Although Shizuoka is approximately 225 miles from Fukushima, the radiation traveled far and wide.

Not all the tea farms I saw were doing this, but the memory of seeing the elders working so hard because the younger people had little desire to be out in the tea fields harvesting something they considered old-fashioned and no longer relevant, tea. This was the reason many tea farms had been left unattended before the tsunami and not because of the radiation.

Seven years later, we move on to happier stories in Shizuoka to high school students working with a tea master to create a tea the younger generation would like and they did it in a year!

It’s 100% natural, vegan, GMO-free and gluten-free are you curious?

Premium Powdered Green Tea with Mikan

In case you miss a vital part of the Japanese Green Tea, I’m going to bring your attention to the style of farming from which the Premium Powdered Green Tea is made. I think you’ll be quite impressed.

To learn about the ancient CHAGUSABA method of sustainable farming, see here: How farmers use the Chagusaba method

When you get to this blog, there may be someone there you recognize.

Kei Nishida reached out to me a while ago and asked if he could send me some of this youth-inspired tea. Don’t you love getting those requests!

Have a look at the Premium Powdered Green Tea with Lemon

How does it taste? Oh, glad you asked that, too! I made the Mikan in hot water and the Lemon in cold water in less than a cup of water each. I know the younger people will like this matcha-tasting-matcha-looking version better than plain Matcha or plain Powdered Green Tea.

The Lemon version has a good hit of lemon, very lightly sweetened, and an enjoyable flavor. The hot water version of the Mikan, which is from the orange family of citrus, was much lighter; just enough to add a hint of flavor, make it a bit more exciting than plain Powdered Green Tea, and both would do well poured over ice here in North America.

I stirred both with a spoon and found the emulsion thorough, not something you could do with Matcha. I just happened to have a bamboo whisk handy and I did whisk it to make sure I was getting all the tea before sipping it.

In another tasting, I used one tablespoon of the Lemon Powdered Green Tea in a 16 oz. tea mug of cold water and found enough flavor to be satisfying indeed.

I got called away from my tea for a while and came back to finish it, cold, to discover it had changed color. Definitely oxidizing and getting darker, but tasted the same, still enjoyable. Therefore, making a pitcher of it ahead of time might not be a good ideafresh is always best anyway.

What I find the most intriguing about this product is the intergenerational aspect. I love the younger generation using their brains, their creativity, and enthusiasm to work with their elders to create a tea product other young people will enjoy, thus ensuring the continued consumption of tea in their country. It won’t be in the tradition of the Japanese Tea Ceremony, but perhaps it’s the beginning of a new tradition that sparks the interest of the young and inspires the preservation of the old.

The post Tea for Generations appeared first on T Ching.

Summer Tisanes To Cool The Body


I’m always looking for healthy drinks when the weather begins to heat up. Despite our intuitive sense of hot tea being a good option when we’re overheated, it does actually help to cool down the body. This is true of green tea as opposed to coffee. The amount of caffeine in coffee, however, causes it to be dehydrating while green tea is considered hydrating, due to its lower caffeine level, so it’s as beneficial for hydration as water (assuming you’re drinking it straight up without sugar or milk).

There are a number of tisanes that aren’t as common as others such as peppermint, ginger, and chamomile. New ones that I’ve discovered are barley tea, fennel tea, and coriander tea. All of these are hydrating and perfect for summertime cooling when the body will benefit from a hydrating, cooling brew.

Barley tea – You can make this brew by adding a handful of barley grains to a few cups of boiling water. Strain out the barley after 5-10 minutes. Feel free to add lemon or honey if that would appeal to you.

Fennel tea – These seeds are typically available after a hot meal at an Indian restaurant. They make a delicious tea as well. Legend has it that they help to calm one’s nerves and instill a sense of well being.

Coriander tea has been used in traditional folk remedies for centuries and is a typical spice in Ayurvedic cooking preparations. It’s hard to find an Indian recipe that doesn’t use Coriander. The seeds are available at most health food stores. Simmer in boiling water as you would any tisane for 5-10 minutes. Adding lemon and/or honey is always an option if the flavor isn’t sufficient for your enjoyment.

