WOW That Was Good - Chado Newsletter December 2023
Happy New Year
Welcome to the last Chado newsletter for 2023.
We usually start with the weather in Vancouver. We suspect today, there are more people golfing than whooshing around on skis and snowboards. There is a distinct lack of snow in the mountains, but we are sure it is coming,
We hope you are enjoying the holiday season and you are enjoying a bit of relaxation before 2024 starts.
It has been an interesting year at Chado Tea House. Between the people that work here, there have been quite a few trips to Japan. We have a mix of seasoned travelers to newbies, Japanese speakers to anglophones.
We learned a few things that will come in handy if you decide to visit Japan in 2024:
Get a Japanese Rail Pass – the best bargain going. Trains in Japan have a well-earned reputation for being the best in the world. One warning about trains is the dreaded train-split. This is where you get on board an 8-carriage train headed for your destination, only for the first or last four carriages to separate halfway through the journey. If you are on the wrong portion, you are headed for somewhere else! This happens quite often in Japan; we know several of us have been panicked, wide-eyed visitors trying to figure out what is happening. Usually, good warnings ahead of time are given when this happens, and most trains now announce in several languages, so it has mostly been ok for us, but it can get the heart pumping.
Have a smartphone with a good data package. Canada is a very expensive place to have a cell phone, so this one is an obsession with us that may well not be such a big deal if you are somewhere where cell phone plans are cheaper. We always get a Japanese SIM card for data services while in Japan rather than using a roaming service from our Canadian provider. They are available at many airports and railway stations in Japan, or even before you go via various online stores - Amazon sells them also.
In Japan, they speak Japanese - don't be put off visiting if you don't. It is perfectly possible to get where you want to get to, do what you want to do and eat all kinds of great food without being able to speak Japanese. The smartphone, with the likes of Google Translate and the mapping systems, now makes life so much easier if you do not speak the language and is one of the reasons to get a generous data plan.
Trains are great in Japan but don't forget buses. In rural areas taking the bus can be an adventure in itself and is usually good value. Be aware that some buses charge before you get on by way of a pre-purchased ticket, some when you first get on board, others whilst on board during the journey, and some don't charge until you get off! It's all part of the adventure.
If you get the chance, visit a tea farm – many farms offer escorted visits to the farms and processing plants, and it is a fun way to spend a day or so if you have the opportunity.
Gyokuro - Jade Dew
Last month, we talked about Matcha.
Matcha is a ground form of Japanese green tea that has been shaded before harvest.
Gyokuro is another shaded green tea. Gyokuro is grown in the spring, and many consider it to be the greatest Japanese tea.
The shading process, which for Gyokuro is usually 20 days, is used to protect the tea from direct sunlight as it grows. The effect of the shading means that plants have more chlorophyll and amino acids when they are harvested. One of the most prominent amino acids that are contained in Gyokuro, Matcha and other shaded teas is L-Theanine. L-Theanine only makes up for about 1 % of tea by weight, but it is this substance that provides the shaded teas with their distinct umami flavor. It also adds to the sweetness of the teas, particularly the sweet aftertaste.
Gyokuro is a loose-leaf tea. The tea leaves have a very intense green color before brewing; this is caused by the extra production of chlorophyll noted above; prepared Gyokuro tends to have a pale yellow color when brewed; the pale color is indicative of a shorter steaming time than teas like Sencha.
We have two teas we would like to tempt you with this month; both are fine examples of Gyokuro tea.
We carry a number of Gyokuro teas, and this one is very popular among our customers.
This is a classic Japanese Gyokuro Green Tea from Yame, Fukuoka Prefecture.
The vibrant green colors of the leaves, the aroma, the pale yellow liquor, and the subtle, umami-rich taste are all there to enjoy.
The skilled tea maker has blended three tea varieties, Yabukita, Yamakai and Sae-Midori. Each type brings its unique profile, and when blended by the skilled hands of the producer, the result is the creation of this excellent Gyokuro tea.
Gyokuro is a delicate tea, so please follow the guidelines on the product pages regarding temperature and brewing time. Brewing the tea at too high a temperature really adversely affects these delicate teas. One can even brew this tea on ice overnight in the refrigerator; simply add 5g of tea to a glass, add three ice cubes, and leave it in the refrigerator - once the ice has melted, it is ready to enjoy.
On Christmas day, I had a Zoom call with my relatives; my niece was there with her five-year-old son - Jacob. Now, Jacob is not the easiest child to please, especially when it comes to food - fish fingers are his go-to, and getting him to eat anything else drives my niece to distraction. We had sent over some of this tea as a gift, and my sister prepared it in ice as above. The assembled family tried the tea, and when it got to Jacob to have a sip, I was not expecting a great reaction - WOW, that's good - was his response, which is high praise indeed from him!
So, with Jacob's blessing, you may like to try it.
Gyokuro Kukicha Karigane Stem Tea
This is an interesting tea.
As mentioned, Gyokuro is a high-quality tea.
Normally, only the choicest leaves of the spring harvest are used to prepare Gyokuro. The plants have been pampered by shading; occasionally, hand-picking is employed to get only the best. As a result, only the leaves are typically used in Gyokuro tea production. This is a Gyokuro tea of type kukicha - meaning that the leaves and stems are used in the final product - not just the leaves.
This tea has the smooth umami taste of its gyokuro leaves and has the added rustic undertones by the addition of the stems.
This is a lightly steamed tea from the Yame region and is a blend of two cultivars, Yabukita and Okumidori, which also add to its complex flavor.
Back to Christmas for a minute
Christmas is celebrated in Japan but is a bit different to what we are used to in Canada.
Christmas Day and Christmas Eve are celebrations typically aimed at couples. Christmas Eve is considered the most romantic day of the year in Japan and one of the hardest days to get a dinner reservation.
In Canada, some people continue with the tradition of Christmas Cake. To make a traditional Christmas cake, one needs to start in September. A Christmas cake is a dense, heavy, dried fruit cake that is soaked in alcohol. It is made three months before it is due to be eaten and stored in a dark cupboard; every two weeks, it is taken out, soaked in more alcohol to keep it 'moist,' and then hidden again.
It is a whole different story in Japan, though – Japanese Christmas Cake is a light sponge cake covered in whipped cream and decorated with strawberries.
As always, we strive to be absolutely unbiased at Chado Tea House. If you are a fan of traditional Christmas cake, then go for it; only because we are involved in Japanese culinary pursuits will we go for the other one.
A bigger celebration in Japan is New Year's Day. New Year's Day is when the whole family gets together, and the kids get 'Otoshidama.' Otoshidama is a gift of money. Typically, children receive these gifts from adult family members. The money is gifted in special envelopes called “pochi-bukuro” – some of these pochi-bukuro are very ornate, but the kids tend to be more interested in what is inside.
We hope you are enjoying the holiday season and are looking forward to 2024. We have lined up some new teas for next year and look forward to bringing them to you. All the best for 2024 from the Chado Tea House Team (in Sunny Vancouver)