In Japan, tap water is potable.
In restaurants or cafes, a glass of water is served as soon as you seat yourself.
Of course, it’s free.
Also in some restaurants or cafes, a cup of Japanese tea is served as soon as you seat yourself.
Don’t worry. It’s also free.
Japanese tea is very important in Japanese life.
We drink it at any time of the day.
Kanji – tea
To learn Kanji (Chinese characters) is always interesting and beneficial to understand what the word means.
Through Kanji, we can virtually grasp not only the meaning of the word, but also the background it was born in.
Therefore I’m going to introduce Kanji as often as possible.
Kanji for Tea is 茶 and we pronounce it as ‘cha’ .
According to the most supported theory, 茶 illustrates grasses and a sharp knife to cut them.
This character probably indicates the fact that they made tea by cutting newborn tea leaves.
茶 is also pronounced as “sa” and we use this pronunciation for the word 茶道 Sadou.
Sa-dou literally means “the way of tea”.
道 dou means a way.
Japanese people love to add the word 道“dou” at the end of some practices to extract something mental or spiritual, such as 茶道、華道 (ka-dou: the way of flower arrangement) 、武道 (bu-dou: the way of martial arts).
For detailed stories about 茶道 Sadou, visit here
⇒Kuchi-kiri (tea ceremony)
1. History of Japanese tea
Tea has its origin in China and Japan introduced tea culture from China.
Although the exact time when the first tea came to Japan is not clear, we can find a reliable record which mentioned that a cup of tea was dedicated to Emperor Saga in 815.
In the 12th century,
a Zen priest named Eisai brought a tea plant from China and planted it in the Uji district in Kyoto prefecture.
This is the start of tea cultivation in Japan.
Thus tea was originally planted in Zen temples and mainly imbibed by Zen monks.
They favored tea to stay awake in their Zazen meditation. That is to say, they accepted tea as a kind of medicine.
In the 15th century,
some people in the wealthier classes began to drink tea for leisure.
Gradually cultural events such as “tea guessing” became popular among them.
This game was quite simple. They drank tea and guessed whether the tea came from Uji or not. Sometimes they involved bets into these games.
It was Murata Juko (1422-1502) who refined the tea leisure into a minimalist form of tea ceremony known as “Wabi-cha”.
Interestingly, Murata Juko has a unique background to be ejected from the temple at the age of 17-18 for spending too much time for tea guessing.
But later he undertook a harsh training regime under the iconoclastic Zen master called Ikkyū.
Subsequently, Murata Juko‘s spirit was inherited by Takeno Joo and his disciple Sen no Rikyū completed “Wabi-cha” as an aesthetic and spiritual art at the end of the 16th century.
In the middle of the 17th century
In the middle of the 17th century, Zen master Ingen introduced Chinese pan-fired tea .
Later in 1738, Nagatani Soen developed the processing method of Sencha which enabled to dissolve the taste and flavor of tea leaves even when they are only steeped in a teapot.
However, the cooking and boiling method to make an extract was a mainstream in those days.
It is after the Second World War that the current stable production system of tea was established and Sencha culture widely spread among commoners.
For more detailed information about Sencha, visit here
2. Japanese Green tea
1) degree of oxidation
Both black tea and green tea derive from the leaves (sometimes buds or stems) of the tea plant (Camellia Sinensis).
That is to say, the difference arises depending on the degree of oxidation.
– full oxidation ⇒ Black tea.
– semi- oxidation ⇒ Oolong tea.
– light- oxidation ⇒ White tea.
– without oxidation ⇒ Green tea.
* In the process of oxidation of black tea (which we call red tea in Japan), catechins changes into thearubigin or theaflavin which is the origin of redness of the black tea.
Catechin is a kind of polyphenol that makes the tea taste bitter and astringent.
Because of its low content rate of catechins, tea leaves produced in Japan are not good for Black tea.
2) method to heat the leaves
Heating prevents oxidation by deactivating enzymes in the tea leaves. Depending on the method to heat the leaves, we can divide green tea into two:
A) pan-fired green tea (mainly produced in China and Taiwan),
B) steamed green tea (mainly produced in Japan).
The former A) has a slightly sweet, roasted aroma, whereas the latter B) has a fresh aroma and strong umami.
In Japan, the green tea usually means the latter type B).
For more detailed stories about the classification of Japanese tea, visit here
Green tea ⇒variety of Green tea
other teas ⇒Reprocessed teas
For more detailed stories about Japanese tea cultivars, visit here
3.Compounds and efficacy
Catechin is a polyphenol which is behind bitterness and astringency of the Green tea.
It brings some merits to our body.
– increase fat metabolism in hepatic cell
– anti-bacterial effect
– anti-oxidant effect (slow down aging process and prevent the formation of cancer cells)
– anti-allergic effect
L-theanine is a main compound behind the umami sensation.
It promotes alpha wave activity in the brain and make us relax.