Kaizen & Tea

When it comes to Japanese tea culture, most people tend to think first of elaborate ceremonies, poetry, and all the philosophy typically embodied in chadō. And while these are essential components of the Japanese approach to tea, few realize that beneath the history and aesthetics lies a very pragmatic approach to the production of tea. The careful balance of cutting-edge technology with traditional methods, and an appreciation for efficiency, has done well to make Japanese teas some of the most common in the world.

Modern Japanese tea production owes much to the concept of kaizen, a term that was introduced to the business world in the aftermath of WWII. Kaizen, which roughly translates as “continuous improvement”, was conceived by William Deming and made famous by Toyota as a way of constant small innovation that, in the long-term, will help a business attain perfection.

Using kaizen, Japanese tea production is the ultimate in efficiency: from the harvest of one plant, you can get not only sencha, but also shincha, kukicha, bancha, hojicha, and genmaicha. Let’s take a look at all of these teas.

Sencha: The most common type of Japanese tea, accounting for roughly 80% of the country’s tea production. Sencha ranges in quality from top-end to ready-to-drink dust & fannings, and is produced throughout the growing season. After harvest, it is steamed to stop oxidation, rolled into thin needle shapes, and oven-dried.

Shincha: The very first yield of sencha, shincha is composed of young new leaves that are plucked early in spring before the main harvest begins. Shincha is prized among connoisseurs for its rarity, complex flavors, and freshness.

Bancha: Harvested from mid-June to September after sencha production is finished, bancha utilizes fuller, more mature leaves and sometimes stems to give it its characteristic notes of sweet hay and bold grassiness.

Kukicha: Kukicha is made from stems and leaf cuttings leftover from sencha production. It is more delicately flavored than sencha or bancha, with savory sesame notes.

Hojicha: This unique green tea is made of sencha or bancha leaves, sometimes blended with kukicha, that have been roasted at 200°F for several minutes. Roasting imparts a rich, sweet, and nutty flavor – along with a lower caffeine content that makes it perfect for the evenings.

Genmaicha: Originally a staple of fasting monks and the poor, genmaicha is sencha or bancha that has been blended with toasted brown rice, which gives it a wonderfully mellow quality and full body.

Kaizen approaches in Japanese industry have been a tremendous gift to tea drinkers, allowing aficionados the chance to enjoy the diverse range of flavors that come from a single plant. Have you tried sencha and all the teas derived from it yet? Which is your favorite?

By: Jen Coate

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Hojicha Latte

Hojicha Latte

Hojicha Latte

Have you ever tried a hojicha latte? This roasted Japanese green tea boasts a nutty, lightly caramel flavor, which pairs beautifully with the creamy richness of steamed milk. Due to the roasting process, hojicha is also very low in caffeine – perfect for curling up with a book and blanket on a chilly winter night.

Hojicha Latte Ingredients:

2-3 tablespoons loose-leaf hojicha

6 oz water

½ teaspoon brown sugar

6 oz whole milk or milk substitute

3-4 dashes vanilla extract

Ground nutmeg (optional)

Preparing Your Hojicha Latte

  1. Heat water to 175º F, then pour over hojicha leaves and allow to steep for seven minutes. Strain and discard used leaves.
  2. In a separate vessel, combine milk, brown sugar, and vanilla extract. Heat on stovetop or in microwave until milk is starting to steam.
  3. Froth milk using a frother or handheld whisk until surface is light and foamy. Alternatively, pour heated milk into a screw-top jar, seal lid, and shake vigorously until preferred consistency is reached.
  4. Pour frothed milk over steeped hojicha. Top with ground nutmeg.

By: Jen CoateFollow Dominion Tea: Facebooktwitterpinterestrss

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 CoateFollow Dominion Tea: Facebooktwitterpinterestrss

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 CoateFollow Dominion Tea: Facebooktwitterpinterestrss

Shincha – 1st Flush Sencha

Shincha -- a first flush sencha.

First Flush Shincha

Within the world of Japanese teas, sencha and shincha are two terms that can easily be confused, especially by English speakers. But while sencha is a broad category of popular Japanese green tea, shincha refers to a specific harvest of sencha that is highly prized among tea connoisseurs.

Sencha, with its vast array of varieties, has long held sway over the Japanese tea market, accounting for more than 80 percent of the country’s overall tea consumption. Production styles vary tremendously depending on region and desired quality. Highest-graded sencha is typically harvested and processed from late April to mid-May. Like all Japanese teas, sencha is steamed shortly after picking to dehydrate the leaves and forestall oxidation, giving it a characteristic vegetal and grassy freshness.

When cultivating sencha, Japanese tea growers divide the growing year into four harvests – referred to in the industry as flushes – named for their order in the year: ichibancha, nibancha, sanbancha, and yonbancha. The first flush, ichibancha, is what produces shincha. Delicate buds and top leaves, harvested by hand and briefly steamed, are plucked when they are still small. By plucking these leaves early, growers capture the intense expression of the all the rich nutrients and flavors that have been cultivating in the soil during the plant’s winter dormancy.

Bright green infused liquor from shincha.

Shincha Fresh from a Kyusu

Shincha leaves are small, tender, and vibrant, with a scent that is both freshly herbaceous and faintly mineral in character. When infused, shincha leaf steeps into a smooth paste yielding a bright green-gold liquor. The flavor, as compared to standard sencha, is notably bolder, livelier, and complex. A strong oceanic minerality overlays undernotes of fresh vegetation, with a faintly bitter finish that gradually gives way to a lingering stonefruit sweetness. The mouthfeel is full and sharp, slightly less astringent than sencha but still decidedly pronounced.

Like other Japanese green teas, shincha is perfect for brewing in traditional kyusu, but is just as delightful steeped in a pot or an infuser. Steep three grams of tea at a low temperature, between 160°-185° Fahrenheit, for two to three minutes. Shincha can also be enjoyed for multiple short steepings.

By Jennifer Coate

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