Traditional Japanese Tea Pavilion

by Elena Popec 30. April 2010 10:27

The Tea Pavilion is one of the most interesting monuments in the world of architecture. Which is unparalleled, not only in the West, but also in the Land of the Rising Sun. 
 
According to legend, a tea pavilion as a separate building, invented by Rikyu, the greatest of all Japanese tea ceremony masters, who in the XVI century determined its ritual. 
 
Formally, the tea pavilion (sukiya) is nothing more than a simple thatched hut. It consists of the tea room accommodating up to five people, ante-room (Mizuya) where all supplies for the ritual are washed and arranged before taking in the main room, awning (Matia) under which guests usually expect an invitation to enter, and a garden path (Rhodes) that is connecting the awning and the tea room. 
 
The Tea Pavilion is a very small building, but every detail in it is carefully chosen. Its construction is more expensive than the construction of a mansion, and the builders carrying out an order of a master of tea ceremony are very respectable caste. 
 
The style of the tea pavilion is very simple. The situation should help to forget the bustle of the material world, and not to compel attention to its transient luxury. 
 
Semantic center of the tea pavilion is Tokonoma, a kind of "red corner” of the tea room. During the tea ceremony, a painting, a scroll or an object that specifies a certain mood of the guests of the ceremony is placed in Tokonoma. Flowers - one of the most common attributes of the ritual, traditionally, placed inside. 
 
Hieroglyph for a tea pavilion (茶室), can be deciphered as "shelter of imagination", "shelter of emptiness" or "shelter asymmetry”. Tea Pavilion, being sparingly decorated, allows to activate the human imagination, which should complete the asymmetry of the place. 
 
Each tea pavilion is different and, indeed, is unique, as it is created for a specific master at his own request and according to his tastes. The Tea Pavilion is not inherited: when the master dies, the building dies. The Tea Pavilion is an attempt to feel the joy of individually experienced moments of life, rather than enduring symbol of eternity. 
 
In contrast to the lush of western interior, the interior of the Tea house is extremly simple. Only one piece of art, which is placed in Tokonoma, specifies a certain mindset. According to that piece of art, most often it is flowers or a special type and color of glassware, then the rest of accessories are selected.
 
No subject in the tea pavilion looks like any other by color or shape. Flowers are never combined with their images, a black bowl is not used in combinations with a black box for storing tea leaves, and even wooden objects are made of different types of trees. The awareness of imperfection and incompleteness is a way to comprehend the world around by trying to find one’s place in it and coming to harmony with it. 
 
Like everything else in the Japanese culture of tea, the pavilion is a symbol of a certain philosophy of life. A "man" is called to the consonance with the world, harmony, and gain in active spiritual poetic action, not passive contemplation of the surrounding reality, and even more so than merging with it in a wild dance of everyday life.

Exploring The Art Of Japanese Loose Leaf Green Tea

by Elena Popec 2. March 2010 12:54

Over the long centuries of isolation from the rest of the world, in Japan appeared amazing things: ikebana, bonsai, origami, sumo, kabuki, mange and much more. It is logical to assume that in respect of Japan, tea is not so simple either.

Green Tea

Green tea is very popular drink in the world today, but the Japanese consume tea in quite a peculiar way, starting with the production of special teas and ending with particular traditions of tea drinking. Japanese tea ceremonies (Sado or also known as Chanoyu) cannot be described in gastronomical terms. This is an art of contemplation and meditation, a way to achieve harmony with the world and cognize knowledge of the laws of the universe. Even leaving aside the complexity of a Japanese tea ceremony, we can tell you a lot about the kinds of traditional Japanese teas and its consumption.

The first thing that catches the eye, when studying the varieties of Japanese teas, is that they are all green and non-fermented. There are not that many types of Japanese traditional teas and they are all very unique. Their individual characteristics are not similar against each other, nor anything else in the world. The names of Japanese teas are fascinating: Matcha, Sencha, Genmaicha, Gyokuro, Hojicha, Bancha, Usucha, Kamairicha, Kabusecha, Tamaryokucha and Kukicha. Most of these products cannot be found on the shelves of tea shops outside of Japan. The most popular exception is Sencha and Bancha - the easiest tea to prepare with traditional green tea taste.

