In a matter of speaking, all tea starts as Aracha before it is sorted. After the cleansing process, this unrefined tea matter is separated according to the shape of the tea leaf, and the desired kind of tea it is to become.
Tea picked in the later harvests of the year is known as Bancha. As it is harvested later, the leaves are more mature. It is also harvested from the lower leaves of the tea tree as well, having been less exposed to direct sunlight. Thus, from a purely scientific perspective, we consider Bancha to be a lower quality tea than its relative, Sencha. But Bancha is produced in many different ways, some quite unique and exciting. A prime example of such a Bancha is the specialty of Kyoto, Iribancha.
A tea that has been blended contains the leaves of teas from different tea fields, meticulously selected to provide a refined taste of one’s choosing. Blending is truly an art form, with several different purposes: akin to the use of different grapes for wine, flavors can be enhanced and new more complex flavors obtained through the precise alchemy of the tea master. Furthermore, tastes and smells of a chosen tea that may not be readily available can be reproduced in a form that closely resembles the original. Lastly, teas of particular aromas and flavors can be described by the customer, and blended to order by the tea master. Of course, at Rishouen, we provide such a service with pleasure. We are also happy to provide the origin of each tea with which we use in our blends upon request. Please see our definition of non-blended tea for a comparison.
A finely carved whisk of bamboo, used for the preparation of Matcha. The Chasen blends Matcha powder and water together to create a smooth, well-blended tea. Quality Hand-craft Chasen from Takayama, Nara can be purchased from Rishouen Tea for 2,760 yen, as we consider them indispensible in the creation of Matcha.
A small spatula-like spoon used for measuring out Matcha powder. In the days when Matcha was only able to be enjoyed by the elite, Chashaku were used as poison detectors. Being made of silver or ivory, they would react to arsenic by changing color. Nowadays, Chashaku are usually made from bamboo or other wood native to Japan.
The purpose of the Chawan is simple: to house the prepared tea for drinking. For Matcha, the same Chawan is used for preparation and presentation. If the description of Chawan sounds akin to the description of a cup, it is because the Chawan functions as a cup. But the Chawan is more than just a vessel; Being central to the history of Japanese ceramics and playing an important role in the Japanese Tea Ceremony, it can be said that the Chawan is a symbol of the Japanese tea-culture itself. (For more information regarding the aesthetic of Japanese tea-culture, please see our Philosophy of Japanese Tea page.)
Rice and Sencha or Kabusecha combine to create a very distinctly Japanese flavor. A roasted scent accompanies, stimulating the appetite. As a result, it goes well with meals. Sometimes Gyokuro tea is used, creating Gyokuro Genmaicha. (For specific instructions on how best to infuse Genmaicha, click here.)
Gyokuro refers to a tea that has been cultivated under very special conditions to heighten its quality. Some of the most renowned teas of China come from areas where fog blocks the direct rays of the sun for a period of time during growth. For Gyokuro cultivation, we simulate a similar process. The tea plant is shaded with a fine screen for at least three weeks during the crucial period of growth, just before harvest. Photosynthesis provokes the transformation of Theanine, an amino acid responsible for the Umami flavor, into Catechin, responsible for the astringency of tea. Thus, in limiting photosynthesis for a short period of time, the bitter taste of this tea is heavily muted, and the Umami taste is brought into the foreground. Please see the definition of Umami for more information regarding this important aspect of Japanese tea. (For specific instructions on how best to infuse Gyokuro, click here.)
Houjicha is blended Sencha that has been evenly roasted to provide a completely different drinking experience. Roasting completely changes not only the flavor and aroma of the tea, but its naturally occurring components too. Caffeine content is significantly lessened through roasting, and thus this tea is frequently enjoyed by those sensitive to caffeine. Tannin content, responsible for the acidic aftertaste accompanying some teas, is also nullified. The result is a tea that is easy to prepare and easy to consume, hot or cold.
(For specific instructions on how best to infuse Houjicha, click here.)
Iribancha is a tea with quite a particular method of manufacturing that yields a unique, primordial taste close to the first teas ever brewed. Tea is roasted in a gigantic 5 foot wide (1.5 meter) iron pan, so that the tea leaves are slightly seared in places. Iribancha has been a traditional tea particular to the Kyoto area for hundreds of years. Please note that Iribancha differs from Houjicha in that with Houjicha preparation, tea leaves are rolled and evenly roasted. The flavors are very different, we assure you! (For specific instructions on how best to infuse Iribancha, click here.)