 

 

 



Lady Grey’s Favorite Dessert – T Ching


I must confess: I am not a flavored tea kind of guy. Other than the smoke which fortifies my occasional cup of Lapsang Souchong or real jasmine flowers used to enhance a beautiful cup of Chinese tea, I tend to stick to teas whose leaves are flavored only by the terroir, precision of those picking two leaves and a bud and the subtleties of their processing. One more confession: I brake for Earl Grey when it’s made using real bergamot, that citrus of Sicilian origin whose perfumed skin lends an ethereal and hard to describe essence to good black tea. Drinking it though is second only to inhaling the aroma of a fresh bergamot orange available in small supply for a limited time at my local farmers’ market. This season I bought up a crate of them and made jars of bergamot gelée, kind of a spoon sweet, not as thick as marmalade but with a wake-up-it’s-morning tart freshness with which I slather the toast of the day. Granted that since these fruits are not easy to find nationwide, I am offering an alternative, something to serve at the end of the day: a deep, dark chocolatey-y bit of heaven scented with the best Earl Grey tea you can find (avoid nature-equivalent synthetically flavored tea here please). Once you have found the tea that suits you, now all you need do is find the best, darkest and most fruity bittersweet chocolate bar at your grocery store (or via an artisanal chocolatier—many bean-to-bar purveyors sell online) and a jug of heavy cream. Simple to make and yet complex in flavor, here’s a not very sweet ganache turned into a not very sweet mousse that would end any dinner party or weeknight dinner with panache and perfume.

Note: This dessert is quick enough to make before you and your guests sit down to dinner. Once made, store in a cool spot (without refrigerating) to enjoy the richest, creamiest and fluffiest texture. Otherwise, make early in the day, refrigerate, and then remove from the chill to bring closer to room temperature before serving.

Makes 4 servings (or 2 if you have no self-restraint, and trust me, this stuff is addictive)

For the ganache base:

  • 8 ounces of dark chocolate, chopped
  • 1 ounce good quality loose leaf Earl Grey tea which uses black tea as its base
  • 8 ounces of heavy cream

To fold in to the base:

Place the chopped chocolate into a heatproof bowl and set aside.

In a heavy saucepan, over medium heat, bring the tea and first quantity of heavy cream to a boil. Remove from the heat and allow the tea to infuse the cream for about 10 minutes, tasting every couple of minute to check the strength of the infusion. When you are satisfied that there is enough of the tea and bergamot flavor present in the liquid, pour the liquid through a fine-meshed sieve set over a stainless steel bowl. Now return the infused liquid to a clean sauce pan. Bring to a boil again. Once boiled, immediately pour the cream over the chocolate in the bowl. Stir until the chocolate is fully melted and the mixture is creamy and smooth. Allow to cool to room temperature. Do not chill.

Using an electric mixer outfitted with the whisk attachment, whip the second quantity of cream to soft peaks. Fold the cream into the ganache base above just until no white streaks of cream remain. Immediately spoon into glasses or ramekins. Serve with a crisp buttery cookie if you wish.



Matcha vs Loose-leaf Green Tea: What Are the Differences?


Calling All Tea Lovers! Here’s the Low-down on Matcha vs. Loose-leaf Green Tea

So, you love green tea, but you’re not quite sure about this matcha versus sencha business. Maybe you’ve seen matcha at your local market, but you’ve been hesitant to try it because, well, you have no idea what it is. Or, perhaps you’ve only ever steeped your tea and are looking for something new and different to try. Regardless of your motives, the following will clear up any confusion you may have about the differences between matcha and loose-leaf green tea. We’ll cover variations in texture, growing conditions, processing techniques, consumption methods, and price.

Matcha

A Whole New World: The Differences Between Matcha and Loose-leaf Green Tea

China is credited for introducing tea to Japan in the 7th century. Since then, a unique tea culture has evolved. A variety of different cultivation methods have matured and expanded over time to provide consumers with the best tea available. Two of the most well-known examples of this are matcha and sencha. Below, you’ll discover 7 ways that these two types of tea vary.

• Matcha is a powder and loose-leaf is not.

While loose-leaf sencha and matcha are both derived from the same plant species — camellia sinensis — the end texture, shape, and consistency are completely different. Matcha is a very fine, stone-ground powder; whereas sencha comes in rolled loose-leaf form. We’ll go more into detail about the processing procedure that defines matcha and sencha in just a moment.

• Matcha and sencha are grown in different conditions.

