When we discuss Japanese and Chinese green Teas online or in the Tea House we often start by saying that yes, they are from the same 'tea plant' [lets not go into cultivars here] but they are completely different in the way that they are treated after picking. Of course we can discuss the many factors that introduce nuances into the different green teas we all enjoy and love [terroir, cultivar, skill of the tea maker to name but a few...] but when we discuss this topic in the Tea House one of the primary differences we highlight is that Japanese green tea is steamed whilst Chinese green tea is pan fired. This brings many differences in the cup but also results in a tea that requires special preparation in order to get the most from the leaves. With Japanese green tea - as we will touch upon later in this post when discussing temperature - we are looking to bring out balance in the 'bitterness' 'astringency' 'umami' and 'sweetness' of the leaf and although there are many factors involved in this - water temperature, water quality and time to name a few - for those serious about Japanese green Tea we always recommend investing in a Tokoname Teapot. Specifically Tokoname pots :-
1. Have no glaze applied to the inside of the pots
2. Are fired at 1120 - 1140 C
...a combination of characteristics which generates fine bumps and grooves on the surface of the fired pots. This surface is said to absorb the harshness & impurities of the tea - creating a mellow and delicious cup. You will note when you prepare Japanese tea in a Kyusu that if you place your finger over the hole in the lid the tea will cease to pour - a sign of how well fitting the lid is - an important feature in allowing the leaves to steam properly in the pot.
If you would like to understand a little more about why we use different pots for different types of tea and also see some more detailed video and explanation of Tokoname and Tokoname-Ware then please do take a look at this video which we made earlier this year - you can forward to 10m:55s to view the Japanese section.
Lets explore some of the variations in the Tokoname Kyusu we sell :-
The Stainless Steel Mesh Strainer
The Sawayaka strainer is the classic strainer that you find in many of the most popular Kyusu at the Tea House - this is the strainer which is in the Kyusu that we use to serve most of our Japanese green teas. In this type of strainer the edges of the round mesh are bent inwards to ensure that they fit perfectly - this ensures a smooth tea experience with no need for contact with the strainer [as it is inbuilt] The mesh in these Kyusu is extremely fine meaning that these pots are perfect for Sencha, Sencha Fukamushi & Houjicha [both our Uji Houjicha and our High Grade Houjicha]. The Kyusu of this type we stock are below :-
360ml Red Tokoname Kyusu Teapot : A plain red slightly flatter Kyusu
280ml Red Tokoname Flower Kyusu Teapot : Flower patterned slightly taller Kyusu
The Ceramic Flat Strainer
We stock a number of Kyusu with a ceramic flat strainer. This type of strainer is excellent for extracting the aroma of the tea. It also results in less clogging and has excellent quality in the pour. For this reason we recommend these pots for Gyokuro - the highest grade of Japanese tea leaves - where there is an emphasis on Umami and aroma
Within this category there is also the :-
The Hira-Kyusu (Flat Japanese Teapot)
...in which we stock the two colours - the traditional Tokoname 'Red' and in Black. Why choose this teapot? The wide base of the teapot is said to allow the leaves to spread out 'allowing the components of the tea to be extracted more fully'
Kyusu with Cup Strainer
We stock just one kyusu and one 'teapot' with a removable cup strainer - the main draw of this type of pot is the fact that you can easily remove it to discard used tea-leaves. These types of pots are therefore able to be used for other teas beyond just Japanese green teas.
300ml Tokoname Red 'Teapot' with basket strainer
The cooling pitcher
Another tool in the kit for any Japanese tea lover this pitcher is used to adjust the temperature to obtain the best balance of the four flavors of tea : namely its 'bitterness' 'astringency' 'umami' and 'sweetness' as mentioned earlier.
When you pour boiling water into the cooling pitcher the temperature will immediately drop by 10 C. It is then said that it will drop by another 10 C after about a minute - when you pour the water into the Kyusu it will then be the right temperature for making Sencha. Many people vary the temperature of the water for each infusion in order to, for example, enjoy the umami and sweetness in the first pour and the bitterness and astringency in the second. Next time you visit the Tea House do ask Rob to prepare Irie High Grade Sencha using 60 C [3 minutes] ,80 C [2 minutes] and 80C [3 minutes]to emphasise the umami, bitterness and then strength - a preparation he enjoyed on his last trip to Kyoto.
We hope you have found this short guide interesting. As always thanks to our wonderful partners for sharing their knowledge with us so that we, in turn, can share it with you! Have fun exploring our range of pots and we hope you find something you like and that will transform your teatime! Any questions, as always, get in touch! Thanks so much!