Tea Session – Drink Tea, Talk Tea, Share the Joy (Tea lovers’ gathering in Tokyo Japan )

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This is a record of a tea session, held at SHIHA TEA STUDIO on Oct 2022. We would like to share photos and knowledge from the tea session.

People who love tea gathered, and tasted many kinds of selected tea and exchanged opinion.

The scope of the topics is not only the taste of the teas, but also the tea ware, brewing method, history, tea grower, what touch our mind etc.

It was 3 languages – Japanese, Chinese, English – despite of mixed languages (it can cause confusion sometimes) all of us learned much and enjoyed tea. I felt every participant has big love toward tea and cherish harmony throughout the session.

1. Japanese Green Tea with Roasted Aroma from Nagasaki 茶友炒香

Japanese Green Tea called “Irika 炒香” from Nagasaki was served as welcome tea to participants.

This tea is from ChaYou Tea Company (茶友) in Sonogi area of Nagasaki Prefecture.

This tea has complex aroma – green fresh aroma + roasted flavor with slightly deep sweetness. When open the bag of tea leaves, the scent attract you.

ChaYou tea company’s tea leaves are very high quality. And our guests both from Japan and oversea like this Irika Tea. I also personally addicted to this tea. So I chose this tea for today’s participants, too.

This is not “Houji-cha (ほうじ茶) ” which is translated to “roasted green tea”. Houji-cha is roasted AFTER completion of green tea making process.

ChaYou Tea Company use hybrid heating machine (Pan-frying 釜炒り + Steaming蒸 ) for “Kill-Green 殺青 ” process, which is first step in the tea-making process. This Pan-frying 釜炒り produce the characteristic aroma. (this step is, soon after tea plucking, to deactivate oxidative-enzymes with heat to halt oxidation of tea leaves in order to make “green tea”).

This machine is newly introduced in Japanese tea industry and this type of tea leaves are new even in Japan.

Process deactivate oxidative enzymes with heat to halt oxidation is called “Sassai 殺青” in Japan , “Shaqing 杀青” in China and it is translated to “Kill-green” in English. Major heating method for green tea in Japan is in steaming. In China, it is “Pan-frying 釜炒り” which is heating leaves by contacting to hot metal surface.

2. Premium Chinese White Tea ShouMei from 30 years ago 三十年老白茶 寿眉

A participant from China, Lily brought a very special white tea – which was made in 1992. It is ShouMei(寿眉) from 30 years ago made in Fuding(福鼎), Fujian(福建)of China.

Fuding is a major area of white tea cultivation in China.

This tea 寿眉 is pronounced “Shoumei” in Chinese. Japanese pronunciation is “Jubi” .

Lily is an master level tea instructor in China. When she lived in Beijing, she often go teach tea and shared tea and knowledge to other people after work and on weekend. She did sessions at tea houses in Yong He Gong (雍和宫) area of Beijing. Lily introduced that there are many good tea houses near Yong He Gong (雍和宫) .

Shoumei 寿眉 White Tea (30 years old)

In China, there is a saying about white tea:

“One year “tea茶”, Three years “treasure宝”, Seven years “medicine薬””

This means that the older white tea is, the more valuable it is and the higher its medicinal value.

In China people sometimes drink old white tea when they catch a cold. It also has many other good effect, Lily explained. In recent years, white tea has become very popular in China, and more people drink it than before.

Lily has been drinking this tea for about 10 years. She knows about the tea so well and she herself brewed the tea for us using a Gaiwan.

Brew in Gaiwan

She brewed tea in elegant manner and other participants were fascinated. In this session, she continuously brewed tea for us for a few hours through the session. We all thanked for that.

We smelled the dry tea leaves – this aged Shoumei had a subtle, subdued sweetness and a medicinal herbal aroma (薬香). It is totally different from fresh Shoumei that has a distinct sweetness and floral aroma.

The taste had also a medicinal aroma (薬香) and soft sweetness. It curiously had “relaxing” and “calming” effect to the body, consequently to the mind as well.