Sencha literally means “roasted tea”, a basic Japanese tea and the basis of which many other varieties of Japanese teas are developed. In fact, Sencha is a plain green tea that does not require special knowledge and skills to prepare. Most Japanese green teas are steamed at first to prevent oxidation, then rolled, shaped, dried and finally fired to preserve and add flavor. All lovers of green tea will admire its lightly grassy note. As any tea, Sencha could be a high quality and poor, we should not draw any conclusions about this tea when tasting Sencha of incomprehensible production. Good quality Sencha consists of a flat and long delicate tea leaves with distinctive fragrant of fresh green grass. Even high-graded Sencha contains a large amount of powder or tea dust. When brewed, Sencha gives a very bright infusion with a lively green color, traditionally served in transparent or white cups. The aroma and taste of Sencha are soft, both fresh and slightly sweet and velvety. Sencha tea infusion includes a large amounts of caffeine, vitamins C and B2. This tea invigorates the mind and body.

Preparing Sencha is a simple process, even thou the first attempt may fail, don’t be discouraged: warm teapot, put tea leaves in, cover with water remembering that water should not be boiling, and steep for a while ... However, it is impossible to give universal recommendations about the amount of dry tea leaves, water temperature and time of infusion, since the quality of tea and water are always different. Made with hard water tea is not as good because of its active substances that cannot dissolve fully. For green teas (all teas in general) there is a tip: the more delicate tea and softer water, the lower the water temperature should be and less time of infusion. Sencha tea leaves must not steep longer than 2-3 minutes. This means that the entire teapot tea should be poured into cups or into a separate container no later than in 3 minutes. If over steeped, the tea will be bitter, if under steeped the taste will be watery.  Sencha is the only Japanese tea that almost does not change the taste and aroma in the second and subsequent brewing. Other Japanese teas are inconceivable to brew a few times without losing the taste. The first of each new brewing is recommended to take one heaping tea spoon per 6oz serving of tea and infuse for 2 to 3 minutes. If the taste and aroma seem to be weak, hold the second brew a little longer, but next time increase the amount of tea. An indicator of properly brewed Sencha is bubbly foam. If not, that means that the water is too hot, cold, hard or the tea leaves are not the best quality.

Tea Gyokuro (also known as "precious dew" or "jade drops") is a higher grade expensive tea, which is cultivated in a special way. Gyokuro is different from Sencha because it grows under the shade for about two weeks prior to the harvesting period that aims to reduce amount of Catechin in leaves, therefore the bitterness in tea infusion. This fine tea is very rich in aromatic oils, vitamins, minerals, caffeine and other useful and pleasant elements. Splendid Gyokuro is also called "King of tea" and "Tea of genius" because it cheers up (raises) the spirit and stimulates the thinking. The taste and aroma of Gyokuro is similar to Sencha but with light almost imperceptible nuances. Color of dry tea leaves vary from bright green to golden-brown depending on the terrain and weather during the growth and harvest. Tea merchants will recommend a unique method of brewing for Gyokuro which differs from any other tea brewing techniques. Gyokuro tea leaves are typically steeped at low temperature 150 to 165 F for 1 to 2 minutes. Since the temperature of water is low, pre-heating the pot and cups in order to maintain the warmth of tea would be recommended as well. If the water used is too hot, it will destroy the magnificence of taste and aroma.

Matcha is a fine-powder with the consistency resembling talc green tea used in Japanese tea ceremonies and cooking. Matcha is the most difficult Japanese tea to prepare according to traditional techniques and requires specific skills. It was invented in China in the tenth century and was introduced to Japan only in the twelfth century. Being forgotten at home, powdered tea has become a cultural asset of Japan. Matcha is made from Tencha that has very similar cultivation process to Gyokuro. The process of covering tea bushes from direct sun light before harvesting enriches the tea leaves of amino acids and makes it sweeter. Gathered and processed tea lives with removed stems and veins undergo grinding procedure by millstones.  Matcha  is a premium quality and has a sweet taste with a deep flavor.

Matcha

During a Japanese tea ceremony, Matcha powder frothes up into a foam with bamboo whisk and a small amount of water. The advantage of this type of tea is the fact that all substances contained in tea leaves are delivered into the human body completely - in the form of an opaque beverage. Matcha is a concentrate of tea leafs. The taste of this tea is very fresh, but slightly bitter. Matcha can be combined with other types of tea adding freshness to taste and aroma. Lower quality grades of Matcha can be added to various dishes of rice, noodles and tempura to chocolate, ice-cream and traditional Japanese sweets.

Tamaryokucha is a high-quality Japanese green tea. To make it, tea leaves are steamed or fried. Tamaryokucha is rich in vitamins and contains little caffeine. This tea has a berry-like flavor with an almond aftertaste and citrus-grassy distinctive aroma.

