“Green Tea Tasting” makes a surprising fun gathering
One Thursday afternoon, we decided to do a tea tasting party. It was March—typical spring moody day and it was too cold for flower viewing—a perfect day to play with tea in a cozy warm room.
I had four guests, who are intelligent and sophisticated with world experiences. We were fortunate to start our party with beautiful, soothing sound of a Piano performance, an original tune, thanks to our talented guest.
Before my guests arrived, I had cups and utensils on the table. The black round tray is one of the typical tools used during “Bon-Geiko (tea ceremony training)”, and to my eyes, they set the “tea ceremonial” atmosphere.
On each tray, I put 2 cups, one for ‘straight’ green tea, the other for ‘toasty or roasty’ flavored green tea, a glass to enjoy cold brew green tea, and a matcha bowl.
The hot water dispenser set for 149F. It is ideal to use the right water temperature to obtain the best taste, even though you can alter steeping time according to the water temperature.
You could set the temperature higher, such as 180F. When you would like to use cooler water, pour hot water to a clean empty cup which will cool the water and use the water to steep tea.
I chose authentic SEI MEE TEA Japanese teas to taste:
Sweets are indispensable and a big part of entertaining guests for Japanese tea ceremony. I had prepared “Genmaicha Matcha Chocolate”, “Shortbread cookies coated with Matcha Chocolate”, “Coconut flavored wafers coated with Matcha Chocolate”.
I chose Matcha as the first tea to taste because its preparation makes a perfect initiation ceremony to start off this exploration.
Matcha is grown in shade and limited sun exposure increases Chlorophyll, green color pigment. The longer it’s grown in shade, the brighter the color becomes. We used UJI Matcha, which I call “tea master grade.” It tastes smooth and is rich in Umami. Its bright and rich green color wowed the guests. When you whisk up a froth, the jade green color becomes creamy, pastel green. This matcha was the most popular tea among our guests. “I particularly enjoyed the smooth taste of Uji Matcha, and learned how to ‘let go’ while using the bamboo whisk.” The silky foam made with tiny even bubbles adds a wonderful texture to the rich taste of matcha, and it was another wow moment: “The last sip with froth was amazing.”
Pairing suggestions: Shortbread cookie / Smoked gouda cheese
Gyokuro is another shade grown tea—which means the tea is rich in effect of “Calm Alertness”. Offer guests a chance to enjoy the smell of the loose leaves, and then offer the steeped tea. Brew the first cup of tea with low temperature and brew slowly—2 to 3 minutes.
Pairing suggestion for Gyokuro: Swiss cheese with water cracker / Shrimp cocktail
Kukicha comes after Gyokuro, as it makes a great contrast in flavor. Kukicha is made with stems, which contain less “bitter” substances and it makes a naturally sweeter, mellow green tea. You could use warmer temperature and steep for a shorter time. But I prefer steeping slowly, like 2 minutes, with lower temperature water.
Pairing suggestions: Soft Mochi / Creamy Emmental cheese with herb cracker / Cucumber sandwich made with buttered white bread
Genmaicha is a blend made with brown rice and sencha green tea. Brown rice is toasted and some grains are popped. These are white and called “hana (flower)” in Japanese. Hot temperature brew makes the best toasty flavor. Our Genmaicha2 is made with Genmaicha leaf and Genmaicha powder, and it offers the richest flavor of pure Genmaicha.
Pairing suggestions: Dark chocolate / Cheddar cheese with buttery cracker
Hojicha is roasted green tea—it doesn’t look and smell like green tea. When I offer the sample of this “brown” green tea to people, many of them ask me if this was really made with the same bush as green tea. My favorite memory of Hojicha is when I visited “The Tale of Genji Museum” in Uji, Japan. There were many tea shops and they were roasting teas in front of the stores, filling up the town with fragrant roasting aroma. Roasting process is simple but adds wonders: Number 1—it decreases the amount of Caffeine in tea leaves. Number 2—The roasted aroma increases alpha wave in the brain—so if you feel relaxed with hojicha, it is not your imagination.
Pairing suggestions: Rich white chocolate / Creamy, rich blue cheese with water cracker
Sencha is the most popular Japanese green tea—it was made with steaming process, which characterizes its flavor, freshness, and nutrition in tea leaves. “Fukamushi” means “steamed longer”—and it makes richer flavor than regular Sencha.
I brew this tea cold—cold brew makes “Umami” rich green tea. Cold, refreshing, yet rich in Umami. But it’s not like a sweet beverage that will cause a flavor clash with food. I chose this cold brew tea to finish up the tea tasting. It was served in a pitcher and our guests were helping themselves, while enjoying an animated and extended conversation.
Pairing suggestions: Grilled meat / Roasted veggies & mushrooms / Soft rich camembert cheese
These teas are all made from the same plant: Camelia Sinensis. Each one of them offers unique, rich character, which stimulates lively conversation. Here are what our guests said:
The combined experience of a formal setting, various green tea baked treats, the calming energetic affect of our subject matter, an informative and passionate host, and an amazing array of Japanese green tea led to an experience that was richer than the sum of its parts.
Tea takes conversation: Discussing tea, looking at pottery, and sharing stories—from how we got here to the versatility of tea, and where we’ll go next.
Who knew that tea and cheese complement one another? Give it a shot.