緑茶 / Green Tea - The Super Drink that is good for your body and mind -
As the weather warms up, one thing we all need to keep in mind is keeping up our fluid intake. It is important to drink water throughout the day before you have the chance to feel thirsty. Every now and again it’s also good to take time out and drink some green tea. We all lead busy lives so why not make yours healthier and feel great by drinking green tea?
O-cha (simply meaning ‘tea’, covering all varieties) is an important part of Japanese culture and is deep-rooted in everyday life. In Western culture, when we think of tea we usually think of black tea, however in Japan o-cha generally refers to ryoku-cha (green tea). Ryoku-cha is now gaining popularity worldwide as a healthy drink and the reasons for this are the catechins it contains, which work on your body, as well as the soothing feelings it brings.
The History of O-cha
O-cha originated in China in 2700 BC. It is believed that at the time tea leaves were eaten as a form of medicine. It came to Japan around AD800 during the Heian Period when Japanese monks who were studying in China brought back seeds. However, it was so precious that only a select few, such as high level monks and aristocrats, were able to ever try it. Around AD1200, the cultivation of o-cha spread and by the latter half of the 16th century the famous tea master, Sen no Rikyū, had developed a new tea ceremony which formed the origin of modern day sadō (Japanese tea ceremony). Heading into the 18th century (the Edo Period), the process for growing o-cha greatly evolved, allowing it to become popular amongst all people. It was at this time that phrases such as Nichijō sahanji (*1) and O-chanoko saisai (*2) began to be used. These days, our growing concern with our health, the development of plastic bottles and cans and even the increase in recipes using o-cha, has made it popular not only in Japan but all over the world; it really is hard to imagine life without it.
(*1) Nichijō sahanji literally means drinking tea and eating food are everyday actions and is used to express completely normal or everyday occurrences.
(*2) The direct translation of O-chanoko is ‘o-cha’s child’ and is the term used for the sweets served with o-cha. Saisai has no particular meaning but used in folk songs to add melody. O-chanoko saisai translates as ‘you crave the sweets served with o-cha’ but it is used to mean simple or easy, in much the same way as the English phrase ‘a piece of cake’ is used.
Varieties & Classifications of O-cha
Ryoku-cha (green tea), Oolong tea and Black tea are all made using buds picked from the same tea plant. Worldwide, the varieties of tea plant are principally classified into two groups, Chinese tea and Assam tea of which Japanese ryoku-cha is fundamentally categorised as the Chinese variety. There are many types of tea drunk in Japan but most of them fall into the category of ryoku-cha including sencha, hōjicha, gyokuro, genmaicha, and matcha. In China, commonly drunk teas are grouped into 6 classifications; ryoku-cha, shiro-cha (white tea), ki-cha (yellow tea), ao-cha (blue/green tea such as oolong), kō-cha (literally ‘red tea’ but commonly known as black tea) and kuro-cha (literally ‘black tea’, of which pu-erh tea is most common).
The variety of tea the leaves become depends on the level of enzymatic oxidation (known as fermentation in tea production) they undergo; ryoku-cha is tea that has not been fermented. Ao-cha includes Chinese teas such as tetsukannon-cha (Tie Guan Yin tea) and oolong tea and these are partially fermented leaves (a blend of fermented and non-fermented leaves). Kuro-cha is the classification given to teas such as pu-erh tea which is green tea that has been allowed to ferment with bacteria. Kō-cha is the classification given to teas that have been allowed to completely ferment.
This is the most popular tea in Japan. Freshly picked young leaves are steamed and then pan fired to stop fermentation.
Hōjicha is made from teas such as sencha that have been roasted to bring out a rich, toasty aroma. It has less caffeine that other teas and is also not as bitter. Gyokuro: This tea is less astringent or bitter than other varieties and has a rich, slightly sweet flavour. When 2 or 3 buds have opened, the whole tea plant is covered and left without sun for around 20 days which produces its unique flavour.
