Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Tea Seminar Part 2

Our table set up for class

As mentioned in a previous post (find it here), I am taking a five week tea seminar (called "Tea Anyone?") through a community college on Wednesday nights. This week we focused on green teas from Japan and China and I found myself learning a lot. We discussed the 4 different kinds of Japanese tea: Matcha (powdered green tea), Gyokuro (shade grown, high quality; also includes Kabu Sencha--which is shade grown sencha), Sencha (everyday tea in Japan: includes Kukui Cha--which are sencha stems), and finally Bancha (coarser leaves, lower grade: includes Hoji Cha--roasted red bancha leaves and Genmai Cha--roasted rice and bancha leaves).
We also had a guest speaker, Byron Goo, owner of The Tea Chest, a local tea importer and retailer who with his wife, started their company out of their garage. (I want to have a tea company in my garage! Oh wait... I don't have a garage!) Byron gave us a lesson in brewing and an amazing example of how much the temperature of the water effects the flavor of the tea. He brewed the same green tea (a kukui cha), same proportion, same brew time but with two different temperatures--one at just over 200 degrees (F) and the other at 140 degrees (F). When we tasted the tea there was a HUGE difference in flavor, the higher temperature made the tea very bitter, while the tea brewed at 140 was smooth and not bitter. Even though I know that green tea should be brewed at a lower temperature (usually 140 to 160 degrees F), I am guilty of letting a kettle of water boil away on the stove, not paying attention to the temp. I wonder how many times I have thought a tea was too bitter when it might be perfectly delicious if it was brewed correctly??!! Of course there are still bad, bitter teas out there but it was fascinating to see how much of a difference the right temperature water made.
Byron also told us that even though you may spend a lot more on a high quality tea, you can and should get more value out of it by getting multiple infusions from it--up to 4 from the same tea leaves. The secret he said is to go Warm-Warm-Warm-Hot. You start with the fresh leaves, brew at 140 degrees for 2-3 minutes. Then you take the same leaves, poor in more water but this time do a quick brew of about 15-20 seconds for the second and third infusions. Finally for the last infusion you use hot water (about 180 degrees F.) and brew for 2-3 minutes again. The key is to make sure you pour off the excess water after each infusion before adding new water--so the tea doesn't sit and "brew" more and get bitter. A few of us got to taste the progressive infusions, and I was amazed at how good the tea was--even the third and fourth infusion was better than the first tea we tried that was brewed with the 200+ degree water. Very interesting!!!!
After that we had to hurry to taste three more teas (we were supposed to taste 9 or 10 but ran out of time--I think we try to fit too much in an hour &1/2!).
The teas we tasted were:
Kabu Sencha from the Okabe region of Japan, a partially shade grown tea at the end of it's growing cycle (usually the last 10 days). It has a fine, dark green leaf with a light grass smell. The wet leaf took on some more herbal notes, slightly vegetable like. It had a little bit of a grassy-herbal flavor with a little touch of bittersweet.

The Kabu Sencha dry leaves

And in the cup

The next tea was a Matcha Genmaicha, a tea with toasted brown rice (sometimes called popcorn tea because some of the rice grains pop and resemble popcorn). Teas like this came about when peasants could not afford the plain tea and used the rice as a filler. Very popular in WWII, the generation after the war felt it was undesirable to drink this "poor person's tea" so it fell out of favor for awhile but now it is widely accepted and drank by many. The aroma of this tea was "toasty"--not burnt, but more like a nice piece of buttered toast and it was mild and had a nice aftertaste, like puffed rice cereal.

The Matcha Genmaicha leaves, puffed and popped rice

And the Genmachia in the cup

Finally our last tea was a China Green Tea, a Longjing or commonly called Dragon Well from the Ziejiang Provence. This tea is very well known and often called the "National Drink of China". This tea is hand processed with a beautiful, almost shrub-looking leaf. The leaf has almost a chocolaty smell, the wet takes on a more nutty smell. When you drink it you get a light, slightly floral sweetness. A very nice tea.

The Longjing, Dragon Well Leaves

Longjing, Dragon Well in the cup

The cookies you see in the pictures were made by a woman in the class, Joyce and her friend, who have a business called Catalina's Tea Parties, where they bring an entire tea party: linens, china, silverware and all the tea and goodies to the location of your choice--home, office, outdoors, etc. and they host your tea party. Fun idea! (I thought for about 5 minutes that I would love to do something like this but then I remembered someone would have to wash the china and polish the silver and decided it would be more fun just to go to one!) They brought two cookies for us to try, a manju (a Japanese steamed cake with a filling--the most popular filling being a sweet azuki bean paste as this version was filled with) to pair with the Japanese teas and a Chinese Almond Cookie to pair with the Chinese tea. Both cookies were delicious--I am not a huge fan of either of these two sweets normally but these were excellent and complimented the teas well. If these cookies were any indication of the rest of their food, their tea party would be excellent!

The Manju paired with the Japanese Green Teas

The Chinese Almond Cookie with the Longjing, Dragon Well

Another fun and informative class--number three is tomorrow night!


  1. I love teas! Lucky you, the class you are attending are really interesting, I would like to attend a seminaire like these but I have never seen here in europe, thanks for sharing lots of the things you are learning

  2. Kat and Francesca--It is a great class, I got lucky with this one since it is the first time they have offered anything like it. I'll keep sharing--this week was so interesting too.

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