Texture is not the only thing that distinguishes matcha from sencha green tea. Another stark contrast between the two teas is the conditions in which they’re grown in.

Green tea plants that are cultivated for loose-leaf steeping purposes are grown in direct sunlight. On the other hand, plants grown for matcha are grown in the shade just before they are harvested. Interestingly enough, this method is believed to have been discovered by accident when Japanese tea farmers covered up the tea leaves to prevent them from freezing in the winter. High-grade matcha is grown in almost complete darkness.

Covering matcha plants with straw, bamboo mats, or vinyl tarps increases the amount of chlorophyll in the leaves, giving them their deep, green color. Not only does this method of slowing down photosynthesis increase the chlorophyll content, it also increases the amino acid content, giving quality matcha its distinct umami flavor. The idea behind this is to starve the plants so they crave more sunlight.

• Loose-leaf green tea and matcha are harvested and processed differently.

Although both matcha and sencha leaves must first be steamed to prevent oxidation, they are harvested and processed very differently.

Usually, sencha tea is picked with the stem, shoot, and two or three opened leaves intact (more leaves are intact if picked by machine). Sencha leaves are fanned with damp air to maintain freshness, and then steamed to prevent oxidation. After cooling, the leaves are pressed, dried, and made ready for distribution. The leaves may be rolled depending on the specific processing techniques of the region from which they’re grown. Rolling the leaves produces a needle-like shape which intensifies the flavors when steeped and is usually seen in Chinese tea. (Read my other article comparing Japanese Tea and Chinese Tea here.)

Sencha

Unlike sencha, only the youngest parts of the plant are picked when harvesting matcha, more specifically: The two leaves at the very tip of the shoot. Similar to sencha, the soon-to-be-matcha leaves are also steamed to preserve color and nutrients. Thus begins the long and laborious process of removing stems and veins. The leaves that make it through quality control are called tencha.
These leaves are then ground by specialized granite grinding wheels. And voilà! You’ve got matcha!

• Matcha is not the same as powdered konacha tea.

Although konacha literally means “powder tea”, it shouldn’t be confused with matcha. As mentioned above, matcha tea is ground using granite-grinding wheels. Konacha is actually just made up of the dust, and small bits of leaves and buds that are left behind after the processing of sencha.

• Matcha is consumed differently, making it healthier compared to loose-leaf green tea.

Matcha and loose-leaf sencha have a plethora of health benefits that attract tea drinkers; but because they are consumed differently, one is inherently better for you than the other.

Here’s why…

When we steep loose sencha leaves, we are not getting all of the antioxidants and nutrients that we could be getting if we were to consume the entire leaf — ergo, matcha.

To drink matcha tea means to ingest the entire leaf. By doing so, we get more of the health benefits the plant has to offer.

• Why is matcha more expensive than sencha?

As we’ve discovered, the process of producing matcha tea requires more labor than producing sencha tea. Here are two key reasons why matcha tea is more expensive:

1. It requires more involvement, care, and skill to produce
2. Quality matcha is only grown in specific geographic regions

• Fake Matcha vs. Real Matcha: How to Spot Good Quality Matcha

As with most things in life, all matcha is not created equal. There are some things you should keep in mind when venturing into the land of matcha. Here’s what to watch out for:

• Where in the world does quality matcha come from?

When it comes to green tea, it’s all about the quality of the soil. The plant grown to produce green tea is very sensitive, so experts suggest purchasing matcha from Japan rather than China as the concentration of lead tends to be higher there. (Read here about Japanese farmer caring for their dirt for their tea.)

• You want it to look like bright-green grass, not taste like it.

Don’t be fooled by fancy packaging. While location is crucial, so is the color of your matcha. If you find yourself with a can of matcha that is dull in color, chances are that the quality is not what you’re looking for. Now, if you open up the can and are delighted to find a bright, vibrant shade of green (almost neon), then congratulations: You’ve got yourself a high-grade batch of matcha.

Similarly, if you open up the package and an overwhelmingly gross scent of grass tickles your nose, you may have been misled. High-grade matcha should have a sweet smell to it.

•No stems or clumps here!

Another thing you want to see in your matcha is that it’s been properly de-stemmed/de-veined and thoroughly ground. You don’t want to find any clumps or pieces of vein and stem lurking in your fresh can of matcha!

