Category Archives: Tea Tasting

Matcha Green Tea and Matcha Bites at Sip Tea Lounge

imageIt is said that green tea was first introduced to Japan in the 8th century by a monk named Saisho.  He brought back tea seeds from China, where he was studying Buddhism.  During meditation, the tea was used by the monks to help keep them awake.  In the 12th century, Eisai, a monk who had also been studying Buddhism in China, began to popularize tea in Japan.  Eisai instructed that the tea should be consumed for its healthful properties.  While in China, the monks had learned to prepare tea during the Song Dynasty (960-1279) by grinding it into a powder, then mashing it in a bowl before brewing it. Eventually, the Chinese stopped preparing tea in this way and the custom was appropriated by the Japanese and integrated into the tradition known as chanoyu.

imageIn the 16th century, Sen No Rikyu codified the tea ceremony (chanoyu).  From 1641-1853, about 200 years, Japan was isolated from the rest of the world.  During this time, China was supplying many countries with tea while Japan was developing its own ways of processing and brewing it.  Matcha was mainly used in the Japanese tea ceremony and it has now become a very popular tea due to its health benefits.  Japanese researchers had studied the tea in the 1920s, proving that it contained catechins and antioxidants.  More recently, numerous studies have been ongoing to uncover the health benefits of tea, particularly matcha green tea.  Green tea has remained the most popular in Japan and although there may be some black teas produced domestically in Japan, the green teas are mainly the types associated with Japan.  Tea trees in Japan are often covered with canopies to shade the leaves in order to help them produce higher levels of chlorophyll and amino acids, and fewer tannins.  Primarily these shaded plants produce premium gyokuro, tencha and matcha.  To process matcha green tea, the leaves are picked, cut into tencha and ground into a fine powder after being steamed.  The result is an emerald green tea leaf that brews a brightly colored, almost fluorescent green liquor.  To brew the matcha green tea, the powder is placed into a traditional Chawan or appropriate bowl, 175 degree Fahrenheit water is placed on top of the powder (just enough to cover it) and the tea is vigorously whisked with a chasen (bamboo tea whisk) to create a thick frothy, bright green liquid. At Sip Tea Lounge, we have adopted our own version of serving this healthy brew.  The tea is whisked and prepared in a bowl similar to a chawan, but made for our tea lounge.  Additionally, we have added matcha tea to some of our vegan sweet treats including our Vegan Matcha Bites.  These can be a welcome tasty treat for anyone who would like to get a small taste of matcha, but is not ready to try the traditional Matcha Bowl by itself.  First time matcha tea drinkers may find straight matcha to be slightly bitter.  To balance out this bitterness, it is always nice to enjoy something sweet with the tea. image

The Tea Plant (Camellia sinensis)

There are three main varieties of the Camellia tea plant, the sinensis, assamica and cambodiensis. The Camellia sinensis is most commonly used for the cultivation of tea including black, green, oolong, white and pu er. The Camellia sinensis is a sturdy plant that can withstand harsh conditions and can grow at high altiutudes. Among the sinensis, there are many cultivars that have been created, some more cold resistant than others and some better for certain types of tea. The life of this plant can span decades and there are trees that are 100-1000 years old in existence today. Though the leaves tend to be a bit sparse on an older tree, leaves still can be gathered to make tea. If left uncut, the Camellia sinensis can grow to 20 feet while assamica varieties can reach almost 100 feet. On a plantation, most tea plants last approximately thirty to fifty years. Most plants used for tea are kept at waste height to make picking tea leaves easier. The Camellia sinesis is a perennial plant, and in some regions, can be harvested all year round. Where sunlight is less than 11 hours north or south for more than five weeks, however, growth slows and the plant may go dormant until the next season. Typically the first new leaves are picked in spring. This first picking of the season is also known as the first flush. It is said that the highest quality tea is picked at this time because the plant’s ingredients are more concentrated and aromatic when it awakens in the new season of spring.The five main tea-producing regions are China, Taiwan, Sri Lanka, India, and Japan, but tea plants also grow in Turkey, Africa, Argentina, Australia and even the United States as well as some other regions. The quality of the tea is greatly influenced by the condition in which the plants grow including soil, climate, altitude and latitude. In the United States, the most productive tea growing region at this time seems to be the Big Island of Hawaii. It can take some time for plants to mature, and to produce a significant amount of tea requires older plants, a fair amount of them and the labor to harvest and process the leaves. image

Gyokuro Tasting Event at Sip Tea Lounge

Hello Sipsters.  We have recently had several questions regarding Gyokuro Tea at the tea lounge so we are reposting this information from the tasting event.  It explains a little more about this wonderful tea and outlines how to brew it properly.

We want to thank each of the participants who were at Sip Tea Lounge with us on Sunday, April 28, 2013, for our first Gyokuro Tasting Event. We would like to send a special thanks to Dr. Ralph Faerber, who joined us live from Japan via Skype.

