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!

Images provided by author.



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.

Images provided by author.

 



Blast From the Past: Tea Aversion and Attraction


Experiences in tea can be vast and varied. Some good, some bad, some we’d like to enjoy again, and some we would rather forget. That said, judging whether or not we like a tea while we are drinking it can become a roadblock that bars us from true enjoyment of the beverage. In particular, our aversion and attachment to certain aspects of the tea experience at hand are what blinds us from tasting the entire tea with all its subtleties.

As I mentioned briefly in my article The Mindfulness of Tea, it is important not to immediately let the mind wander into judgements about the tea while we are drinking it. Doing so will often result in the mind missing subtleties that the tea being consumed has to offer, or even missing large changes in the tea that can occur from steep to steep.

To better understand how aversion and attachment becomes an obstacle in the tea experience, we need to have a basic understanding of what it actually is. The observation and study of aversion and attachment is a basic and primary subject of mindfulness practice and Buddhist philosophy. Simply put, aversion is the experience of the mind attempting to push away a mental object (such as thoughts, feelings or senses) or tightening around it. When we consume a tea with a quality we don’t like, (such as bitterness or high astringency) what is the mind’s first reaction? Usually, after it recognizes an “unpleasant” experience, it quickly begins to find ways to put an end to the experience or determine what caused it in the first place. While the mind is doing this busywork, it misses qualities of the tea we may find enjoyable or otherwise interesting.

On the other end of the spectrum is the habit of attachment. Attachment is most often described as the mind attempting to grasp onto a mental object and keep it in the present moment as long as possible. In everyday life, we may notice ourselves thinking about a pleasing memory from our past. When this happens, the mind’s response is usually to attempt to keep the memory in the forefront of the mind to further the enjoyment. However, when the memory starts to fade away from our minds as we move about our day, we experience suffering as what we clung onto gradually disappears. The same can be observed in drinking a tea and wishing it had similar notes to the tea sampled last week. When we are attached to a certain aspect of the tea experience, it becomes difficult to notice other aspects because our minds are so busy trying to grasp onto the one we are attached to.

Ridding ourselves of aversion and attachment completely in all life experience is extremely difficult. In Buddhism, it is thought that aversion and attachment are the sources of most of the suffering we experience, and ridding ourselves of it is how we are to be enlightened. Buddhist and secular mindfulness practitioners alike claim the way to rid ourselves of aversion and attachment is to simply notice and acknowledge its presence without acting on it. Fighting it can lead to more aversion, and any aversion and attachment that is present will usually fade away in the light of the mind’s recognition.

To become more acquainted with the idea of aversion and attachment, try this simple mindfulness meditation. Sit in a quiet room with your eyes closed. Bring your focus to your breath and try to hold it there. Notice as your mind starts to drift and gently bring the focus back to the breath. When your mind is settled, bring your focus to any aversion that may be happening. Common sources of aversion in a meditation session include itches, noises, or even the desire not to be meditating at all. Don’t fight the aversion, just become aware of it and it will loosen its grip. In meditation, you may experience a state of serenity or complete calmness. This is where attachment comes in. As soon as you realize the state you are in, your mind will naturally want to hold onto it and attempt to keep the state in the present moment. Attempting to grasp onto pleasant states in meditation only results in the state being dissolved.

Bringing awareness to aversion and attachment in tea drinking is an easy way to enhance your experience and notice subtle flavours, aromas, and even feelings that the tea induces. Try it out for yourself and see how it affects your senses as you sip your favourite tea!

Image Source

This article, written by Connor Adlam, was originally posted in April 2016.



Wacky Uses For Tea Leaves


As the escalating temperatures remind us that summer is around the corner, I’m beginning to prep my house for the dreaded humid season in Japan. And what better way to guard against stink and mildew than tea leaves! Tea is a staple in my life and I have found some pretty wacky and wild uses for the leaves. Some of the ideas below might seem a bit radical, but hear me out – they are tried and true!

Create a mock onsen

Much before tanning salons came along, I heard somewhere that you could achieve a bronzed tan if you soaked in a bathtub of Lipton’s black tea. Well, the only thing that got tanned was my hide after I stained my mother’s marble bathtub! Apart from this little episode, using green tea leaves in the bath isn’t as ridiculous as you might think.

