Japan peculiarities of the national tea party

Asian hospitality is very similar to Russian hospitality: you will always be invited to the table and treated to tea. But unlike our native samovar, a basket with bagels and berry jam, the Eastern guest will offer the traveler only a tiny cup of green tea. This is not out of stinginess, it is a way for the locals to demonstrate their friendliness, offering what they consider to be the most valuable treats.

Perhaps nowhere else is tea (its cultivation, preparation, and, of course, drinking) so reverently and respectfully treated as in Japan. The taste of Japanese green tea is highly appreciated by gourmets all over the world and its positive properties have been confirmed by Hollywood stars. Anyway, the day starts with a sip of this aromatic drink Demi Moore, Jessica Simpson and Sandra Bullock.

If you’re planning a trip to the Land of the Rising Sun, be sure to visit the famous tea ceremony and take home a package of local tea.

Tea drinking as art

Although it was not the Japanese who invented tea, they turned tea-drinking into an elegant social pastime. However, it’s hard to compare this tradition to the European cocktail buffet – everything with the descendants of the samurai is much more serious and profound.

According to historians, green tea first appeared in Japan over a thousand years ago, thanks to Buddhist monks who brought herbs for meditation rituals from the mainland. Over time, tea became popular with Japanese aristocrats and ceased to be the privilege only of the clergy. Japanese shoguns (rulers) often staged “tea tournaments,” where participants had to taste many varieties of green tea and then say the name of each. Poor peasants adopted the tradition from the nobility, and by the 15th century the herbal drink had become the favorite treat of all islanders, regardless of class or age.

Nevertheless, green tea has not lost its religious purpose, and all traditions connected with tea drinking are still subordinate to the principles of Buddhism. Modern tea etiquette calls for reverence (“kei”), harmony (“wa”), purity (“sei”), and serene peace (“seki”). The main attributes of the ceremony are a wooden box with dried herbs, simple ceramic tableware, a copper kettle (perfectly clean but not polished to a shine, because the Japanese like the “antique effect”), a bamboo spoon and silk napkins. Japanese aesthetics call for tea drinking in a tea house (“tyashitsu”) located in a picturesque garden (“tyaniva”) for meditation. To enter it, one must walk along a stony path along pine and cypress trees (“roji” means “land covered with dew”).

The most chic tea house (“ochaya-bar”) can be found at the ‘Yuzuya Hotel Isshinkyo’ in Kyoto. Everything there is authentic: an intricate pathway, a charming landscape, and a house immersed in greenery.

But the ‘ochaya-bar’ is more of an exclusive ‘tea complex. For the most part, the Japanese drink tea at home in a designated room or in restaurants in the capital.

Feel at home!

If you are invited to a home tea ceremony, compliment the interior of the room and ask what’s written on the scroll that hangs in the wall niche (“tokomon”) – there are usually flowers, an aroma lamp and a leaf with a wise saying. The host prepares a scroll with an aphorism in advance specifically for the tea ceremony and attaches great importance to the chosen words.

The Japanese are very attentive to guests, so the host will try to do everything possible for your comfort. But the invitees must also observe etiquette.

In the home environment, the ritual of drinking tea comes as leisurely and peaceful as at the ochaya-bar. No extraneous sounds, sudden movements and Homeric laughter should be allowed.

Do not forget that during the tea ceremony it is customary to remove oneself from the vanity, problems and conflicts, so the topics of conversation should concern only art, creative plans or pleasant memories.

When the tea party is about to end (after a few hours), the host will excuse himself and leave the room – this will be a kind of signal of the end of the ceremony.

Ceremony at the highest level

In a tea restaurant things are much simpler – the women bring a modest dish, slowly pour the tea and offer a light snack (“kaiseki”), which is hardly satiating, but it is very tasty.

In Tokyo, the most popular place for an evening tea party are the tables in the Main Observatory Café, 145 meters above the ground. It’s located on the middle level of the Tokyo Tower and offers a stunning panorama of the neon city.

Those who prefer a more “down-to-earth” tea ceremony should head to the century-old Tokyo restaurant ‘Ginza Tenkuni’. On one of the four floors (where there are spacious halls with lots of windows, studios with low tables, modern European-style apartments and even closed compartment rooms) even the most capricious traveler will find a “native” interior.

So, the Japanese ceremony can “shrink” from the tea house in a secluded garden to the usual table in a democratic restaurant, but the atmosphere of peace and harmony will remain in any case!

Only the best: the “magnificent five” Japanese teas

The best Japanese teas retain their green hue even after heat treatment. Whichever locals you talk to about tea drinking, every one of them knows these “magnificent five.

  1. Matcha (Matcha) is a classic for ceremonies that any Japanese keep in the kitchen. During a tea party, the master of the house traditionally grinds the large leaves of this variety into a fine powder and only then brews it. Matcha has a peculiarly bitter flavor.

  1. The most expensive green tea is Gyokuro. It has a sweet, astringent taste and a pleasant aroma. The secret of success is a special method of cultivation: the tea is planted only in April, the leaves mature on the plantation for only two weeks (exclusively in the shade), and then they are literally dried completely green and distributed in wooden boxes.

  1. Sencha (Sencha) is a little cheaper, but is ahead of Gekuro in popularity. It is loved for its mild refreshing taste. The Japanese often say that Gekuro is a higher class Sencha. Indeed, the two varieties are very similar and both are perfect for morning breakfast.

  1. Bancha is a sort of “second class” Sencha, which means that they have almost the same flavor and aroma, but the leaves of Bancha are much larger and sometimes have petioles in them. You can ignore this second-grade version, but scientists say that the rougher the processing of the leaf, the more thianine, a very important amino acid for health, is in it.

  1. Genmaicha is not at all like traditional tea because it contains… rice grains. So while tasting this wonder drink you are not just drinking a herbal concoction but a cereal one as well, which is twice as healthy!

Genmaicha perfectly quenches thirst and revitalizes the body.

When choosing tea, remember that high-quality leaves are always sold in a paper bag, wrapped in sealed cellophane. A beautiful Japanese picture is usually printed on the paper, and on the back of the package there are detailed instructions on how long and in what quantities to brew the variety. The price for a 250 gram bag usually does not exceed 30 dollars. Japanese tea producers with whom Russian suppliers work are ‘Tsunakawa Co’, ‘Ito En’, partly ‘Yanako Company’ and others.

The list of healing properties of Japanese green tea is endless: it improves the immune system, improves the complexion, instantly removes fatigue and stress, stimulates metabolism (burns fat), normalizes blood pressure, is pain relieving in inflammatory processes and even slows down aging.