We discussed the cultivation and grading of Gyokuro.  Of course, we also tasted several infusions of three different grades of the tea.  A one word summation of the event: FUN!

For those of you who missed the tea tasting, don’t be sad.  We missed you too, but we will have Gyokuro tastings again at Sip Tea Lounge.  Check the calendar at siptealoungeny.com to learn more about our upcoming events and tastings.  In the meantime, this post provides a quick Gyokuro brewing guide so that you can experiment at home.

The cultivation of “Gyokuro” or “Jewel Dew” began in Kyotonabe. This precious, shade-grown, green tea from Japan is grown and picked with extreme care. Due to the growing method (the tea plants are grown under scaffolded tarps), the leaves of the plants used in Gyokuro production contain larger amounts of the amino acid L-theanine.  The result is a sweeter, softer tea leaf.

Tasting Gyokuro can be fun and interesting, especially if you have never tried it before.  Unlike other green teas, the resulting brew can have a thick, almost soupy mouthfeel with vegetal notes of spinach and asparagus.  Once brewed, the tea liquor is meant to be sipped in small amounts, but the flavor and aroma are quite big.  The higher the quality of the tea, the smoother and more delicate the taste. Despite the grade you are tasting, one thing is for sure with Gyokuro, the flavor will grab each part of your tongue to produce a very memorable experience that will tickle all of your senses.

At Sip Tea Lounge, we tasted three grades of Gyokuro tea: High, Extra High and Premium.  The “high” grade was scissor cut.  The “Extra High” and “Premium” grades were hand picked.  There is an obvious difference in the smell, taste and appearance of the leaves of each of the teas.

As mentioned above, the best way to enjoy Gyokuro is to sip it slowly to savor the aroma, flavor and color in the cup.  Though you do not need to have a special brewing set, using one can help you slow down and enjoy the moment, making the experience more memorable and authentic.

The Gyokuro brewing accessories include the following:
Houhin or Kyusu – tea pot

Yuzamashi – hot water cool off vessel
Yunomi – cup/vessel

Should you like to conduct your own tasting, here are some Gyokuro brewing steps to follow:

1. Cool off the temperature of the hot water

This step is very important.  If the water is not cooled to the correct temperature, the tea will lose its refined flavor and develop a bitter taste.  The initial temperature of the water is approximately 90 degrees celsius or 194 degrees Fahrenheit.  Decanting the water into the empty teapot first will allow the temperature to decline more rapidly.

2. Cool off the temperature of the hot water

To further reduce the water temperature by about 10 degrees, pour the water from the tea pot into the yuzamashi (the vessel used to continue the cooling process during brewing). Following this step will reduce the temperature of the water by about 10 degrees. Your water will now measure around 70-80 degrees celsius or 158-176 degrees Fahrenheit

3. Cool off the temperature of the hot water

From the yuzamashi, the water is poured into the three small cups. The temperature of the water should reduce by about 10 degrees during this step, resulting in water that is around60-70 degrees celsius or 140-158 degrees Fahrenheit. Discard any excess hot water from your yuzamashi at this point in the brewing process.

NOTE: At this point you should notice that cooling the temperature of the water is very important.

4. Place Gyokuro leaves into the tea pot

Use approximately 8 grams of tea. It is best to weigh the amount out.  If you don’t have a scale, this may be about two tablespoons.  This amount seems large, especially once it is in the tiny tea pot, but if you use high quality tea leaves, even a larger amount will produce a wonderful brew!

5. Pour hot water on the leaves

When the temperature of the hot water in the cups has declined to about 50 degrees celsius or 122 degrees Fahrenheit, pour the water on to the tea leaves in the tea pot.  Do this in a circular motion, working from the perimeter of the tea pot first.  Leave the center of the mound of leaves dry.  The amount of water should be just enough to cover the outer leaves.  If you are not used to brewing Gyokuro, the amount of water may seem too small, but do not be tempted to add more.  Even if the water looks like too little, it will be just the right amount. Discard all excessive warm water.

6. Let the tea infuse for about 2 minutes and pour to the last drop

When tea leaves have just begun to open, it is ready to be served.  After 2 minutes of steeping time, pour the tea into the cups. When serving several cups of tea, pour a little into each cup alternately, so the richer tea at the bottom of the pot will be distributed evenly between all cups.  For example, if you are using three cups, pour in the sequence of 1-2-3, then 3-2-1. Do not fill a whole cup at once.  Be sure to pour until no water is left in the pot. The leaves should be as dry as possible once the brew has been decanted into the tasting cups. Shaking the last bit of water out can help the leaves to make better tea the next infusion(s).

7. Sip slowly and enjoy the moment.

We hope you have fun and look forward to seeing you at Sip Tea Lounge soon!