Japanese Matcha and Ceremony

What is Matcha?Oku Midori Matcha

Matcha literally translates to mean ‘ground tea’. Eighty percent of matcha produced in Japan come from Uji, Japan. Typically, around six weeks before harvest, the Tencha leaves are covered to reduce the amount of light to the plants. Doing this decreases the amount of photosynthesis in the plant and increases chlorophyll, giving Matcha its signature green color. This process also adds amino acids giving the tea its intense umami flavor profile. The newest and youngest parts of the plant are harvested, the leaves at the tip of the new shoots, and are then sorted into grades. These Tencha leaves are then destemmed, deveined, and then ground slowly and gently to produce Matcha powder.

How to Prepare Matcha and the Matcha Ceremony

 Tea has been a large part of Japanese society for centuries. Tea ceremonies originate from the days of the samurai’s and was meant for the elites. The current Matcha ceremony has been unchanged for 450 years. The ceremony was originally practiced solely by men however as demand increased it was taught to females. Today it is commonly studied as a hobby.

The tea ceremony has four principles:

Peace and harmony– All participants must have an open mind.

Respect– This must be given to the visitors host, utensils, and bowl. Many of the items used are expensive and it is said a bowl can be exchanged for a castle.

Purity– The space, utensils, and persons should be purified before and after the ceremony. The host will use a silk cloth throughout the ceremony and the color is significant: green/purple masculine, orange for feminine.

Tranquility– Harmony, small sounds, being quiet lets the participants hear smaller sounds.

The ceremony has many steps. The front part of the bowl faces the person and the artists name is on the bottom left. The bowl is turned clockwise twice before drinking or passing to someone. The ceremony is not considered a social event and is like meditation. There is no speaking during the ceremony so to show appreciation for the tea or ceremony the participant will slurp while finishing the bowl. When finished, the drinker will purify the bowl by rubbing the bowls lid with their finger and will wipe their finger on a cloth. After serving the tea a discussion can take place, but politics and religion are off limits.

A casual ceremony will last 45 minutes where a more formal can take place for 2-3 hours. Tea ceremonies take place at a tea house and can take place during the changes of the seasons or special occasions. Participants should not wear jewelry as it could scratch or damage the bowls. Watches are also discouraged, participants should not be worried about time.

The ceremony is an exercise of enjoying the moment. Each ceremony is a once in a life time opportunity; It will never be repeated.

At Short and Stout Tea Lounge, we have many of the necessary tools to experience a similar experience at home. Matcha bowls, whisks, rests, and spoons are found in our accessories. We are also making it easier to experience Matcha in your favorite drink. Ask to upgrade any tea at the lounge with a shot of Matcha, giving you the health benefits of this experience with your favorite taste.

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Darjeeling Tea: 2017 First Flush Picking

Darjeeling tea is sometimes known as “the champagne of teas” due to its delicate taste and high quality. Darjeeling, aDarjeeling First Flush Picking region in India, is well known for tea and is home to over 80 tea estates, including Monteviot estate. Found in the Himalayan mountain region in West Bengal, Monteviot estate is home to high quality and consistently wonderful, organic tea. With Darjeeling teas, there are four different harvests throughout the year. Each harvest is called a flush and each flush produces a different flavor and profile of tea.

2017 Monteviot First Flush Darjeeling

Sitting on the counter of the tea lounge, is a bamboo box filled with a very special Darjeeling tea. The box contains 2017 First Flush Darjeeling black tea, which is both flavorful and smooth. This teas harvest, known as the first flush, refers to the first, summer harvest of the year. As stated before, each flush provides a different flavor with the first and second flushes being the most sought after. This year has been tough for Darjeeling tea as the first flush was almost unavailable due to droughts in the region. However luckily for tea lovers, the skies opened and provided Darjeeling with good rainfall to harvest a smaller batch of it’s high quality tea.

Political Unrest

Unfortunately, however, t his year political unrest has prevented a 2017 second flush from production. Strikes and demonstrations have occurred throughout the area this year. The conflict surrounds a desire for a separate homeland for the majority Gurkha community in the area. Business within the area including tea production has stopped, with many workers joining in the strike. Many say that even if tea production was to begin it would take weeks for the tea to be ready. Weeding, pruning, and harvesting the delicate leaves takes a lot of time that unfortunately the time sensitive tea plants do not have.