•Last, but certainly not least — taste!

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, matcha should be sweet with earthy, savory, and sweet whispers of flavor.

Now go relax and make yourself a cup of tea!

We’ve certainly covered a lot of ground. Much of what you need to know about the two kinds of teas–from how they’re made to how they’re consumed–has been neatly laid out for you. Now you can relax and make yourself a cup of matcha (or sencha) tea, and reminisce about the journey it made from the fields to your lips.

Thank you for reading my article. Please check out my new book that just got published today!

Images provided by author.



Blast From the Past: How to heat water for tea


Fire LishuI set out to write a post on something simple – but under-represented – in writings about tea preparation.  It is easy to find instructions and opinions on tea-making.  The types of water one should use, steeping temperatures and timing, the proportions of tea to water, and the type of steeping vessel to use are elaborated upon in every general-purpose book about tea.  What I was not finding was much information about something so basic that it gets overlooked – what is the best way to heat water for tea?  Specifically, what are the relative merits of the various heat sources that can be used?

My friends and I heat water for tea in a variety of ways.  We use electric tea kettles, stove-top tea kettles, a wood-fired hibachi, a butane gas burner, and pre-heated water kept hot in glass-lined thermos bottles and over tea-lights.  I wondered what the best way to heat water for tea in the Chinese gongfu style was since I drink pu’erh tea most often.

hibachiI was told that Lu Yu, or perhaps a writer on Chanoyu (Chado) – the Japanese Tea Ceremony – had suggested that the best fuels for heating tea water are (in order) straw, wood, charcoal, and gas and that there was an unusual type of charcoal that was the best – maybe peach pit charcoal or some other fruit pit.  So, I set off looking high and low for the original reference to this, scouring tea books.  Nothing about peach pits or any other pits!  I started asking fellow tea enthusiasts and tea professionals if they had heard of any of this.  Most said it came from Lu Yu.

Lu Yu, the author of the eighth-century Tang Dynasty Chinese work the Cha Jing (Ch’a Ching), is sometimes referred to as the “God of Tea” to acknowledge his role in popularizing tea drinking in China.  As it turns out, Lu Yu is widely misquoted, according to the translation and version that I use as my resource (The Classic of Tea: origins and rituals, Francis Ross Carpenter, Ecco Press, Hopewell, NJ, 1974).

Amazingly, Lu Yu wrote nothing in the Cha Jing about what fuel to use in heating water for tea.  At that time, tea came in brick form.  He detailed how to heat the brick tea before cooling it and pounding it into powder.  This powder was then mixed with hot salted water and whisked, similar to today’s Japanese matcha.  At most, you can only fairly say that since he chose unused charcoal or very hard wood to heat the tea brick, the same were probably also used to boil the water.  Likewise, since he advised against reusing charcoal because it would give off a “musty, rank and greasy smell,” it probably would not have been used for heating water for tea along with “oily wood and used and worn out utensils.”

Propane burnerSo, where did the eccentric list of fuels come from?  Two friends shed light on the mystery.  One happened to be familiar with a list of fuels suggested for the best “vibrational cooking,” which is concerned with preserving the qi (vital energy) of foods and the body.  She quickly found the attribution for part of my list of fuels in her bookcase: “The Austrian metaphysician Rudolf Steiner and others have claimed that the amount and quality of available energy in foods depend [sic] in part on the cooking fuel.  Arranged in order from the highest-quality energy to the lowest, these are: straw, wood, coal, gas and electric.  Electric cooking is not recommended, especially for people who are weak.  Microwave cooking, a development since Steiner’s time, seems to damage the molecular integrity of food …” (Healing with Whole Foods: Oriental traditions and modern medicine, 3rd edition, Paul Pitchford, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, CA, 2002:19-20).  This source has no direct linkage to tea, but the reference to straw convinces me that it is probably the source I was looking for.  I have not been able to substantiate the link to Steiner.  No obvious work relating to him is listed in the bibliography and the phrase “Steiner and others” raises my suspicions for its similarity to “Lu Yu and or perhaps a writer on Chanoyu.”