On a visit to Ureshino on the island of Kyushu, I stayed at Warakuen Ryokan, a Japanese hot springs resort famous for their unique tea bath. Imagine slipping outside in early February, butt naked, gliding across a stone path in a Japanese garden and into a steaming natural pool of mineral water that has been infused with local tea leaves. I have to admit that getting over the community nakedness was more challenging than enduring the momentary subzero-like temperatures.

By soaking in this hot bath of green tea, my dull, lifeless skin regained its luster and a few irritating little rough bits simply melted away. Next to the huge teapot water fountain was a basket filled with oversized teabags that you could moisten and pat onto your face or any area that needed extra help.

Believe it or not, you can just about have this same experience at home. Using a cheaper tea like Bancha or Aracha, bag up a nice big handful in a stocking, tie the end and chuck it into your bath. If you close your bathroom door, chances are you can emulate the steam of a Japanese hot spring.

Secrets from a Geisha

Green tea works miracles on acne and on dryness because it balances what your skin needs. I’m convinced this is a trick Geisha have kept up their sleeve for centuries.

There are two ways to benefit. You can pat wet, but not-yet-steeped tea leaves on your face and hold them there for a short time, say a minute or two, and then rinse them off with water. This is similar to the Warakuen tea pack, mentioned above, only without the oversized teabag.

For a lighter application, simply fill your basin with luke-warm water, add fresh non-steeped tea leaves, allow them to unfurl and lightly color the water. Then rinse your cleansed face multiple times with the green tea water. Follow with your normal moisturizing routine for an alkalized, hydrated, ph-balanced, fresh complexion and get ready for Geisha-like admiration.

Kiss my feet!

For a blissful pedicure, soak your feet in a tea bath while reading a good book or meditating. Just fill a dishpan or foot spa with warm water and add some non-steeped green tea leaves. The concentration will be much stronger than for your bathtub soak and that’s good because the bottoms of your feet are very porous so the nutrients in the water are quickly accessed. If you prefer, you can make a teabag out of an old stocking and infuse the water that way. This ritual is particularly effective for stinky feet!

Tea Trees

Speaking of stinky feet, the culprit may be your shoes. Nothing beats a green tea shoe tree! Here’s what you do:

Get a pair of ladies trouser stockings or lightweight socks and inspect them for holes. Then pack a very generous portion of dried leaves in each sock until you have filled it halfway full. Tie a tight knot in the remaining fabric and stuff them into your shoes. When you wear your shoes, just hang the shoe trees in your closet to keep humidity levels in check and odors at bay in there too.

Fridge magnets

Have you ever taken a bite of cheese and it tasted like an onion? Nothing’s worse than a tainted fridge. Your poor cheese can’t tell you what’s going on behind those closed doors! So to prevent a Toy Story ambush in your fridge, it’s best to install an odor prevention system with a dish of dried tea leaves. It can stay in there until you notice your food has started switching shelves. Binchotan white charcoal is also an effective odor eater in the fridge.

Slumber Party!

Nothing beats a good nights sleep. In China, ladies dry their used tea leaves in the sun and sew them into pillows. Jasmine and oolongs work particularly well for this because they are highly fragrant after steeping. You can do the same thing with houjicha. I have had less admirable results with sencha so don’t bother with that.

The operative word here is DRIED THOROUGHLY! Simply spread your steeped leaves on a flat plate, towel or Japanese noodle basket (the best!!) and allow it to dry. Depending on where you live, it might take up to 3 or 4 days in the sun to dry a plate of leaves. It takes a long time to accumulate enough dried leaves to make a large enough pillow. It’s not uncommon to collect leaves for up to a year or two for a big pillow! You can also make a quick eye pillow or a scented sachet by putting a few sun-dried leaves into a stocking or sewing a sachet and placing that inside your pillowcase.

To keep your tea pillow in tip-top shape, make sure you regularly dry it in the sun as moisture accumulates while you sleep.

Turn your home into a teahouse

Popular for centuries in Japan, tea burners (chakouro in Japanese) are coming into mainstream fashion in the West but are disguised as essential oil burners. I’m sure you’ve seen those special ceramic holders with a section for a tealight and a little dish or plate on top. While Westerners put water with a few drops of oil in the dish, Japanese warm to the scent of tea.

Simply fill the plate with some Bancha or other lower-grade green tea leaves, without adding water, and never use Matcha or Funmatsucha. Light the candle and transport yourself to the backstreets of Kyoto.

The Ultimate Fly Swatter!