When drinking tea with friends, your mind tend to turn outward. When drinking tea alone, your mind tend to look inward and calming down. However, this tea made us calm even we drunk together with friends – It is magic of old tea.

I thought that this tea is complex and unique but subtle and delicate, it is a kind of special tea that those who have had their fill of various types of white tea choose. Not only tea, but also tea ware (pottery) and kimonos, differ in what beginners appreciate and what experts appreciate. I felt that this is the tea of choice for experts.

Color and transparency shows the quality

For tea lovers in China, it is usual to bring one’s own cup to a tea party/session, and Lily also brought her own cup. It is a custom among tea lovers in China.

Interestingly, she saw our Japanese sencha cups and said that it looks like sake cup of China. Indeed, this blue tea cup has a larger koudai(foot) 高台 than standard one. Other Japanese participant said that it looks like a horse-jockey cup (馬上杯). We exchanged opinion about shape of cups to drink tea for a while.

We fully enjoyed the fragrance of the tea at each state ;

  • dried tea leaves
  • wet tea leaves
  • aroma of tea liquid
  • fragrance which stays inner surface of cup

It was a luxurious fragrance time..

Fragrance left on surface of cup is called “挂杯香 Gua Bei Xiang” in Chinese, Lily said.

Showing how to smell aroma of leaves in Gaiwan

Lily brewed this aged white tea till 7th infusion. She said it could still be brewed few more times, but she did not continue this time, to brew other teas. (She also skipped “boiling” this tea this time. We expect it next time.)

In China, when you finish brewing aged white tea in a Gaiwan (or teapot), the tea leaves are boiled in a pot and taste boiled tea flavor. Because the ingredients of aged white tea had changed in a long period of time, by boiling the tea, those precious ingredients and aroma comes out. It means we receive all the life of the tea. It is also because the aged white tea is very expensive, not to waste it, boil and enjoy everything.

This is Chinese tea custom when drinking aged white tea, especially autumn and winter when weather is cold.
(New white teas do not have this boiling custom.)

Aged white tea will emit a special Jujude date(棗) aroma when boiled.

In Chinese tea custom, host (person brew tea) keep brewing and poring tea to guests’ cup through tea session. Host pours tea from a gong dao bei 公道杯 (tea pitcher) to cup as soon the cup get empty – It is custom and also manner to always refill tea.

3. Special Phoenix Dang Cong Chinse Oolong Tea 鳳凰単叢 蜜蘭香

Lily brewed special Phoenix Dang Cong (in Chinse, it is called Feng Huang Dan Cong 鳳凰単叢 ) that have MilanXiang ( 蜜蘭香 ) fragrance. This tea was made by a tea-produce master who has Intangible Cultural Heritage Inheritor.

Lily sometimes go meet people who make good tea leaves and buy directly from them in China. For this tea, she went to Feng Huang Mountain (Phoenix mountain) of Guangdong Province to obtain it.

She brought her last tea leaves left. She wanted to share the tea with today’s participants.

Participants today got three good fortunes. Meet real good tea, got a person (Lily) who can brew it in perfect way, got a person(Lily) who guide tasting.

Participants enjoyed the tea listening the character of the tea and exchanged feels of the tea. It is most joyful time for tea lovers to spend such a time.

About taste of this Feng Huang Dan Cong , it has so delicate taste. In my experience, good tea leaves does not have strong taste, it is delicate, harmonious. And this Lily’s Feng Huang Dan Cong was so as well. It is pleasant in mouth, with a complex floral soft aroma that reached the heart and it has gentle but had long aftertaste.

Lily has tasted a lot of Feng Huang Dan Cong in China and knows how excellent this tea she brought is compare to other Feng Huang Dan Cong. Other participants are almost first time to taste Feng Huang Dan Cong. Participants enjoyed precious tea liquid of each infusion with LLY’s guidance.

Being able to sense delicate aroma and taste of tea should be related to the individual’s tea drink custom and tea drink experiences.

It was very precious for the participants to taste this excellent Feng Huang Dan Cong, as first Feng Huang Dan Cong. That made us want to explore more about Feng Huang Dan Cong.