It is unfortunate we will not see a second flush this year, however Short and Stout still has a limited amount of the first flush available in the lounge to take home or to enjoy a pot in the lounge. Come in and try it before it is gone for good!

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Japanese Tea Part 4: Uji Genmaicha

 

Genmaicha OverviewUji Genmaicha Green Tea

Genmaicha tea is also known as ‘rice’ or ‘popcorn’ tea and literally translates to mean ‘brown rice tea’.  This tea is made up of green tea, roasted rice, and often has Matcha as well. Brown rice is first toasted and then combined with the green tea leaves to make Genmaicha. During the toasting process, some of the rice kernels pop making them look like popcorn, as their nickname suggests. Known for its unique flavor which is nutty and sweet, Genmaicha can be found in both a yellowish color and green color, which is effected by the addition of matcha to the blend.

Myths and Stories of Genmaicha’s History

 While the true history of Genmaicha is unknown, there are many stories that claim to be the true origins. The first story states that Genmaicha can be traced back to the 15th century. A feudal lord or samurai was enjoying his favorite green tea one day. His servant, pouring him his tea accidentally spilled rice into his cup. Angry and offended the man beheaded his servant. Following his reaction, he tasted the tea with the rice and found the flavor to be very good. Feeling remorse for his impulsive action, the man requested this tea everyday afterwards to honor the servant and named the tea Genmaicha after his servant, Genmai. A second origin claims that as tea was considered a luxury, not everyone could afford to have a cup daily. To make the tea last longer, housewives added toasted rice to the leaves to make the supply last longer and make it more affordable. A third explanation claims that a folk custom of roasting leftover kagami-mochi, or mirror rice cake, from the New Year celebrations and putting it into tea. Whichever the true story, today Genmaicha comes in different ways always including the signature brown rice.

Short and Stout carries Uji Genmaicha in the lounge and online. It is a great tea that when looking for something unique and different is worth giving a try!

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Introduction to Japanese Tea: Part 1

In Japan, tea is produced just about everywhere. Shizuoka, Kagoshima and Uji are three of the major tea- growing regions throughout Japan. Tea came to Japan from China in the 800s to Kyoto, just north of Uji by Buddhist Monks. Japan didn’t think tea was important and it wasn’t planted in the country until 1100s after another Buddhist monk popularized the health benefits of tea drinking. Today, the tea gardens that were planted in the 1100s are still producing today. They provide a variety of green teas most famously including gyokuro, sencha, and matcha (tencha leaves). Green tea has since then been a very important part of Japanese society and culture.

Shizuoka Tea Region

The Shizuoka growing region is also known as ‘The Kingdom of Green Tea’. Producing the largest amount of tea in Japan, this region lives up to its nickname. Shizuoka is responsible for producing almost half of Japan’s tea production between 40-45%. This region is located on the central coast of Japan, 150 km away from Tokyo, with a view of Mt. Fuji from the tea fields. Tea from the Shizuoka region is often referred to as the best tea in Japan. This region is mostly made up of small, family run operations growing a wide variety of tea. However, sencha tea is the region’s most famous variety, as they are the leaders of its production.

Kagoshima Tea Region

The Kagoshima region comes in second to Shizuoka for production rate. Kagoshima is responsible for 20% of Japan’s Tea. While other regions are leaders in a specific type of green tea, Kagoshima is the region that has the most variety of green teas grown. This region is in a volcanic region. There are many active volcanos nearby often leaving ash on the tea leaves to be washed off! Originally this region was insignificant to Japan’s tea production and only after WWII did they grow. Due to this, Kagoshima was seen more for its cheap price in tea rather than its quality. However, after WWII this all changed and Kagoshima is now comparable to the quality of teas of that from Uji and Shizuoka.

Uji Tea Region

The Uji region is famous not for their size of production but rather their high quality. Only 4% of this region makes up Japan’s tea production. Known around the world for their high quality of green tea, gyokuro and matcha are two of the most famous teas from this region. Located in this region is the oldest tea house in Japan, Tsuen Tea. This tea house has been in the same location since its opening in 1160. Today, the Tseun Tea house is still open and in operation for visitors to enjoy a cup of tea overlooking the Uji river.