The peach pit charcoal matter remained, so I pressed on.  Another friend said he had recently looked into the best fuels for heating water for tea as well and had found information on the Teadrunk Forum referring to Guangdong, China’s Chaozhou gongfu style of brewing the area’s Phoenix Dancong oolongs.  An unglazed, porous zhuni clay teapot and zhuni clay stove are used.  In Chaozhou gongfu brewing, olive pit charcoal is preferred for brewing Dancong oolongs for the qualities (flavor, perhaps even texture) it imparts to the water.  Guangdong-grown black olives are plentiful and the pits are made into charcoal for use as cooking fuel.  Perhaps olive pits are not for all teas.  Experimentation will give the answer.

So there was my not-so-simple answer.  Two sources, only one of which was really about tea, had gotten merged into one and incorrectly attributed.  I think the list is reasonable, regardless of its authenticity or origin.  The idea is to use a fuel that comes from nature and that burns clean and hot.  None of these natural fuels is as easy and efficient to use as electricity and I will certainly continue to use my electric kettle most of the time, but when I want to have a remarkable outdoor brewing session, I will use either a butane burner or a clean-burning hardwood charcoal fire, probably in a hibachi or clay stove.  Maybe the type of stove recommended by Aaron Fisher in his July 23, 2007 T Ching post titled “Water Preparation” is still available.  It looks mighty fine.

So, now I have my next mission in my tea-brewing education cut out for me.  Learn how to make tea in at least a modified Chaozhou gongfu style, which I’d wanted to do for quite some time.  Brewing delicate oolong is a nice counterpoint to brewing robust pu’erh tea.

Originally posted in May 2010, written by Dianna Harbin



Glass Flowers – T Ching


The first few glass flowers sent from the Blaschka workshop in Dresden, Germany to Harvard University’s Botanical Museum were badly damaged while passing through customs in New York. Dr. George Lincoln Goodale, the museum’s first director, was not discouraged: For years Professor Goodale had searched for an alternative to dried and preserved plants. In 1886 he visited Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka–the father and son glass artisans who later created the celebrated glass flower collection–a gift from Elizabeth C. and Mary Lee Ware of the wealthy Bostonian family.

A major botanical research must not and does not overlook camellia sinensis; this exquisite glass flower collection is no exception. The Blaschka team not only painstakingly sculpted each piece with vivid, aesthetic detail, they put in equally sincere effort in packaging and transporting the final work across the Atlantic.

Occasional squall and slippery ground tarnished by earlier snowfall this past March did not discourage me from touring Harvard. The receptionist at the Museum of Natural History was kind to remind me that the Glass Flower Collection Exhibit would re-open–after lengthy restoration–in just two days and I could visit then. The forecasted blizzard, possibly the season’s most severe, had caused much uneasiness; I decided to settle for Blaschka’s Rotten Apple Series on display. My first reaction was the same as everyone else’s: Is this really glass? How and why was it made with glass? And how often have we focused on perfection, such as a red shiny apple, and shunned the inevitable decay, the grotesque? Too often perhaps.

Even if I had seen the collection in full, I would have purchased the catalog The Glass Flowers At Harvard like I did. The passage on page 65 contains much information that remains relevant today, and is both an excellent introduction and review:

The tea family comprises 500 tropical and subtropical trees and shrubs in eighteen genera. The leaves are often glossy and leathery. Eight or ten genera are in cultivation as ornamentals or as economic products. The genus Camellia has 80 or more shrubby species, native to tropical and subtropical Asia.

Native to Southeast Asia, tea in nature is a tree that often grows to 30 feet in height but under cultivation remains a 3- or 4-foot shrub. It is a true Camellia but was formerly called Thea sinensis. Like the cultivated ornamental camellias, it has glossy, leathery leaves and beautiful fragrant flowers. Tea leaves are gathered from new or young shoots produced by the constant pruning of the shrub. One thousand varieties of the tea plant have been developed. Production varies from 200 to 1,000 pounds an acre, and a single plant may yield for fifty years or longer. Tea is the most popular of the caffeine beverages, used by more than half the world’s population. Its stimulant effects are due to the caffeine content (1 to 4 percent); its astringency is due to tannins; its flavor to polyphenols and essential oils – the proportions varying with the age of the leaves, the methods of processing, and the variety of tea. Originally valued as a medicine, tea came to be used as beverage in China around A.D. 600. It was introduced into Europe in the sixteenth century but did not become important until the late seventeenth century. China, India, and Ceylon produce 85 percent of the world’s tea.


