Saturday, August 20, 2011

Chinese Tea - A Japanese Perspective

This well written article is by Aki Omuri, and is from the Daily Yomiuri Online 29 Jul 2011. Article as follows:

"Nowadays, many people are able to enjoy Chinese tea such as oolong and pu'er thanks to its availability in bottles or cans. By making the tea yourself, however, tea time can be a wonderful experience as you can better understand and appreciate the scent and rich taste of the tea.

According to Chinese tea expert Naoko Iwasaki, there are more than 1,000 kinds of Chinese tea, either from China or Taiwan. Iwasaki said Chinese tea is divided into six groups, including green, white and black, and is categorized by the level of fermentation, processing, the color of the leaves and other factors. Although the most common tea in China is green tea, the way it is prepared and enjoyed is different from that in Japan.

Iwasaki, a tea arts master certified by the Chinese government, has run CHAZENsodo, a salon to share the enjoyment of Chinese tea, in Shinagawa Ward, Tokyo, since 2004. She also is the director of the Japan Chinese Tea Culture Association.

For beginners she recommends Chinese oolong tea, the most well-known among blue teas with moderately fermented leaves. "Taiwan oolong tea, in particular, is aromatic and doesn't have any surprises," Iwasaki said. She said uniformly shaped dark green leaves are characteristic of good tea.

The joy of Chinese tea is found not only in the flavor but also in the scent and color. In the making of authentic Chinese tea, small, purpose-built tea cups and pots are used. "With them, you can completely enjoy the scents and flavors. Tea can also be prepared in ordinary, small teapots and sake cups," Iwasaki said.

In the art of making tea, the teapot and cups are first warmed by pouring hot water in them. Iwasaki says that after the water is poured out, about five grams, or two teaspoonfuls, of tea leaves should be put in the pot. The lid is then placed on the pot to let the leaves steam for a few minutes. When the lid is removed, a refreshing and crisp scent fills the air.

At this point, just enough hot water to cover the leaves is poured into the pot and then poured out after a short time. "You can drink it then if you want to, but the first batch of hot water is to make the leaves open," Iwasaki said. She advises that hot water be poured in again, and the tea is ready when about 70 percent of the leaves open. The hot tea in the pot should be poured into a separate container, called yuzamashi, before being served in cups. "You can enjoy the scent in the second serving, flavor in the third and a pleasant aftertaste in the fourth."

While taking in the beauty of the light green tea, you can enjoy the slightly sweet, mellow taste, Iwasaki says. After drying, a pleasant aroma will remain in the cup.

In Taiwan, a special slim cup is used to enjoy the tea's aroma. After the tea is made in the cup it is moved to another container and the aroma remains in the empty cup. I tried it with a cup that was once filled with oolong tea and I picked up the sweet, vanilla-like smell.

"While enjoying the color, scent or flavor, you can also delve further into the art by studying tea utensils or growing areas which may bring you closer to Chinese culture itself. The good thing about this particular aspect of the art is that there are few limits. It is up to you which leaves you use and how much time you spend to enjoy the tea," Iwasaki said."

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