Compressed Tea Cake Utensils

We’ll admit it: tea cakes can be daunting! Although compressed tea is a delightful way to explore unfamiliar traditions and flavors, we know that starting out may be intimidating. Maybe you’ve recently purchased a brick of your favorite puerh or aged white and aren’t certain how to use it. Maybe you’ve been given a handful of tuo cha by a well-intentioned friend. Or maybe you’re looking for a gift for the tea connoisseur in your life. Whatever the reason, we at Dominion Tea are here to help. Here’s a list of our favorite tea cake utensils, perfect for either the seasoned tea veteran or the novice just starting out.

    1. Tea Needle/Pick: These handy tools come in a variety of shapes and sizes designed to help break off sections of tea from your brick or cake without damaging its form. Picks and needles are used by sliding them horizontally between leaf layers in your tea cake, allowing you to gently pry free small measures at a time.
    2. Cha Ze Scoop: Traditionally made from bamboo or wood, Cha Ze scoops are an elegant way to measure out and present your tea after you have broken off the sections that you need. The high walls and long body of this tool make it perfectly shaped for transferring tea into your teapot for brewing.
    3. Cha Jia Tongs: Cha Jia serve a variety of purposes, especially if you are serving your tea traditionally. These bamboo tongs can be used to handle broken-up sections of compressed tea, pick out brewed leaves from a pot or pitcher, and
      Compressed Tea Cake Utensils

      Compressed Tea Cake Utensils

      handle hot cups during a Gong Fu ceremony.

    4. Breaking Tray: Also referred to as a Judging Tray when it is used for evaluation purposes, this small and shallow tray provides an ideal surface for breaking up compressed tea cakes. One bottom corner is always cut out, which allows you to easily pour your dry tea into your Cha Ze, gaiwan, or teapot.
    5. Tea Knife: Just like picks and needles, tea knives are specially designed to help you pry apart your tea cakes without causing excess damage to the leaves. Look for a small, flat, and very rigid blade that can easily slip between the dense layers in your tea cake. A good puerh knife can be a work of art in its own right, and many are designed to be beautiful as well as functional.

 

If you’re feeling intimated by the thought of a tea cake, why not pick up a few new utensils to try with it? (We carry them in our Purcellville, VA store.) Just like any other art, when it comes to tea preparation, having the right tools can make all the difference.

By: Jen Coate

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Top 5 Tea Accessories

We get this question a lot from our newest tea converts: what do I need in order to brew myself the perfect cup of tea? While the truth is that, at its simplest, all you need for a good cup of tea is leaves and water, we have a few favorite tools that we think can make the process easier and more enjoyable. These accessories make great gifts for both the beginning tea enthusiast and the longtime connoisseur.

Infuser Basket for Large Leaf Tea

Infuser Basket

1. Infuser Basket: Hands down, baskets are the best option when it comes to steeping your tea leaves. Unlike an infuser ball, baskets do not compress the tea or pack it in too tightly, allowing your tea leaves to expand as they infuse, which in turn leads to a fuller flavor extraction. Tea baskets are designed to fit a variety of mug sizes, and some can fold or collapse for easy storage. Look for stainless steel for easy, dishwasher-safe cleaning, and for fine straining holes to allow for a variety of cuts of tea or tisanes.

 

Teapot with Removable Strainer

Teapot with Removable Strainer

2. Teapot with Removable Strainer Basket: Want to brew more than a single cup? Teapots with a removable strainer make it quick and easy. After your tea is finished brewing, the basket lifts out so you can pour, share, and not over-steep. (we’ve got these in our Purcellville, VA location)

 

3. Paper Tea Filters: Looking for an easy way to brew tea at the office or on-the-go? Paper tea filters let you leave your infuser basket at home. Simply fill the packet with your desired amount of tea, then fold down, infuse in hot water, and discard when your tea is ready. Our favorite brands are biodegradable, so that you can compost both bag and leaves when you are finished.

 

Matcha Whisk

Matcha Whisk

4. Chasen (Matcha Whisk): Sometimes, traditional tools are far better than modern equivalents. Unlike a metal kitchen whisk, the fine bamboo tines of a chasen will easily mix up your matcha green tea powder without leaving clumps or residual powder behind.

 

5. Glass Gaiwan: Extremely popular among Chinese tea connoisseurs, the clear walls of a glass gaiwan allow you to watch your tea leaves unfurl and “dance” as they infuse. This is a beautiful and meditative way to enjoy your loose-leaf teas!

 

Glass Gaiwan

Glass Gaiwan

 

By: Jen Coate

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How to Make Matcha

Matcha is enjoying a surge in popularity these days! This powdered green tea out of Japan is now being seen in all sorts of applications from cocktails to baked goods. Naturally, people are also curious to try matcha brewed traditionally.

Prepared Matcha

Bowl of Usucha

Although the process may seem intimidating at first, it is actually quick and simple. All it takes is a few tools and a little practice.

Traditionally, matcha in Japan was prepared in two different ways. Usucha (“thin matcha”) is prepared with more water and less powder, which gives it a creamy head and a foamy appearance. Koicha (“thick matcha”) boasts a higher viscosity and a deeper, more intense flavor. Both types are worth trying at least once, as both offer an experience vastly different than what we Americans think of when it comes to tea.

 

To brew matcha, you will need:

  • Matcha tea powder
  • A bamboo chasuku, measuring scoop, or teaspoon
  • A chawan or small bowl for mixing
  • A chasen or small whisk
  • Hot water

Steps:

  1. Heat your water to a boil and set aside to cool. To prepare usucha (thin matcha), use 3-4 oz of water. For koicha (thick matcha), use 1-2 oz. The water will need to be between 158°-176°F.
  2. Preheat your matcha bowl by filling it about 1/3 full of hot water, then stirring gently with the tip of your chasen or whisk. Discard the water and dry your bowl thoroughly.