Kabusecha describes tea that is halfway between Gyokuro and Sencha in its method of production, and therefore in its flavors. Like Gyokuro tea, Kabusecha is shaded for a period of time before harvest, but for a shorter duration, and less severely. The result is a superbly even balance between theanine and catechin, the components responsible for the flavors of Umami and astringency respectively. (For specific instructions on how best to infuse Kabusecha, click here.)
Karigane is a term specific to tea, to describe the inclusion of tea tree stems in with the tea leaves. One may think that this lessens the strength or quality of the tea, but it actually refines the flavor and changes it slightly. The inclusion of Karigane in a tea can also add efficiency to brewing, as the stems insure an even separation of the leaves. Inclusion of Karigane marks a more mature tea as well. (The method of infusion used for Karigane varies depending on the type of tea with which it is blended. Please see Gyokuro Karigane, Houjicha Karigane, or Sencha Karigane for more information.)
Matcha tea is distinct from other teas, because in enjoying Matcha, the whole tea leaf is consumed in a powdered form. Matcha is one of the most concentrated sources of antioxidants on the planet, and it has become popular to use Matcha in health food in the West. It may be that the health benefits of Matcha were recognized and used as an instant food of sorts by people in Japan as early as the Muromachi period, some 650 years ago, and in China before that! Though unlike a frozen dinner, the preparation of Matcha itself can bring about a state of tranquility. It could be said that the process acts as a barometer for the body and the spirit, allowing a state of introspection to develop, from the simple and gentle repetitive whisking motions required for preparation. It is for this reason that Matcha preparation and enjoyment is the pinnacle of the Japanese Tea Ceremony. (For more specific information on the preparation of Matcha, please click here. For more information about the psychological benefits of tea, please see our Philosophy of Japanese Tea page.)
Mizudashi describes both a method of infusion akin to a cold-brew, and also a blend of tea that has been optimized for the method. Infusing at a low temperature brings forth the Umami flavor in of tea, and the longer steeping time makes for a beverage that saves on the amount of tea leaves required for a satisfying brew. Mizudashi is the Japanese equivalent of an iced tea, it is sure to refresh. (For specific instructions on how best to prepare Mizudashi, click here.)
When many people think of Mochi, they think of sweets like Mochi wrapped ice-cream. In Japan too, use of Mochi, or glutinous rice, is most frequently used in Japanese pastries known as Wagashi. But Mochi has several other applications too. The origin of the Mochi rice paste is of course rice, but not just any rice, Mochi rice! We include this high quality kind of rice, slightly toasted, in our Genmaicha tea, providing it with a delicious and recognizable flavor.
Tea originating from a single field is known as non-blended. Such a tea is crafted directly as a result of the conditions of the land of that particular field, the Terroir. Thus, the taste of a non-blended tea describes the scents and flavors of that very specific region, as crafted solely by Nature. In contrast, teas are often blended by the tea master to ensure a balance of taste, or in accordance with the taste requested by a customer. However non-blends allow the tea-drinker to experience a tea of uniform taste and singularity that cannot be replicated by any other field. An well balanced non-blended tea can be hard to come by. However, at Rishouen Tea, we offer non-blended teas of only the highest quality, housing a perfection that only Nature can create. (For more information regarding the important role the concept of Nature plays in Japanese tea, please see our Philosophy of Japanese Tea page.)
(Matcha) The word O-Koicha in Japanese literally means “strong tea”. The tea most frequently prepared in the Japanese Tea Ceremony, O-Koicha is made with around twice as much Matcha powder than ordinary Matcha tea consumed in an everyday manner, known as Usucha. However, for O-Koicha preparation, a higher quality Matcha is required, at least equivalent to our Quality ranked Matcha. Higher ranked Matcha powders can be used at higher concentrations without being overpowering and unbalanced in taste. Therefore the higher the quality of Matcha, the stronger the tea can be made without an undesirable impact on the taste. The effect of consuming O-Koicha plays a key part in the Japanese Tea Ceremony, as the high caffeine content creates alertness, and the pleasurable flavor of Umami stimulates areas of the brain responsible for memorization and focus. This state of alert tranquility is perfect for maximizing one’s abilities, without the jittery and wired feeling that may result from consuming other common liquid stimulants. (For more information about the psychological benefits of tea, please see our Philosophy of Japanese Tea page.)
Ochazuke is a very simple Japanese dish, prepared by pouring tea over rice. Traditionally, a Sencha with Karigane or Genmaicha is often used, accompanied with pressed seaweed flakes known as Nori, filet of salmon, or preserved apricot-like fruit called Umeboshi.