Knowing good tea brings meaning not only the time but also later in the future. It was a valuable experience.

Classification of Oolong Tea by Region (4 types) – Lectured by Lily

Fujian MinBei Oolong (福建闽北乌龙)Da Hong Pao 大红袍 as representative. Many other kinds
Fujian MinNan Oolong (福建闽南乌龙)Tie Guan Yin 铁观音 as representative. Other kinds are less in volume
Guangdong Oolong (广东乌龙)Feng Huan Dang Cong 凤凰单枞 as representative
Taiwan Oolong(台湾乌龙)Da Yu Ling 大禹嶺, Lishan梨山 and many others

Note: “Min闽” stands for Fujian 福建 : “MinBei 闽北 ” is Fujian North, “MinNan 闽南 ” is Fujian South

Participant taking note

4. Home-made Japanese Oolong made of YABUKITA Cultivar やぶきた烏龍

KD brought several kinds of home-made Japanese oolong tea. Those teas were made by KD himself. He is not a tea-producer. He is a history and culture researcher on Japanese tea. He produces tea for his own interest and to make ideal tea for himself.

We tasted one of the oolong tea which was made with tea leaves from Yabukita cultivar of tea plant. There still be no name given to the tea. We call it Yabukita oolong here.

Yabukita oolong

Yabukita is most common cultivar that is used for Japanese green tea. A few decades ago, most of Japanese green tea was made of Yabukita leaves. Nowadays, cultivar of tea plants has been diversified, but still 67% of tea plants in Japan is Yabukita.

Lily brewed the Yabukita Oolong with Gaiwan.

Dried leaves have a floral scent. First brew already had complex pleasant aroma evokes the floral aroma like orchid shows well. It made Japanese participants surprised because they did not think Yabukita can have such a mellow aroma.

Lily’s express her impression as follows. The aroma of the tea has a medium roasted bean aroma and it is fresh and lightly elegant. The tea liquid is soft and gentle feel, and it is wrapped with floral and fruit aromas, the taste is fresh and fragrant.

(Original in Chinese “茶香是中度焙火的豆香,清新淡雅。茶的汤感柔和,水里裹着花香和果香,滋味是清新芬芳”)

This tea and its aroma seemed to seep into inside of body (downward). Some other tea aroma seems to go toward nose and head (upward). The participants described the tea “powerful”.

In the tea liquid, there are lots of lot of white tiny hair of leaves floating. It explains this tea leaves are young/soft.

White tiny hair on leaves are called “Mouji 毛茸” in Japanese, “Rong mao 茸毛” in Chinese.

These small hairs are present on the underside of the leaf. As the tea leaves grow, these hairs fall off the leaves. They are commonly seen in Chinese Type Tea (Camellia sinensis var sinensis), including the Yabukita cultivar.

lot of white tiny hair of leaves

This Yabukita oolong could brew to 10th infusion. It was very 耐泡(nai pao), which means possible to brew many times, in Chinese. One of the reasons (out of many) to be 耐泡(nai pao) is that the tea leaves are rich in ingredients. Also skill of the tea brewing are related. Right infusion time and temperature according to nature of tea is required.

Lily said that interesting thing of oolong tea is that you see changes in every infusion. First one is still weak, like waiting for spring to arrive. third and fourth tea lequid are the peak of the tea’s life. The fifth and sixth infusions, aroma get week but sweetness comes.. and then end of life.

For this Yabukita oolong, last a few infusion has less floral and fruity aroma but certain sweetness was felt in a mouth.

Participants were curious about how KD made this good tea.

Surprisingly, he stir fried fresh leaves (to deactivate the enzymes in the tea leaves) with a large wok (bowl-shaped Chinese pan) in a kitchen of his house and dries them in his study with a basket-dryer that was imported from Taiwan.

According to him, he has been making tea leaves for 11 years, and although it was trial and error at first, in recent years he is able to produce target fragrance by controlling temperature in each process, depending on the weather of the day (temperature and humidity). It is amazing…

And he grows and take care several kinds of tea plants in his work place. He has big love to tea.