Sencha, matcha, gyokuro, and other Japanese teas are available at the Short and Stout Tea Lounge or our online store. Check back next time when we’ll discuss what the differences in these green teas are and what makes them so different!

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Yerba Mate part II: The Ceremony

Yerba Mate derives from South America and is especially popular in Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay. Similarly, guayusa also derives from South America and is very popular in Ecuador.  A common way to consume both yerba mate and guayusa is in a gourd ceremony.

Gourd Ceremony            yerba mate

The yerba mate gourd ceremony is a symbol of hospitality and friendship. These very social events bring groups together and traditionally stories and legends were shared at this event. To begin a cebador or a mate server prepares the mate for the group. The most important role of the cebador in preparing the mate is making sure that the mate is properly steeped resulting in a rich and smooth tasting brew. Each person drinks from the gourd through a straw filter called a bombilla. There is no rush to finish the gourd and when the recipient has had enough they say gracias (thank you) indicating that they are finished. The cebador refills the gourd as needed and it continues to be passed until the mate is lavado (flat).  The trick to drinking the yerba mate in this way is not to move the bombilla once the mate has been prepared.

Guayusa Ceremony

Similar to the yerba mate gourd ceremony, the guayusa ceremony brings groups together. For thousands of years, Ecuadorian families have woken up early and share the gourd, sharing stories and legends around the fire. Hunters would drink guayusa before nighttime hunting trips allowing them to focus and get closer to the environment around them, guayusa is nicknamed “The Night Watchman” for this reason. In our third and final yerba mate blog series, the legends and stories evolved from both yerba mate and guayusa will be explored!

It is fascinating to learn that regardless of the continent, tea and in this case tisane ceremonies are important rituals for cultures. In our busy lives shouldn’t we too take time to continue a ritual of tea.

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Yerba Mate part I

Yerba Mate (yer-bah mah-tay) is made from the leaves of the Holly Tree found in the South American rainforest. Just like mint, chamomileyerba mate plant and rooibos, yerba mate does not derive from the Camellia Sinensis plant so it is not called a tea, rather it is a tisane. Unlike other tisanes found in the shop, yerba mate is naturally caffeinated carrying as much caffeine as coffee does without its common jitters or the acidic taste.

Chemical Components

The plant contains numerous vitamins and minerals including, Vitamins A, C, E, B1, B2, Niacin, B5, B Complex, Calcium, Manganese, Iron, Selenium, Potassium, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Zinc, 15 Amino Acids among many others. The Pasteur Institute and the Paris Scientific society in 1964 were interested in the plants health benefits and did a complete study. The investigators concluded “it is difficult to find a plant in any area of the world equal to mate in nutritional value” and that yerba mate contains “practically all of the vitamins necessary to sustain life.”

Close Cousins

Another caffeinated tisane that derives from another Holly Tree is called guayusa (gwhy-you-suh). Like its yerba mate cousin, this tisane contains many health benefits. Guayusa contains, vitamins C and D, potassium, magnesium, calcium, zinc, and all 15 essential amino acids. Full of antioxidants, guayusa has even more than antioxidant rich green tea. Commonly found in energy drinks, guayusa is a great source for a caffeine fix. Yaupon is a holly plant that was steeped in hot water and enjoyed by the Native Americans.

These tisanes are grown in similar conditions. They are cultivated under the shade of taller trees to protect their leaves from direct sunlight, meaning more trees in the rainforest. Legends and ceremonies surround these unique tisanes, which will be explored in Yerba Mate Part II.

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Brewing Tea: It’s about time

Brewing tea is easy! Regardless of how you made it, if the taste suits you, you brewed it right! If you didn’t care for the taste, because it wasn’t strong enough or too bitter then this post might help you.