If pesky flies and biting bugs are bugging you, here’s a radical thing to do: set fire to some tea leaves!  Yes, you heard me right. By setting alight a little more than a tablespoon of dried steeped leaves, either on a plate or on the top of your tea burner, you can bet those bugs will run for cover. It works as well–if not better–than citronella. A word of caution though…it might take a bit more than a few burning tea leaves if you live in a place like the swamplands of Louisiana. And yes, take the right precautions so you don’t burn down the town! Japanese use tea leaves or an incense type coil called katori senko when the mosquitos start to dive bomb!

Visionary Vacuuming

When I was little my mom had me captivated the day she took some used tea leaves from our teapot and tossed them onto the floor. As a 4 year-old I thought this was a great idea for other green things like broccoli, asparagus, and lima beans…

Old steeped leaves are fantastic for cleaning tiny nooks and crannies like tile floors, place mats or if you live in a Japanese house like we did, tatami mats, the tightly woven mats that literally carpet floors all over Japan.

All you do is take lightly damp, almost dry, tea leaves and sprinkle them on the dirty, dusty floor, then just sweep or vacuum them up! The tangled leaves act like a magnet to get hard-to-reach dirt and dust dislodged and discarded just like magic.

Cutting boards

Moist tea leaves work like magic to slay the germs that loiter around your kitchen sink! Not only do tea leaves kill germs but they remove odors and refresh as well. Generously scatter moist tea leaves on your cutting boards and allow them to sit for about 5 minutes. Next, gently massage the leaves on top of your board, paying particular attention to the stained areas. This might turn your board green but a quick light scrub removes it.

A Plant’s Paradise

Plants love tea leaves because they give the soil so many vital nutrients but it can go horribly wrong if you aren’t careful. Trust me, or rather, my two dead plants.

Just like you are making a pot of tea, take a couple of scoops of new tea leaves and add them to about 400 ml of filtered water (any temperature is OK) and let them stand for 1 to 5 hours. Then strain out the leaves, put the water in a spritzer bottle and spray your plants all over, especially on the plant leaves. Don’t keep the water hanging around in the spritzer – just make it fresh every time.

The next way to nourish your plants is to dry the tea leaves completely, and I mean totally! Tea leaves are acidic and some plants prefer acidic to alkaline soil so know what your plants prefer. If you are like me, I need Google to figure this part out. You can either put the dried tea leaves around the base of the plant or mix it into the soil. To take it a step further, grind the dried tea leaves in a coffee grinder and place these bits into the soil. Monitor this process very carefully because old damp leaves are prone to growing fungus and attracting bugs. This was the demise of my fungus-strangled plants! RIP.

Feed Mother Earth

Composting is probably the most familiar use of old tea leaves after everything has been eked out of them.  Tea leaves are nitrogen-rich and help kick start your compost. Toss them in and let ‘em RIP!

Image provided by author, all rights reserved.



How To Store Tea – T Ching


Guest contribution by Sufi Mohamed

Loose-leaf teas are sensitive and the best thing you can do for them is to store them in places that are ideal. They are vulnerable to light, air, and moisture, and they tend to absorb (in subtle ways) the flavors and aromas of the places and things they come in contact with. It’s highly recommended to store them in an airtight container or seal, in a cool and dry place.

Tea leaves contain 3 percent of moisture and volatile oils that are essential to its flavor. This unique chemistry is susceptible to the variable environments the tea leaves encounter, and these oils will evaporate if they aren’t stored properly. So what’s the shelf life of tea? Green tea has a shelf life of 6-8 months, oolong tea can last for 1-2 years, and black tea has the longest at over 2 years. Flavored teas can last the shortest and degrade really quickly if not stored correctly.

DO

Buy seasonal harvest
The local tea harvest has the highest potential for making its full shelf life. This may largely be due to the fact that those tea leaves are highly suited to those conditions. Getting the fresh tea from local suppliers will be your best bet!

Seal it up
Be sure that after using tea the tea bag is tightly sealed.

Keep it airtight
Store tea in opaque caddies made of tin, or ceramic, or even stainless steel containers. These usually come with airtight lids. Be sure to keep the teas in these containers and that they are airtight enough that its odors don’t permeate outside!

Buy in small quantities
Too much tea that sits around is probably a bad idea. If you’re unsure what tea to buy, getting those taster packs (small samples) might help you get an idea about what those teas you like actually taste, without having to buy a quantity you don’t need! I don’t recommend buying more tea than you can actually store, or have the containers to use!