5. Home-Made Japanese Oolong made of 3 Cultivars 狭山烏龍

Next is KD’s home-made blend Oolong Tea called Sayama Oolong (狭山烏龍) made from 3 different cultivars. Sayama ( 狭山 ) is the name of place in Saitama Prefecture, that is north west of Tokyo where this tea leaves were grown.

This tea leaves are blend of Sayama-kaori(さやまかおり) , Yume-wakaba(ゆめわかば) , and Musashi-kaori(むさしかおり).

Made of 3 kinds of cultivars

Lily started brewing then found beauty of tea leaves in the water in the Gaiwan. She found the color of each cultivar is different and some leaves are state of “Red rim on green leaf (绿叶红镶边)”. “Red rim on green leaf” is expression used for good oolong tea , also good tea production.

colorful (3 cultivars in one)

This tea leaf has gentle yet gorgeous and complex scent with a slightly fruity melon-like aroma. In my mind, I got picture of a large bouquet of white, pink and orange flowers from the scent of the tea.

Other participants felt that the multiple floral scents overlapped and synergized with each other. It was a gorgeous and harmonized scent.

Lily express this tea as follows.

The tea aroma is also fresh and elegant. After brewing the tea , the taste is richer and more balanced. The tea liquid has feels of a certain thickness, but it also bring harmonious and freshness, which is pleasant to the body and mind.
The aroma left on the surface of the cup is even more wonderful, with a blend of different floral and fruity aromas, and it has variations in the mouth. It was a wonderful experience on sense of taste. (Original in Chinese: 茶香也是清新优雅,但冲泡后的茶汤,滋味更加的丰富和均衡,可以体会到一定厚度的汤感,但是又归于和谐的清新,让人身心愉悦。挂杯香更加美妙,融合了不同的花香果香,且在口腔里有变化,美妙的味觉体验。)

We were very surprised that an oolong tea made in Japan could have such a rich aroma. It was the best oolong tea made in Japan that I have ever had. KD has really amazing technique.

Other participants also really liked this tea. We asked KD how it was possible to make such an aromatic oolong tea.

KD explained that he grows five kinds (five cultivars) of tea plants. They are Yabukita(やぶきた), Hokumei (ほくめい), Sayama-kaori (さやまかおり) , Yume-wakaba (ゆめわかば) and Musashi-kaori (むさしかおり) .

After several years of experiment of tea production, KD has found that combination of Sayama-kaori, Yume-wakaba and Musashi-kaori those three could produce wonderful aromatic note. But other combinations could not produce such a fragrance.

All of us were amazed and respect his skill and effort to be able to find and maximize the character of the scent of each the teas.

Clear and shining tea liquid

6. Gaiwan (蓋碗) Brewing Lesson

Gaiwan is Chinese tea ware. It is mostly made of porcelain. Lily is an Chinese tea teacher. She lectured how to brew tea in Gaiwan and participants tried it.

In Japan tea is brewed in Kyusu (Teapot) , there is no Gaiwan. So it was fresh experience to Japanese participants.

Lily showed how to hold and which finger to use. She showed us that holding Gaiwan should look like Phoenix’s head and neck. (like shown in the photo below)

In China, it is said that when brewing tea with a Gaiwan, women should look elegant(优雅), men should look dashing (潇洒).

Every participants tried and did it well. It is good to practice further. It will be very useful if being able to use it freely.

If you have a Gaiwan, you can brew any kind of tea such as green tea, white tea, pu’er tea…. It is very convenient.

There are some tips for selecting a good Gaiwan. Simply said, chose one fit to your hand and pay attention to the warping of edge of body(cup). If the edge is not curving outer at certain degree , your finger easily get burned when holding it with hot water in it.

7. Japan Nagasaki ChaYou Premium Matcha & Wooden Matcha Bowl 茶友極上抹茶

This time, we wanted Lily to taste Matcha, since she has come to Japan from China only several month ago.

We chose Premium Matcha of Nagasaki ChaYou Tea Company. We love this Matcha. Originally a friend who is Urasenke Chado Tea teacher recommended it and we became loved it.