Roasted genmai (brown or unpolished rice) is added to ryoku-cha to give it a fresh, yet toasty flavour. It has a low caffeine content making it popular for people of all ages.
Matcha is made by using a millstone to grind tea leaves that have been left flat to dry without rolling (known as ten-cha). In addition to being used in tea, matcha is also popular in things such as sweets, cooking and ice cream.
The Manufacturing Process of Sencha
Even though sencha is made using the most common manufacturing process of steaming and rolling, its flavour, aroma and colour are all influenced by the length of steaming and then the repeated rolling it undergoes. Sencha is called by different names depending on the length of time the leaves are steamed; from shortest to longest they are asamushi (light steam), chūmushi (medium steam), fukamushi (deep steam), tokujōmushi (extra deep steam). The varying length of steaming time changes the flavour of the tea; the shorter it is the more clean-cut flavour, stronger aroma and clearer the tea produced. The longer they are steamed the stronger the flavour and deeper green colour the tea becomes.
Ryoku-cha has many benefits for our health. The main constituent of tea’s astringent flavour is the catechin which works not only to reduce high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels in our blood, but also as an antioxidant, eliminating the ‘reactive oxygen species’ which are believed to accelerate the aging process. It has also shown to be effective in preventing against tooth decay and influenza due to its antibacterial properties (gargling o-cha is effective in stopping the influenza virus from entering the body), reducing the accumulation of internal body fat by preventing fat absorption, as well as being believed to assist in preventing cancer. In addition to all this, o-cha contains theanine (a type of amino acid) which assists our bodies to relax and its fragrance works in the same way as aromatherapy. O-cha is great for our bodies and our minds; it really is a super healthy drink!
How to make delicious sencha
① Get yourself a small kyūsu (Japanese teapot) and yunomi (Japanese teacup).
② Bring some water to the boil and let it cool slightly so that it is around 80℃ and poor it into the yunomi. Then pour it from the yunomi into the kyūsu.
③ Next, pour the water from the kyūsu into a yuzamashi (a bowl used to cool the water) and add two teaspoons of tea leaves to the kyūsu.
④ Pour in the water from the yuzamashi (about 60 to 90cc at about 70 to 80℃).
⑤ Let it stand for between 90 and 120 seconds.
⑥ Pour out the tea to the very last drop. (You can use the same leaves to prepare more tea. From the second pouring, use slightly hotter water and don’t let it stand for as long.)
Storing tea leaves
O-cha is very delicate. Once opened, keep it in an airtight container in a cool, dark place, and it is best to use it all up within 2 to four weeks.
It is believed that hard water is best to make good black tea, however for ryoku-cha it is generally best to use soft water (it is believed that it is difficult to dissolve the elements of ryoku-cha in hard water). Adelaide’s water is generally quite hard; however you can buy soft mineral water at the supermarket as well as water purifiers that regulate the water’s hardness.
―The Soul of O-cha・Sen no Rikyū―
Sen no Rikyū is believed to be responsible for the refined culture surrounding o-cha. He is the founder of the Senke-ryū faction of sadō (green tea ceremony), and he taught the belief that ‘upon entering a tearoom, a person’s status no longer exists. In the microcosm that is the tearoom all are equal’ and preached ‘shiki shichisoku’.
Shiki (the four rules) refers to:
1. Wa (peace)... Treat each other in a friendly manner.
2. Kei (respect)... Respect each other. 3. Kiyoshi (purity)... Don’t just keep your body clean, keep your heart pure. 4. Jaku (tranquillity)... Always remain adamant.
Shichisoku (the seven teachings) expresses the attitude we should hold when we are with other people; act from the heart, see the truth, appreciate the seasons, cherish life, ensure you always have enough, hold an open heart, and value each other.
Drink o-cha and become more wholesome and peaceful!
Photography assistance: LITTLE TOKYO