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Japanese Tea

December 20th, 2012 by Pamela Murski

The Art of Fine Teas

We are always interested in information regarding food and discuss many things and side notes in our cooking classes here at the ranch.  Tea is one of those complex subjects with lots of interesting information and an experience to savor….

Tidbits about tea….”If a man has no tea in him, he is incapable of understanding truth and beauty.” — Japanese Proverb

China and Japan are the largest producers of green tea.  Green tea is considered non-fermented, meaning the leaves are picked and allowed to dry in the sun in bamboo baskets for a few hours.  The leaves are then pan-roasted and finally rolled into attractive shapes,  The leaves range in color from bright to dull green  and are pliable.

Japanese green tea is steamed and processed into different forms, including powdered green tea or matcha, used fro traditional Japanese tea ceremonies.  Matcha is made from the same leaf as Gyokuro, but it’s dried in its natural shape and ground into brilliant chartreuse powder.  It is whisked with boiling water into a frothy, slightly thick, sweet, pleasant beverage.

In Japan there are 3 different grades of green tea:  bancha, sencha and gyokuro.  Bancha is Japan’s ordinary green tea.  It comes from the late summer pickings and is somewhat coarse in flavor and appearance.

Sencha is the next grade up and comes from the first or second picking, or “flush”, of a tea estate.  The tea is stem fired and basket dried, and finally hand rolled.  The process is more costly.  Sencha is a clear, bright green tea with little caffeine and is believed to have great health benefits. It has a flavor that is reminiscent of freshly cut grass, and its aroma has a hint of the sea.  It accounts for more than 70% of the country’s export.

Gyokuro is Japan’s finest green tea.  During the plucking season, the gardens are shaded to increase the bright green color of the leaves.  Due to the great amount of hand labor required, it is also the most expensive.  This tea once brewed, is a pale green to yellow color and has a clean, brisk flavor.

In Japan, the tea ceremony is called Chanoyu, which translates literally as “water for tea”.  This, in a nutshell, is what the tea ceremony is all about.  In spite of the rich symbolism, the attention to detail and the ritualistic acts, the essence of the tea ceremony remains nothing more than adding water to tea leaves and then serving it to guests.  The magic is in the manner in which that is done.

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