Each type of tea has a recommended water temperature and steeping time for optimal flavor. But if you aren’t too fussy or you are too busy to fuss, the water temperature is the number 1 thing to pay attention to. Green tea typically requires lower temperature water, which means you should stop applying heat before water comes to a boil or let the pot cool off for 3 minutes after a boil. Green tea requires the least amount of time for steeping. 3 Minutes. That’s it. Green tea will get very bitter if any longer than that. Black tea can go for a maximum of 5 minutes, but I actually prefer 4. White Tea and Oolong can go for a full 5 minutes because these teas don’t get bitter as quickly as Green or Black Teas.

Tea Brewing Chart

Above is a chart that serves as an overview of the brewing requirement for tea. It serves as a guideline and can be adjusted for personal tastes. If you typically require sugar with your cup of tea, you’ll be surprised by how little you’ll need if you reduce the amount of steeping time.

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Spring Tea Talks with Matthew

Tea in History: Thursday, March 3rd at 7pm at Guilderland Public Library

Tea is the second most popular beverage in the world (only second to water), its origins date back five thousand years and encompasses the world; there has to be a good story or two in its history. This is a fun interactive session that will reveal “Who was Earl Grey, Anyway?”, “John Fortune’s Misfortunes” and “Name that Culture”. Registration is Free at www.guilpl.org

 

Tea and Cheese Pairing: Thursday, March 10th at 6pm at Honest Weight Food Co-op

Looking for more knowledge on tea, cheese or both? Short and Stout and the HWFC Cheese Department has came up with 5 pairings that will delight the senses and inform the curious mind. Learn what makes for a good pairing, preparation tea and effective garnishing. Registration is free at eventbrite.com

 

Thailand Tea Tasting: Tuesday, March 22nd at 6pm at Short and Stout Tea Lounge (Note Date Change)

Our travels to Thailand earlier this year provided us with an opportunity to procure a variety of unique teas. We will be offering a tasting with our USDA Organic Certified Matcha and several grades of oolong including one Frost Tea that is only picked during an overnight frost. Traditional Thai food will be offered. Register at the lounge, Cost $10.

 

The Next Generation of Tea: Thursday, April 7th at 7pm at Guilderland Public Library

Can’t teach a 5000 year old dog new tricks? I beg to differ. The culture of tea has ever evolved and this tea talk will build on March’s session on tea history and discuss where tea is going. Will it be traditional, will it be organic? What is Bubble Tea anyway? Registration is Free at www.guilpl.org


Herbal Teas from Your Garden: Thursday, May 5th at 7pm at Guilderland Public Library

Learn how to make and enjoy herbal teas grown from your garden. A discussion on health benefits and a tasting will be provided. Registration is Free at www.guilpl.org. This session will also be given March 20th during the Garden and Flower Show at Hudson Valley Community College, Troy.

 

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Tea Journey to Northern Thailand: Part 1 of 6

Our tea journey experience started immediately after takeoff from Chicago bound for Tokyo. As the plane leveled out

Matcha Served In-flight

Matcha Served In-flight

stewardesses walked up and down the aisles offering green tea. This isn’t just any green tea as evident of its bright green jade color. This was indeed matcha. Many passengers took advantage of this Japanese Ceremonial Tea as we start our 14 hour flight over Earth’s largest ocean. The flavor was just as light as the color, no bitterness, but just a nice mild green tea flavor.

Stopping in the duty free shop in Tokyo upon arrival proved to be a trip down tea product lane. Thirty varieties of truffles, chocolate covered wafers, thin pancake like crisps and chocolate cake were all headlined by match and green tea ingredients. In the past 15 years, we have been through Narita Airport 10 times and never have we seen so many tea infused products.

We stopped in between gates to get some sushi. The style was very similar to what we find in Albany, but it was served with three large thick porcelain cups of, you guessed it… matcha. The specialty rolls and two regular rolls came to $10, so we went back for seconds. By time all our food was consumed our table was littered with those black and white matcha mugs as if they were beer cans after a frat party.Hot Taro Latte and Bubble Tea

After settling into Thailand our first business meeting took place at Sila Tea Café. Here the team buckled down for 4 hours on the second floor balcony to do some brainstorming. We first ordered a variety of spring rolls, bubble teas and a hot taro latte (which I have never heard or seen before). The spring rolls were delicious especially spinach and cheese and the hot taro latte was sweet, creamy and so smooth.

And the journey continues…

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