Aged matcha

One of the great advantages of drinking matcha, as opposed to leaf tea of all sorts, is that it is faster, much faster.  From start to finish, you’re done in at most half an hour, and quicker if you want to.  I knew today was going to be a busy day of meetings and what not, and that I won’t get a chance to drink a real cup of tea until maybe 8 or even 9 pm, so I pre-caffeinated myself with some matcha.  It also served as an opportunity to use my rarely used chawans, which, in today’s case, is an akaraku I bought maybe a year or so ago.

It is always an experience opening the tomobako (wooden box), with the brocade that comes with a piece and in this case, the artist’s signature as well as the name of the bowl, which is called “Tokiwa” or eternity.  But, before I can get to the bowl, the Safety & Security brigade have to examine the box first

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Now that we know it’s safe, I can take it out for pictures.

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I love raku ware. They have a soft, supple tactile feel and a lightness to them that are the direct opposite of what you’d expect when you just look at them — big, sturdy looking things that are often quite heavy-set. They sound like wood, rather than ceramic, when you tap on them, and I can’t quite find the same feeling with any other kind of ceramics, Hagi included. Kuroraku bowls are serious, whereas akaraku, at least in my own untrained opinion, seems more cheerful.

So it is really rather sad that I don’t have good matcha to go with it today. The only thing I have at the moment is more than a year old, which, as you can imagine, is not an optimal age for matcha. The tea, while it still retained much of the flavour, lost the high, fragrant notes and the sweetness that makes matcha so good. It also gained a bit of an unpleasant side-taste to it that I don’t particularly enjoy. This is a problem with me and all types of green tea — I can never, ever drink them fast enough so that they don’t go bad. I drink green tea so sparingly that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to finish anything in a season. While a can of matcha only costs maybe $20 or $30, a bag of top notch longjing will set me back $100 or more, easily, for a 3oz bag. That’s mostly why I have stopped buying green tea entirely — it’s simply not worth that much to me, especially since half of it inevitably goes wasted.

It’s always fun to play with matcha ware though. I should really do this more often.

Boiling with charcoal, part 2

So here it is

My brazier with one of my tetsubins on top.  Ideally, I’d use a kama, but kamas are a pain, because then you need all the right tools to use it with — from the rings you need to lift the kama up, to the ladle, etc, and using a tetsubin is just so much easier.

Last time I tried boiling water with charcoal it took a long time — almost an hour.  One of the problems was that the charcoal was not hot enough.  I bought myself a charcoal starter chimney, and it worked like magic — the charcoal was red hot after a few minutes and was ready to go.  The water still took almost half an hour to boil, but not nearly as long as last time.  I could’ve probably made it even faster if I used more charcoal today, and next time I might do just that.

The largest constraint today was the number of chasen available — one.  I only brought four bowls with me today, because I decided that with one chasen, it doesn’t really matter how many bowls there are out there.  With fourteen students, it turns out four bowls was plenty — by the time the first person was done drinking, the fourth person isn’t even starting to whisk yet.  Some students are quite good at the whisking, while others are learning the difficulties — creating foam, getting rid of lumps, etc.  With usucha, it’s not so hard to get rid of lumps, and I’d imagine with koicha it could be much more of a problem.  We’re not even going there.

Obviously, it is quite impossible to follow any protocol or rules when you have a group of students making matcha for the very first time (except one or two with previous experience).  Then again, they do experience the one thing that definitely happens when you drink tea in a group — you start talking, excitedly.  The caffeine, especially in the powdered form of matcha, can do wonders.

Charcoal boiling

I tried out my brazier today, outdoors, with charcoal.  The result, I must say, is mixed.  It took a long time for the water to boil.  I think at first I didn’t add enough charcoal.  Then, it was the relatively cool temperature keeping things slow.  Then, there’s the issue of making sure the heat is funneling up to the kettle and not dispersing on to the sides, since I have a large-ish brazier.  Originally, I wanted to use it to boil water for a class on Thursday, but perhaps, I would have to resort to using an electric kettle to boil the water and then just use the charcoal to keep the water warm…..

Sigh, compromises.  I think the cold air really makes a huge difference to how long it takes to boil.  I remember even using my heating plate outside, it takes a lot longer to boil a kettle than inside.  These are the little things that reminds you how making tea in the old days took considerably more effort than it does today.

Drinking matcha

Last time I had matcha, it was in Uji about five years ago. There’s a tea culture center in Uji, behind the magnificent Byodo-in. There, you can have the cheapest proper tea ceremony done for you in Japan — I think it was 500 yen per person. The tea room is a bit on the big side, as I’m sure they have to accomodate a large number of people sometimes, tour groups and all. I don’t remember much of the tea — it wasn’t something to really write home about. I just remember my legs almost giving out by trying to sit properly with my knees in front of me. I think I lasted 15 minutes before giving up.

So here I am, trying to make this drink again. I’ve trying playing with matcha before, but only briefly.

Chawan, chasen, chashaku… and you’re in business. Pretty simple, really.

The matcha I used is some stuff I got with the chasen and the chashaku.

Made by a store that is, supposedly, continuously in existence for 450 years in Uji. I believe them. Walking down the street from the train station to Byodo-in really makes you feel like you’re back in an Edo period town. The stores are all obviously old and, thankfully, escaped damage from the war.

I tried

Interesting, because in the mouth, the tea isn’t particularly strong. I made it lightly, in case I did something horribly wrong. I used hottish water — water that was boiled and then let cooled for a bit. I don’t know how hot, or how much exactly, I used. I just eyeballed it as best I can. After drinking it though, I can feel a nice, sweet aftertaste. It also gave me a feeling that is akin to cha qi. A little later, I can feel a jolt, probably from the caffeine.

Interesting. When cooled, it can be a nice summery drink. I don’t see myself drinking this stuff too often — I went to an aged baozhong right after. However, I do feel a sort of obligation, at the very least, to be experimenting a little more in this area.

Now I sound like a drug addict….