ChaYou (茶友) Premium Matcha

YUM took care of Matcha session. YUM has more than 10 years of Chado(茶道) experience and continuously go practice. She holds tea class in a community regularly for several years, also teaching Japanese tea to kids at elementary school sometimes. She has passion to tea and is sharing the joy of tea to others.

Matcha Session

YUM made preparation of Matcha before participants arrived. She sifted the Matcha with sifting tool and put it in Natsume 棗(Matcha container). Matcha particles are small and have a tendency to stick together.

Preparation (sieving)

Particles of Matcha became in good condition.

When YUM begins to make tea, the atmosphere suddenly became like tea ceremony room with good tension with pure air. She made tea in stable and beautiful manner. She made a bowls of Matcha for every participant.

Ceramic Matcha bowl

Wooden Matcha Bowl (Wood-Raku)

This time, we tried a Matcha bowl made of wood for the first time.

Wooden Matcha bowl

I named it Wood-Raku. Because that the form the wood Matcha bowl was designed based on “Raku Chawan” shape that Rikyu (Known as Tea Master in 16th century) produced about 450 years ago. Raku chawan is ceramic though, a wood craft artist created one with wood!

The shape of Wood Raku is simply beautiful – I think it has both cool and elegant impression. The thinness of the rim is appropriate to carry Matcha to your mouth smoothly. We could feel that it was made of very high technique of wood craft production.

It is very soft and smooth touch, and fit in hands well. It feels warm.

“New” in Tradition

The looks and the touch gave us “new” feeling.

Looking at surface of the bowl, it has wood grain. You can tell that it is surely wood-made. It feels wood but somehow at the same time, it also gives feeling of unidentified material. The feels is between “new” and “known”, also between “soft” and “hard”. just appreciate the artist who create such a cool item!

cool and elegant

What we know is when you put hot water in ceramic Matcha bowl, the heat of hot water is taken away by the ceramic certain degrees. Person who make Matcha consciously/unconsciously know the temperature changes from the time of making Matcha to time of serving Matcha to a guest.

What we found this time is that the wooden Matcha bowl keeps the temperature of water well, not taking away so much heat of water.

So when using wooden bowl, it is better to pour hot water with less hot, than when using ceramic bowl, it will be able to make Matcha in perfect temperature.

Sweets for Matcha

Sweets are important to have it and enjoy before taking Matcha. First, have sweets then take Matcha – you feel that Matcha meets sweets in your mouth and find the harmony.

We prepared Kuri-kinton (Chest nuts sweets) from Gifu prefecture this time. Kuri-kinton sweets are only seen in autumn in market.

Paring a seasonal sweets to Matcha is quite common in tea ceremony in Japan. It can make guests feel “nature” and “change of season”. It make you refresh and feel as if you had been in the nature. (Not only the sweets effect, it is due to overall effect of consideration by a host, including seasonal flowers/tea ware etc..)

I forgot to take photo of the Kuri-kinton sweets. Here is the link to the sweets company Ryouheido.

Other Kuri-kinto sweets shops I like: Suya in Gifu. Fukudaya in Kumamoto.

8. Tea and Sweets Paring (Japanese Tea, Chinese Tea)

Talking about sweets for tea, there is some basic custom for Japanese tea.

  • Matcha: Take sweets before tea
  • Sencha: Take sweets after tea

If a tea gathering is for tea tasting purpose, sweets should be taken after the tasting tea. But if it is for get-together purpose, it is good to serve/take sweets with tea. For today’s tea session, we served some simple dry fruits and dry beans with tea , and when to eat was left up to the participants.

When drinking tea a lot a time without having snacks/sweets, you can sometimes be in ”Tea Drunk 茶醉” status (headache or other symptoms). It is good to prepare some food/sweets in respect of avoiding Tea Drunk. It is preferable to select subtle flavor sweets not to affect to taste of tea.

Hokkaido black beans and Crispy Chinese date

Lily continued to brew tea throughout the session, explained to the participants the taste of each infusion and how it changed with each brew. She is sincere about tea and also cared about accurately describing taste and fragrance of tea. Due to the reason,she did not eat any sweets during the session, but ate after the tasting all teas. She told us that in China it is customary not eating sweets during the tasting of tea.