Images provided by author. Second image was scanned from the catalog.



A World Of Tea: Teas Across The Globe


Freelance contribution by: Lucy Wyndham

In this time of global turmoil, what do so many countries around the world have in common? It might not be your first thought, but many areas of the globe have a taste for tea. In fact, 4.7 million metric tons of the stuff are produced each year globally. A variety of teas are produced, from well-known types like green tea and black tea to lesser-known variety like Lapsang Souchong and the brew most popular in Latin America, Yerba Mate. Here’s a whistle-stop tour of the landmarks of the world’s favorite liquid refreshment.

East Asia: The birthplace

Where better to begin your journey than where tea was first drunk: China. It is thought that tea was discovered there around 5000 BC, and recently, the oldest tea ever found was discovered in a 2200-year-old tomb from the Han Dynasty. The Camellia plant that the tea in the tomb is made from is still the same one used today! In fact, the largest cities in China continue this passion for tea. Young urbanites now accompany their tea with tea-related performance art and tea-oil massages.

Despite the historicity of tea in China, it would be wrong to overlook Japan and Korea. Japanese tea distinguished itself from Chinese imports over time by the development of a specifically Japanese blend of green tea–Sencha–and the famous Japanese tea ceremony typically involving matcha, a powdered green tea. Meanwhile, Korea has its own, albeit lesser known, tea ceremony and Koreans typically drink roasted barley tea, or Boricha, with every meal.

South Asia: The powerhouse

While tea may have been discovered in East Asia, it became a global industry when the East India Tea Company started exporting vast amounts of black tea from the Indian subcontinent. Beginning in the 18th century, black tea quenched the thirst for the drink across the British Empire. Colonizers used Chinese plants and Chinese methods on British Empire land to create hundreds of tea plantations in areas like Assam in Northern India and Ceylon, now known as Sri Lanka.

However, over time, tea has been adapted into locally preferred brews. Most famously, Masala Chai tea is now highly popular in India. Mixing the tea with less costly ingredients like milk, sugar, and spices like ginger, cinnamon, and cardamon made it more affordable for the local populace in the 20th century.

Elsewhere: A profusion of variety

Tea’s enduring popularity, alongside its ability to be broadly defined, means it can be found in all kinds of weird and wonderful contexts. Moroccan mint tea combines green tea with–unsurprisingly–spearmint: A herb which grows abundantly around Meknes, a city in the North of the country. In South America, Mate is the beverage of choice, made from Yerba Mate. Its high caffeine content means it is said to ‘taste like tea but hit you like a coffee’. Closer to home, kombucha, a fermented tea created using similar methods to beer, is becoming popular in the US.

Turning over a new leaf

Now you know more about the variety of tea on offer, it is tempting to want to try them all but hard to know where to start. A good idea would be following the same route that tea has taken outwards from China. Chinese tea blends, as discussed earlier, are the most similar to the tea drunk millennia ago by courtesans in the Imperial Court. Whatever route you decide to take on your tea journey, it’s definitely one worth taking!

Image Source



Matcha vs Loose-leaf Green Tea: What Are the Differences?


Calling All Tea Lovers! Here’s the Low-down on Matcha vs. Loose-leaf Green Tea

So, you love green tea, but you’re not quite sure about this matcha versus sencha business. Maybe you’ve seen matcha at your local market, but you’ve been hesitant to try it because, well, you have no idea what it is. Or, perhaps you’ve only ever steeped your tea and are looking for something new and different to try. Regardless of your motives, the following will clear up any confusion you may have about the differences between matcha and loose-leaf green tea. We’ll cover variations in texture, growing conditions, processing techniques, consumption methods, and price.

Matcha

A Whole New World: The Differences Between Matcha and Loose-leaf Green Tea

China is credited for introducing tea to Japan in the 7th century. Since then, a unique tea culture has evolved. A variety of different cultivation methods have matured and expanded over time to provide consumers with the best tea available. Two of the most well-known examples of this are matcha and sencha. Below, you’ll discover 7 ways that these two types of tea vary.

• Matcha is a powder and loose-leaf is not.

While loose-leaf sencha and matcha are both derived from the same plant species — camellia sinensis — the end texture, shape, and consistency are completely different. Matcha is a very fine, stone-ground powder; whereas sencha comes in rolled loose-leaf form. We’ll go more into detail about the processing procedure that defines matcha and sencha in just a moment.