Keep it cool
The ideal place to store tea is a cool, dry place. Don’t put it in the fridge, or even near a fridge. A low cupboard will do fine. Keep it away from other spices, herbs, or any sources of heat.

DON’T

Go overboard
Be sure to buy tea that you can actually consume. Buying too many means that you don’t have the opportunity to taste them all in time, and it might be some years before you can actually try all your teas.

Store in the fridge
Through condensation, the tea leaves will absorb the surrounding moisture. This makes the leaves too susceptible to breakage and will significantly affect their flavor.

Store in unlined wooden container
Storing tea in loose-fitting containers that don’t have a protective, air-sealed lining will cause the air to seep in, eventually making the tea leaves stale or even mouldy. If you do store in loose-fitting containers, be sure to put the tea leaves in an airtight seal.

Buy old tea
Find out how old the tea is before you buy it and use that as a reference for its pending shelf life.

Expose to light
Don’t store the loose tea leaves in a see-through container, because the light that comes into the container will alter its chemistry, and perhaps even lighten its color.

Storing above the oven
Don’t store tea leaves near hot surfaces, or objects that produce heat. They weaken the chemistry and affect the leaves. The heat will degrade the leaves.

Store with other teas
Storing with other teas will affect the tea, because they exchange flavors and aroma. They “leach” into one another.

Keep with spices
If you store teas near spices, you will have very unusual tea! The leaves will absorb the aroma and odors that come from the spices. Keep them as separate as possible.

Conclusion:
Knowing the shelf life of your teas and how to maintain them is one of the best things you can do for your teas and for you, to get the flavors and aromas of them. Be sure to avoid the DON’TS and DO what you can!

Image Source

Author Biography:

Visantea is thrilled to bring you closer to your tea culture and tea practises by stocking some of the finest products made in Asia. We stock a variety of handmade tea kettles, porcelain kettles, ceramic cups, and tea sets. Learn more at Visantea today: https://www.visantea.com



Brewing Tea With Wild Water


The Columbia River Gorge is a beautiful place.  Spanning some fifty miles between the Deschutes River to the east and the Sandy River to the west, the Oregon side of this deep-walled canyon boasts more than fifty waterfalls, including Multnomah Falls, which drops 620 feet in two drops as Multnomah creek carves its way to the Columbia River.  Almost every creek and river has a trail heading south toward Mt. Hood, a glaciated cascade volcano feeding dozens of those streams. Walking beside an ice-cold fast-falling creek, the tea-drinking hiker is rewarded with stunning vistas of mountains, moss, wildlife, rock formations, old growth timber, and wildflowers in every color of the rainbow.  A hike in these forests is a magical experience.

Last summer, I decided to methodically hike every gorge trail.  Doing so required a certain level of commitment: given the popularity of hiking in general and hiking The Gorge in particular, one has to be at the trailhead by 7:00 AM to get a parking spot and to avoid the crowds of one-time hikers. My pack was loaded with the Ten Essentials for Wilderness Travel as well as a thermos of hot earl grey tea.  Lunch at the summit, or the base of the waterfall, or at an overlook, is always accompanied by a few cups of tea and an almost melancholy desire to linger.  Inspired by a post on this blog a few years back, I decided that one way to extend the hike beyond the few exquisite moments at the destination would be to fill one of my empty water bottles with water from the stream.  At home, I could re-live the beauty of the hike with a cup of tea from the creek.

From early May through the end of August 2017, I drank tea from Pelham, Herman, Gorton, Buck, Multnomah, Oneonta, Cold Springs, and Wahkeena Creeks.  Of course, I filtered and boiled the water before brewing it into tea. These creeks are perfect because they originate from springs rather than glacial run-off, resulting in water that is crystal clear rather than cloudy with rock powder.  The magic of my morning tea ritual was made even more so by the announcement “This tea comes from the pool just above Triple Falls,” or, “This is Doke Black Fusion from Lochan Tea after a short stop at Pelham Creek.”

The decision to hike those trails was prescient.  On September 2, after a long dry spell, teenagers playing with fireworks sparked a fire that burned thousands of acres in the area I methodically hiked.  Drainages in almost every creek burned furiously over the next four weeks, causing freeway closures, evacuations, and millions of dollars in damage. Just one of the trails will be open for the 2018 hiking season; some will not reopen for years.  All will be forever changed.

Next time you hike along a pretty stream, take a liter of the water home with you and hydrate your body and soul with the water in a cup of tea. 

All image rights reserved by author.