Lily introduced “trend” among tea lovers in China. She said that Japanese wagashi sweets are very popular for teatime at tea houses(茶館) and private tea rooms in China. People think wagashi is beautiful and cute, and making wagashi is also popular.

Sweets served with Matcha in the past

Some people say that Japanese traditional sweets are too sweet. However, eat the sweets first, then drink Matcha, it will be perfect taste in your mouth. This is traditional “pairing of tea and sweets” in Japan, In this way, which enhances both the flavors of Matcha and the sweets.

At Sencha Ceremony (Senchado), often sweets(wagashi) are taken after first serving of tea. Guest enjoy pure taste of tea at first serving (first brew) , then enjoy harmony of tea and sweets at second serving (second brew).

”Tea Drunk 茶醉” this word is often used in China (Not used in Japan) .
My experience is that I often became ”Tea Drunk 茶醉” when guiding guests to tea shops in Tea market in China (because of tasting lots of teas). I always had chocolate with me to cure it. But II never get ”Tea Drunk茶醉” no matter how much I drink when I drink with friends or alone (in relaxing status) . It might be that your body and mind status (autonomic nerves) is also related. It is recommended to make relaxing atmosphere for drinking tea.

9. Concerns about Japanese Tea

Environments of Tea in China and Japan

According to Lily, in recent years, the number of Tea houses (茶館) in China has increased considerably, and young people often meet up with friends at Tea houses ( 茶館 ) to spend time together. LLY also goes to a Tea house( 茶館 ) alone after work or on holidays just to relax and refresh herself. Tea and tea ware (rental teapot and cup) are available for about 100 yuan (RMB). However, Lily brings her own favorite tea and brews it in the tea ware there. It is often seen that tea loves bring own tea leaves.

Unfortunately, there are not many Tea houses (茶館) in Japan (places you can brew tea leaves with Kyusu teapot) . Also, you will not find people who have their own private tea room as in China. Travelers from oversea also rarely have chance to experience tea brew with teapot (kyusu). This is a difference between Chinese and Japanese tea culture.

In China, tea and social interaction are strongly connected, business are also discussed over tea at a tea house (茶館) often. Many people spend time for tea on a daily basis. Tea houses (茶館) , tea ware, tea drinking are considered as entertainment of life.

In Japan today, tea leaf consumption is decreasing year by year. Not many young people brew tea by themselves. What can we do for it? We need to think…

HIGASHIYA, Tea House in Tokyo

Good information must also be passed on. Although there is not many Tea Houses in Japan, compare to China, there are some good tea houses in Tokyo, too! I introduce HIGASHIYA Ginza, one of the good Tea Houses in Tokyo, where you can enjoy Japanese Tea and sweets.

Last 10 years number of new style of tea houses have opened in Tokyo. ( New style of brewing, Arranged green teas, Japanese black tea, Pretty dessert made of tea etc.. ones not stick to “traditional way”) You can web search with keyword “nihoncha cafe 日本茶カフェ” (means “Japanese Tea Cafe”). Also mocktails made with teas and Matcha are now seen in some bars.

Good Japanese Tea Leaves Which is Not Known

We also talked about excellent tea leaves in Japan which is not well known, and how to do with promotion. 

Tea lovers like today’s participants know growers who make good tea leaves and special tea leaves in Japan. But some of those tea leaves are not well known. Those growers are very good in production of tea, but not good in promotion sometimes. We discussed what is good way to advertise them and if there is anything we can do for it. No solution about it yet.

We hope that these teas will be known and properly appreciated by many people, and that both the producers and the people who get the tea will be happy.

10. Thank you very much for Reading

Thank you very much for reading for the long article. I am Jicky and I love tea. I studied tea in China and Japan.

I would like to deliver joy that Japanese Tea Culture and Chinese Tea Culture bring to the world. I wrote this article to share the joy from the tea session we had. Hope you find something new in the tea cultures. 

Thank you very much.

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