• Matcha and sencha are grown in different conditions.

Texture is not the only thing that distinguishes matcha from sencha green tea. Another stark contrast between the two teas is the conditions in which they’re grown in.

Green tea plants that are cultivated for loose-leaf steeping purposes are grown in direct sunlight. On the other hand, plants grown for matcha are grown in the shade just before they are harvested. Interestingly enough, this method is believed to have been discovered by accident when Japanese tea farmers covered up the tea leaves to prevent them from freezing in the winter. High-grade matcha is grown in almost complete darkness.

Covering matcha plants with straw, bamboo mats, or vinyl tarps increases the amount of chlorophyll in the leaves, giving them their deep, green color. Not only does this method of slowing down photosynthesis increase the chlorophyll content, it also increases the amino acid content, giving quality matcha its distinct umami flavor. The idea behind this is to starve the plants so they crave more sunlight.

• Loose-leaf green tea and matcha are harvested and processed differently.

Although both matcha and sencha leaves must first be steamed to prevent oxidation, they are harvested and processed very differently.

Usually, sencha tea is picked with the stem, shoot, and two or three opened leaves intact (more leaves are intact if picked by machine). Sencha leaves are fanned with damp air to maintain freshness, and then steamed to prevent oxidation. After cooling, the leaves are pressed, dried, and made ready for distribution. The leaves may be rolled depending on the specific processing techniques of the region from which they’re grown. Rolling the leaves produces a needle-like shape which intensifies the flavors when steeped and is usually seen in Chinese tea. (Read my other article comparing Japanese Tea and Chinese Tea here.)

Sencha

Unlike sencha, only the youngest parts of the plant are picked when harvesting matcha, more specifically: The two leaves at the very tip of the shoot. Similar to sencha, the soon-to-be-matcha leaves are also steamed to preserve color and nutrients. Thus begins the long and laborious process of removing stems and veins. The leaves that make it through quality control are called tencha.
These leaves are then ground by specialized granite grinding wheels. And voilà! You’ve got matcha!

• Matcha is not the same as powdered konacha tea.

Although konacha literally means “powder tea”, it shouldn’t be confused with matcha. As mentioned above, matcha tea is ground using granite-grinding wheels. Konacha is actually just made up of the dust, and small bits of leaves and buds that are left behind after the processing of sencha.

• Matcha is consumed differently, making it healthier compared to loose-leaf green tea.

Matcha and loose-leaf sencha have a plethora of health benefits that attract tea drinkers; but because they are consumed differently, one is inherently better for you than the other.

Here’s why…

When we steep loose sencha leaves, we are not getting all of the antioxidants and nutrients that we could be getting if we were to consume the entire leaf — ergo, matcha.

To drink matcha tea means to ingest the entire leaf. By doing so, we get more of the health benefits the plant has to offer.

• Why is matcha more expensive than sencha?

As we’ve discovered, the process of producing matcha tea requires more labor than producing sencha tea. Here are two key reasons why matcha tea is more expensive:

1. It requires more involvement, care, and skill to produce
2. Quality matcha is only grown in specific geographic regions

• Fake Matcha vs. Real Matcha: How to Spot Good Quality Matcha

As with most things in life, all matcha is not created equal. There are some things you should keep in mind when venturing into the land of matcha. Here’s what to watch out for:

• Where in the world does quality matcha come from?

When it comes to green tea, it’s all about the quality of the soil. The plant grown to produce green tea is very sensitive, so experts suggest purchasing matcha from Japan rather than China as the concentration of lead tends to be higher there. (Read here about Japanese farmer caring for their dirt for their tea.)

• You want it to look like bright-green grass, not taste like it.

Don’t be fooled by fancy packaging. While location is crucial, so is the color of your matcha. If you find yourself with a can of matcha that is dull in color, chances are that the quality is not what you’re looking for. Now, if you open up the can and are delighted to find a bright, vibrant shade of green (almost neon), then congratulations: You’ve got yourself a high-grade batch of matcha.

Similarly, if you open up the package and an overwhelmingly gross scent of grass tickles your nose, you may have been misled. High-grade matcha should have a sweet smell to it.

•No stems or clumps here!