    Ceremonial Grade Matcha Powder

    Ceremonial Grade Matcha Powder

  3. Measure out your matcha into your bowl. For usucha, use about ½ teaspoon, or 2 scoops using a chashaku. For koicha, use about 1 teaspoon, or 3-4 scoops. We highly recommend sifting your matcha before proceeding to the next step to remove any clumps from the powder.
  4. Measure your water temperature. Once it has dropped between 158°-176°F, you are ready to begin.
  5. Pour your water into the matcha bowl, directly over the matcha.
  6. Whisk, holding the whisk in one hand and steadying the rim of the matcha bowl with the other.
  • For usucha, whisk in W-motion using your wrist until the matcha is thick and frothy, with lots of pale green bubbles on its surface.
  • For koicha, rather than frothing vigorously, use the whisk to knead your matcha from left to right and up and down, rolling into a thick, syrupy consistency. The resulting tea will be dense, smooth, and dark.
  1. Drink directly from the bowl and pour into your cup of choice. Enjoy!

As you get comfortable with the process, you may wish to experiment with water temperature, amount of matcha powder used, or whisking methods. As current food trends are demonstrating, matcha is quite versatile, so have fun and play around with it!

By: Jen Coate

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The Four Types of Kyusu: Part II

Ceramic Atode no Kyusu

Atode no Kyusu with rear handle.

In Part I, we talked about two of the most common type of Japanese kyusu, or teapot. Kyusu have evolved over many centuries to best suit the needs of the diverse range of Japanese green teas. The two kyusu we introduced last week – yokode kyusu and houhin – trace their origins back to Chinese teapots adopted by the Japanese in the mid-Edo period. The other main types of kyusu, atode and uwade, are likewise the result of years of adaptation and evolution.

Atode no Kyusu

Just like the yokode kyusu, the word “atode” (後手の急須), meaning “on the back”, refers to this teapot’s structural design. Modeled to resemble western-style teapots, this teapot is especially suitable for Chinese and western-style black teas with a high water temperature and longer steep time.

Decorative Uwade Kyusu

Uwade Kysu or Dobin

Uwade Kyusu

“Uwade” (上手の急須), which translates to “on the top”, is also known as a dobin (土瓶) in Japanese tea ceremony terminology. Shaped like a western tea kettle with a long, curving handle over the top of the pot, uwade kyusu are larger than any other type of kyusu and intended for serving many guests at once. The placement of the handle is designed to accommodate the heavy main body of the pot, which would be difficult to pour with a side or back handle. When these teapots are made of cast iron and intended to be hung over the hearth, they are called tetsubin (鉄瓶).

Kyusu can be a fun way to experience Japanese culture and traditional tea preparation. If you are a fan of Japanese green teas, why not experiment with a kyusu of your own?

By: Jennifer Coate

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The Four Types of Kyusu: Part I

We’ve written before about the kyusu before – a small, traditional Japanese teapot perfectly designed for brewing up sencha, konacha, gyokuro, and many other types of green tea. Kyusu have been around for centuries, having evolved from the Chinese Yixing teapot when Buddhist monks first brought tea into the country during the early Heian Period (794-1185 C.E.). As Japanese tea is hugely diverse in style and steeping requirements, the form of the kyusu has changed and adapted over time into several different subtypes: yokode kyusu, ushirode kyusu, uwade kyusu, or houhin. Although there may be some variation in the appearance of the kyusu depending on artisan or manufacturer, the word kyusu itself is still an umbrella term for any Japanese teapot of these four basic shapes. In this post, we’ll explore two of the most frequently seen kyusu in Japan: yokode and houhin.

Yokode no Kyusu

The simplicity of the Japanese Tea Ceremony has inspired other accessories.

Japanese Yokode Kyusu

Yokode kyusu are the most common type of kyusu used in Japanese tea preparation. Its name reflects its appearance – “yokode” (横手の急須), meaning “on the side”, refers to the large, conical handle protruding from the right-hand side of the pot. This design allows the tea to be poured quickly and easily from a kneeling position, and is especially efficient when pouring small amounts into multiple cups. Yokode kyusu are suitable for most types of Japanese green teas, especially sencha. In fact, it was the rising popularity of sencha in the mid-Edo period (1603-1868 C.E.), that brought about a need for teaware specifically for brewing leaf, rather than powdered tea. Inspired by the leaf teas currently popular with Chinese Ming dynasty officials, early yokode kyusu were likely modeled after China’s purple clay Yixing teapots.

Houhin

Japanese Teapot with No Handles

Houhin ‘Treasure Chest’ Kyusu

Houhin (宝瓶), meaning “treasure chest”, is a small kyusu with a wide spout and no handle. It is usually used for steeping gyokuro and high-grade sencha, like shincha, as its shape and size allow for very quick, highly controlled steeping and pour times. Although these kyusu do not have handles, the low temperature at which these teas are steeped means that the pourer does not have to worry about burning their hands. Like yokode kyusu, houhin usage began in earnest during the mid-Edo period, as tea merchant and monk Baisao began to promote and popularize sencha and other whole leaf tea traditions. The houhin vessels we see today are likely a modified offshoot of the Chinese gaiwan. This is the type of kyusu that we here at Dominion Tea prefer to use when steeping our gyokuro, konacha, and shincha, as the fine filter and rapid pour allow us to brew these teas perfectly every time.

In our next post, we’ll take a look at the two other types of Japanese kyusu: atode and uwade kyusu.

By: Jennifer Coate

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