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An Amazing Matcha Experience in Japan – Matcha and Tea Shops of Tokyo

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Japanese tea is to Japan, what English tea is to England. Simply as English tea conjures up stereotypical photographs of women in elegant hats and gents in pressed linen fits having fun with refreshments after a morning safari in India, Japanese tea presents its shoppers with a style of conventional Japan in each sip.

There are two views to the Japanese “Method of Tea”. The primary is metaphysical, specializing in the deep, profound and distinctive nature of Ichi-go ichi-e ( 一期一会), a precept underlying the ethos of Japanese tea ceremonies. It says we should always deal with each encounter we’ve with somebody, as the primary and final encounter we’ll ever have with that individual; we should always put our complete spirit into the assembly. The making and sharing of tea is a strategy to present this connection.

Ichi-go ichi-e is simply as necessary to having fun with tea, because the precise tea leaves and water. The second perspective says “The Means of Tea” is so simple as “boiling water, making the tea, and consuming it”. Funnily, these phrases have been truly spoken by Sen no Rikyū, the founder and grandmaster of all present types of Tea Ceremony.

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Writer’s tea gear used within the making of Shunsho tea

Whichever faculty you comply with, one factor is obvious. Japanese tea is gorgeous to drink and filled with well being advantages. The selection of Japanese tea could be a little daunting – there are formally 28 varieties. Sencha, a candy delicate tea, is the preferred, however there’s additionally Gyokuro, a top-grade tea with fantastic aromas, Kukicha, produced from discarded sencha leaves, and Hōjicha – created by roasting sencha right into a brownish savoury tea. But probably the most basic of all Japanese tea is matcha – the spirit of Japan!

The story of Matcha

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The brilliant inexperienced of Nakamura Tokichi matcha powder

Matcha is a vibrant, inexperienced, finely grounded powder, extracted instantly from tea leaves that develop in lots of elements of Japan. Probably the most well-known matcha comes from Uji in Kyoto, however good high quality matcha may also be present in Aichi (Nishio) and Mie. Sencha, the most typical fashion of tea, then again often comes from the tea producing areas of Kagoshima and Shizuoka. Each matcha and sencha use the identical tea plant, nevertheless matcha is created beneath shade-grown circumstances and is a pure powered type, whereas sencha is grown in daylight and produced in leaf or tea-bag type.

The story of Japanese tea begins within the ninth century, when it was introduced from China and served to Emperor Saga, who favored it a lot he began cultivating it himself. Matcha got here to Japan later (1187) when a monk from the Tendai sect of Buddhism purchased a pattern again from China together with the talents of creating matcha utilizing a mortar and pestle – a practice nonetheless carried out in Uji at the moment.

In the course of the Kamakura interval, matcha gained reputation amongst the wealthy and warrior class. Elaborate occasions have been held round tea, together with “tea of amusement” (Tōcha) events, the place friends needed to guess if the tea was “actual” (grown in Uji) or “non-tea” (grown in one other a part of Japan). These “honcha and hicha” events have been lavish affairs the place hosts boasted their wealth and standing. Typically extravagant and ornamental Chinese language tea gear have been utilized in these celebration. Nevertheless, the Sengoku period spelt the top of such luxurious, as rich households started to lose their energy and the posh of tea pale. It was through the later Sengoku interval that the origins of matcha, its meditative calmness and non secular roots, the place rediscovered and the tea was reborn.

A easy bowl (Chawan) and teapot (Kyūsu)

Probably the most influential determine on this motion was Sen no Rikyu (1522 ~ 1591). He started so as to add philosophical rules of concord, purity, tranquility, and respect (wa, sei, jaku and kei) into the tea consuming and making course of. He did away with Chinese language over-the-top cutlery, changing it with plan, pure colored Japanese pottery. These cups (chawan) had delicate imperfections which shaped a part of the wabi-sabi philosophy (withering magnificence and flux) now so intently related to tea ceremonies.

Varieties of Matcha

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Writer’s koicha vs usucha preparation (utilizing Nakamura Tokichi and Ippodo tea)

Matcha might be categorised into three grades; (1) ceremonial grade, the very best high quality matcha, handpicked and utilized in tea ceremonies. This tea can value over 5000yen for 20mg. (2) premium grade, top quality matcha and really tasty. Used for tea ceremonies, apply occasions and day by day enjoyment, it’s a little inexpensive, round 1600 yen.(three) cooking grade which, whereas appropriate to drink, lacks complexity and is especially used to make sweets.
In addition to the grades, there are two types of matcha making – usucha (skinny) and koicha (thick).

Usucha is made utilizing a bamboo whisk. It has a pleasant head of crema and a wealthy grassy inexperienced texture. Koicha is far stronger (utilizing extra scoops of matcha powder and fewer water) and doesn’t have any crema. It’s a thick, dense syrup-like drink with a darkish, forest inexperienced color. Usucha is the preferred type of matcha. Koicha, which has an extended end and could be a little bitter, is often drunk on particular events or at tea ceremonies. Top quality grade matcha can be utilized to organize each types of drink.