Another thing you want to see in your matcha is that it’s been properly de-stemmed/de-veined and thoroughly ground. You don’t want to find any clumps or pieces of vein and stem lurking in your fresh can of matcha!

•Last, but certainly not least — taste!

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, matcha should be sweet with earthy, savory, and sweet whispers of flavor.

Now go relax and make yourself a cup of tea!

We’ve certainly covered a lot of ground. Much of what you need to know about the two kinds of teas–from how they’re made to how they’re consumed–has been neatly laid out for you. Now you can relax and make yourself a cup of matcha (or sencha) tea, and reminisce about the journey it made from the fields to your lips.

Thank you for reading my article. Please check out my new book that just got published today!

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Buddhism and Tea – T Ching


I’ve recently broken form and written about a different subject in my tea blog, about my son becoming a samanane, or Thai Buddhist novice monk.  That was for a special two-week program, covered him ordaining (here), and also how it worked out (here). People tend to write about the overlap between Buddhism or Taoism and tea, perhaps due to having an interest in both.  I typically don’t but will make the same exception here.

Conventional forms of connection

Buddhism is often connected with tea in relation to the Japanese tea ceremony.  Participants prepare and serve matcha according to a very precise, structured series of steps, and per my understanding, there is also a brewed-tea ceremony version.  I participated in two such ceremonies while attending Colorado State Universities and the University of Hawaii at Manoa, while studying Buddhism at both. One source I read stood out for claiming the practice was relatively recent (within a century or so), and not really connected to prior rituals, religious or otherwise.  Perhaps it really doesn’t matter either way how old the ceremony form is, or the origins.

Taoism is one of the two predecessors to Zen Buddhism, and predates the Cha-an Chinese form of Buddhism that Zen originated from.  It’s also connected with tea practices and ritual, although I’m not clear on how it all links. I studied Buddhism and Taoism as religion and philosophy but related more to teachings and theory, not religious rituals or forms.

My own connections with the two subjects

I ordained as a Thai Buddhist monk myself just over ten years ago, in Bangkok, where I still live, but only for two months.  There was very little connection there to tea, and I wasn’t really into tea back then. Monks would often have tea there as part of the ceremonies, but just as something to drink, with no emphasis on type or quality, and with no ceremonial role played by it.  If you weren’t thirsty there was no need to drink it. I did a good bit of chanting in Pali back then, but what I knew of that original sutra chanting content was quite limited in comparison with the full-time monks.

I’ve retained close contact with a few of those monks and give them tea sometimes, since it now has become a personal interest.  People can give offerings to monks, with limitations on the form of what can be offered and when, but tea is not a problem. There are a lot of restrictions about food offerings, about what can be given to monks and when, and what they can retain, or choose not to eat, but a beverage is a different thing.   

In a strange twist, one monk shared Da Hong Pao with me a while back.  Monks can give away the little that they possess with others (which typically isn’t much).  The Thai Buddhist monastic tradition isn’t set up for much in the way of personal relationships to factor in, but monks are people too, and they need to maintain contact with lay-persons to perform their basic functions, teaching others Buddhism, maintaining the temples, performing rituals, etc.  

I’ve seen really interesting teaware on public display in the temple we go to most in Bangkok, Wat Pho, the one I was ordained in.  Most were just ornate versions of ceramic pots and cups, very beautiful but functionally basic Western brewing gear. I recently ran across some gaiwans in a more secluded area, a curious stock of teaware given that it was reportedly very old.  It makes you wonder who was brewing what tea in it, related to what rituals, and when. Lots of the more isolated and older parts of the temple are like that; there are surely stories to the artifacts there, some of which are lost from living memory.

I was surprised in visiting a temple in Hawaii with my Thai wife–then a Thai girlfriend, and a fellow UH grad student–that the monks gave us food that grew naturally on the temple grounds.  It seemed backwards that they shouldn’t be giving us anything. I just looked up how that works out related to precepts (monk’s rules) related to food offerings, which I summarized in a Quora answer.  The short version: Monks can’t farm, and even picking an apple and eating it could be counter to one interpretation of those rules. The practices are set up for monks to live entirely off offerings (alms), not even storing food contributed from day to day.

Of course, we didn’t bring my son and those other 87 novice monks tea, since it’s a judgment call giving kids any caffeine at all.  We brought ice cream to their retreat instead, on two separate weekends.

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