Genmaicha is a combination of Sencha with roasted brown rice. This mixture gives a turbid light brown color of infusion and well pronounced rice flavor with hints of sunflower seeds and fish. Taste-wise, Genmaicha resembles soup, after the tea is drunk, you can eat the rice. This drink-dish is a great alternative to dinner or lunch for those who are on a diet. Japanese drink Genmaicha to subside the feeling of hunger without burdening the stomach. This tea contains a large amount of vitamin B1 and a small amount of caffeine.

Hojicha is a roasted tea that is set apart from other Japanese teas. This tea is made from Sencha which is roasted in a porcelain pot over charcoal at high temperature. Tea leaves of Hojicha tea ate brown and shiny with a dominating roasted flavor. Hojicha steeps by conventional infusion for less than a minute. Color of the infusions resembles weakly brewed black tea. Hojicha does not have subtle nuances of aroma and taste. This is a simple tea to quench the thirst or drink during the meal. Because of the process of roasting Hojicha, the amount of caffeine decreases, this tea can be served after the evening meal and/or before going to sleep.

Other Japanese green teas that are characterized as low quality Sencha are Bancha and Kukicha. These uncomplicated teas are made from big crude leaves, stems, stalks and twigs. These types of Japanese teas are collected at the end of the season and are considered as lower grade. Bancha and Kukicha are the simplest and cheapest of Japanese teas and are used for daily consumption of liquid for Macrobiotic Diet, the dietary regimen that is based primarily on grains and plants.  This macrobiotic way of eating is very popular in Japan. There are twenty two grades of Bancha. Kukicha can be added to juice for children’s consumption.

 

Tea Traditions

by Steven Popec 3. January 2010 17:21

The Tea Ceremony - Enjoy the variability of the world

There are various traditions of tea ceremonies in different cultures. Every nation, every region and even families have their traditions of making this wonderful drink. The cult of tea in the East belongs to Japanese, in the West - to English. Tea rituals help a person to concentrate and reflect on spirituality, to see the unexpected in the usual, to understand the unknown in the known, set to a tide of nature and the universe, to find peace and harmony in your soul. Drinking tea requires vigilance at all stages of interaction with product, since the cultivation and collection of leaves to water and its selection, connection with the fire in the cooking process of boiling water.


In England, tea drinking is an old and much respected tradition which includes communication that often is very formal. The British, which are wonderful people, they contrive to get the pleasure of formal communication, if it happens over a cup of tea.

In Russia, people drink tea for the sake of conversation. Russian tea drinking ceremonies, tea is the drink of friendship. There is nothing more important than company enjoying this traditional drink sitting around a samovar.

The Japanese prefer to enjoy the world outside edge of everyday life. Therefore, for the tea ceremony, they create a special world: a tea garden with a special path that leads to a tea house, with a room for tea drinking ceremonies. The Japanese tea ceremony is not so much about the taste of tea, but the taste of Zen. Japanese tea rituals are extremely complicated and refined. There are special ritual acts, dishes, and even space. Japanese tea ceremonies are analogous to cultic action and have philosophical and authentic characters.

Basics Japanese Philosophy of Tea:

• worship of beauty;
• dream of good in an imperfect world full of evil;
• subordination to the laws of charity in the relations between human beings;
• tea - is pleasure without excess, is uniquely valuable without the high cost,  is nature and harmony, hospitality and peacefulness;
• tea - is healthy because it prompts to clean;
• tea - is frugality, because learning to find comfort in the simple and modest;
• tea - is moral geometry, determining the optimal form of a combination of personal interests with the interests of others.

The Chinese tea ceremony allows enjoying the taste of tea. Gong Fu Cha (called the ceremony - higher skill tea) reveals the variability of the world through the variability of the taste of tea. It helps to take the one and another variation of the reality, as a fact. When the higher level of concentration is reached, and then during the tea ceremony can be felt as the world is changing with each passing second, as the grass grows and a tree leaf develops. The ceremony tunes on a philosophical mood, calms nerves, and becomes the true relaxation from the harsh realities of everyday life. Moreover, it provides an opportunity to accept these harsh realities with an open heart and even reduce their severity. They are only parts of the overall variability of the world, and, hence, will change soon. So what's the worry?

Tea in the Gong Fu Cha has four precious things: a form of the leaf, the color of this, the scent of tea, and the taste of tea. Tea ceremony is constructed so that participants can assess all four of treasures and enjoy them.

This tea ceremony is human life in a miniature form. It is not surprising that the East is given the value of tea and rituals, associated with it. After all, tea ceremonies help not only to understand and take the variability of the world, but enjoy it just as volatile flavor tea.

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