Tea Homes in Tokyo

Whereas most individuals affiliate matcha with tea ceremony, you’ll be able to take pleasure in it with out the formality. In Tokyo, for instance, there are a number of Kyoto-based tea homes that provide a café-like environment. Two of probably the most well-known are Nakamura Tokichi, situated within the ultra-modern Ginza 6 constructing and Ippodo, which has its personal tea home in Marunouchi.

Nakamura Tokichi

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Ginza Retailer entrance

Nakamura Tokichi was based in 1854 in Uji Shi, and is at present run by a sixth era Nakamura. Initially a tea distributor, the household sources their tea from the perfect Uji producers. Their teahouse is a world heritage website, and the corporate has efficiently blended conventional tea types with trendy wants, encouraging the ‘uninitiated’ to attempt all its types of matcha, from sweets and desert to their thick koicha.

The Ginza retailer is a current acquisition for the Nakamura household and opened in 2017. It’s the solely retailer in Tokyo and has an exquisite trendy really feel, whereas nonetheless retaining the previous world allure, with its decor and picket furnishings.

There’s all the time a queue, so attempt to come early. Most clients are couples, however there’s a good vary of older and youthful teams, in addition to a number of foreigners curious to pattern some real Uji merchandise. The preferred merchandise, aside from the tea, are the quite a few sweets and deserts, together with matcha candies, smooth ice cream and jellies.

Nama-cha jelly, together with inexperienced tea and teabags, are their hottest merchandise. The parfait, is one other spotlight and is made up of layers of signature jelly, ice cream, tea and syrup! Superior. The café additionally has seasonal merchandise and ‘café solely’ specials, together with ice lotions and desserts. Whereas the menu is in Japanese, illustrations give foreigners a information when ordering.

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Writer’s photograph

My suggestion is Nakamura’s matcha, which comes with Yōkan, a thick jelly desert. Product of matcha and pink bean paste, it enhances the tea very properly. It’s so scrumptious. Matcha right here is made tatedashi type – behind the restaurant and delivered to your seat.

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Urcha and Yōkan Nakamura fashion

The employees at Nakamura are very pleasant, however their English is restricted (though the top operator speaks wonderful English). Costs are round 1500-2000 yen, which is cheap for the standard. The shop additionally has a superb store outdoors.

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Writer’s photograph

That is the one place in Tokyo you should purchase Nakamura merchandise, and so it has an in depth vary of sweets, ice lotions, jelly, and tea. Matcha in all grades may be discovered right here. Nakamura additionally has a splendidly laid- out catalogue which makes for a pleasant, free memento.

Ippodo

The identify Ippodo has been synonymous with matcha for almost 300 years. Created from native Uji and different Kyoto producers, Ippodo has a wide array of high-end tea and matcha. Their vary may be complicated, as tea names are based mostly on historic kanji; nevertheless, all matcha merchandise have a quantity related to it, which makes ordering a “quantity three” matcha straightforward!

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Writer outdoors Ippodo Marunouchi

Ippodo’s Tokyo cafe was opened in late 2010 in Marunouchi. With an English and Japanese menu in addition to employees who can converse English, Ippodo could be very foreigner pleasant.
The menu ranges from sweets to teas. Costs are a bit of costly, however the style and setting greater than makes up for this. Matcha is ready in an open space for all to see (otemae fashion). The café is often crowded with restricted spacing. Clients are a mixture of first-timers, regulars and vacationers.

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We start with koicha, thick and syrupy (earlier than and after)

My suggestion for first-timers, is the koicha (it’s essential to expertise it a minimum of as soon as, and Ippodo is the place to do it). Whereas typically bitter, Ippodo has managed so as to add softness to their koicha, making it extra drinkable. Plus, the wonderful thing about Koicha is, you get two drinks for the worth of 1!

Many individuals eat wagashi (a standard Japanese candy) earlier than consuming koicha, with a purpose to add a honey-like sensation to the drink. The koicha expertise begins with the syrupy drink itself. Its flavour hits you, because it slowly seeps into your physique. It’d look unusual, however wait patiently for the liquid to slowly transfer from the chawan into your mouth. When you actually need to be genuine, whenever you obtain the koicha, say to the employees – “Otemae chodai itashimasu”, which means, thanks for making this tea.

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Usucha – the second a part of the koicha expertise

When you end your koicha, the employees will use the identical koicha bowl to make a second drink for you – usucha, the extra drinkable type of matcha. Included within the worth, this lets you expertise the flavoursome subtleness of matcha. Fantastic!
After having fun with the café, it’s time to do some buying. On show is a variety of tea merchandise and gear. The wonderful thing about Ippodo is you’ll be able to attempt a lot of the teas before you purchase. Allow them to know the fashion you want and the employees will discover a tea to go well with you. English is spoken right here too, and there’s even an English catalogue, which makes choice simpler. Observe that Ippodo may also be purchased in department shops.

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Ippodo store

So there you’ve gotten it – matcha at its best – shaped via custom, and accessible right here, in trendy Tokyo. An intricate a part of Japanese tradition, matcha gained’t disappoint.

And, in the event you begin having fun with the drink, why not attempt making matcha your self?

In my subsequent article I’ll describe how one can put together your very personal matcha at house! It’s not exhausting, a great deal of enjoyable and it means you possibly can take pleasure in that Subarashii/ すばらしい (unbelievable) “Japanese spirit” anytime you need!

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