Sencha tea is the most common form of tea in Japan, and the most widely consumed. In contrast to Gyokuro and Kabusecha, Sencha remains in direct sunlight for the duration of its growth. Photosynthesis is simply allowed to take place as Nature dictates. Photosynthesis provokes the transformation of theanine, responsible for the Umami taste, into catechin, responsible for an astringent taste. If properly prepared, Sencha strikes a perfect balance between this sweetness and bitterness, and thus it maintains unrivaled popularity as Japan’s favorite tea. Rishouen offers Sencha of exceptionally high grades, manufactured from silky, young tea shoots known as Mirume in Japanese. (For specific instructions on how best to infuse Sencha, click here.)
Like Gyokuro and Kabusecha, the Tencha quality of leaf is grown in a shaded environment for a period of time. High quality Tencha is characterized by a brilliant green leaf, possessing heavy flavors of Umami and very little astringency. Tencha is rarely consumed as a tea, for it has not undergone the final process required to make it infusible. Instead, it is most frequently ground into Matcha powder, which is then mixed with water for consumption. It can also be used as a flavoring agent in high-end gourmet kitchens.
This term of French origin is used to describe aspects of various naturally occurring elements uncontrolled by human beings, that influence a tea plant during its growth. Climate, geography, richness of the soil, even altitude, can affect the physical properties of the plant, and therefore the specific tastes it will provide. The concept of Terroir is most frequently used in the West in regards to the conditions that affect the taste of a wine. Teas from a single field (see the definition of non-blended tea) embody the elements of Terroir specific to the field of its origin. Uji‘s Terroir is perfectly suited for the production of tea, much like the Bordeaux region of France is suited for the production of wine.
Famous for being the city whose temple is on the ¥10,000 bill and the ¥10 coin, Uji is also renowned domestically as the center of high quality tea production. The proximity to Lake Biwa (Japan’s largest lake) provides a Terroir that is perfectly suited for tea farming, as underground streams carry nutrients into the soil. The small city is located south of Kyoto city. In ancient times, Uji acted as a retreat for the nobility situated in what is now Kyoto, who wished to adjourn from courtly turmoil. As early as the 12th century, tea began to be cultivated in the area.
Ujicha cannot be grown just anywhere: in addition to the proximity to Lake Biwa, the hilly terrains of the Kyoto, Shiga, Nara, and Mie prefectures create region-specific qualities of the land and atmosphere (Terroir) prime for the cultivation of exquisite teas. Furthermore, Ujicha must be produced according to the traditional methods first developed in Uji. The Uji methods entail supreme quality, though they are labor intensive and require great skill. For tea-savvy Japanese, Ujicha brings to mind a quality of tea unable to be cultivated elsewhere. In addition, the area allows for Matcha, Gyokuro, Kabusecha, Sencha, and Houjicha cultivation and production. Nowhere else in Japan is such a wide variety of tea able to be made.
First defined over 100 years ago, Umami has become known as the fifth taste, the other four being sweetness, sourness, saltiness, and bitterness. The sensation of Umami comes from food rich in glutamates, such as Japanese tea. The taste of Umami itself is hard to describe, but it is a highly desirable component in tea, given a proper proportion. Tea considered to have a heightened presence of the Umami flavor is often sought. It is also sometimes said that the antithesis of Umami is bitterness, but this may be an oversimplification, given that a balance of Umami and astringency creates favorable teas, complex and stimulating. Truth be told, few Western dishes contain a noticeable amount of this pleasant flavor, and as a result, it may be hard to discern the Umami taste from a salty-sweet taste. However, please accept our assurance that given time, Umami can be experienced and enjoyed by everyone.
(Matcha) Often used in contrast with O-Koicha, Usucha (commonly O-Usu in Japan) literally means “mild tea” in Japanese. This is the most common form that Matcha takes when consumed in everyday life. Our Fine Matcha and Extra Fine Matcha are particularly well suited for the creation of Usucha. Many gourmet restaurants in Japan, especially those serving traditional Kyoto cuisine, present Usucha to customers. In most scenarios, Usucha and Matcha are practically synonymous, except where it is noted that one is being served O-Koicha. (For more specific information on the preparation of Matcha, please click here.)
Wagashi are traditional Japanese pastries that accompany the Japanese Tea Ceremony, but are also regularly consumed with tea for any occasion. Common components of Wagashi include sweetened Mochi and red bean paste.