How to make and drink Japanese Green Tea

Joi's flicr stream showing a japanese tea setup

I remember drinking green tea in my home country. It came from a tea bag and had a light pleasant taste. It went very well with lemon. On arriving in Japan it immediately became apparent that this is not green tea, not as the Japanese know it anyway. Japan has many different varieties of tea and many different types of green tea. The big one is macha. You may have heard of the Japanese Tea Ceremony well this is what it’s centred around.

Macha is vivid green and slightly thick. It tastes of fresh cut grass and raw caffeine (I’m pretty sure it’s extremely high in anti-oxidants as well because you consume much more of the tea leaf – take that cancer!). Generally you drink the tea from a bowl. It is used as flavour in many things in Japan – latte’s, ice cream, kit-kats, bread and anything you could conceive of being able to have the flavour of tea.

Macha is not directly made from tea leaves either. It’s made from powdered tea leaves. It is not fermented like black tea so you get all the anti-oxidants and caffine. These form a bright green powder and even a small jar can be extremely expensive. It’s depends on the quality of the leaves. I bought about 120 grams of leaves for 4000yen from Japanese Green Tea shop.

The Tea Ceremony (sometimes translated as Tea Cult) is called sado or cha-no-yu. It’s a traditional way of drinking tea that is extremely formalized and has a strict set of rules. The rules of the ceremony concern the way the tea is served by the host. The guest also has to accept the tea in a certain way. The host is suppose to serve the tea in an entirely selfless way. (Whatever that means! How do you selfish served tea? Let the guest have a little sip then snatch it back and finish the rest off?) Anyway this selflessness is tied up with Zen Buddhism and Bushido (The way of warrior! surprising if you didn’t already know it. They like flower arranging too!)


flickr image of matcha powder on ::Photo's::'s stream
You have the powdered leaves and a modest sized bowl. Usually there will be wooden spoon that resembles a stick. This is used for measuring the powdered tea leaves. Generally you want one stick-scoops worth. Along with the spoon is a bamboo brush that’s looks a little like a dwarf egg whisk. It’s a flexible and delicate brush when not it use it’s often stored by pushing it around a ceramic holder. (So all the “wires” of the whisk keep their shape.)

In the bowl you add one and half to two grams of powdered tea.

Then boiled water is added. This creates a watery greenish mixture.

At this point you stir the mixture with the bamboo brush until it begins to foam and become thick with bubbles. This should take less than a minute.

The tea is optionally strained and then served.

Serving the tea

Usually the tea will be served while everyone’s sitting on Japanese style tatami mat. (That means no shoes you filthy western foreigner) You may also be expected to be sat in the seiza position – sitting on the front of your knees so you bottom is next to your ankles. The host will bow and with both hands give the guest the tea. The guest bows (we’re talking a small nod here, not getting back up to a standing position and doing a full forehead to the floor bow) and takes the tea with both hands.

The guest will usually be given a small cake too. It’s to be tasted after the first sip of green tea. First the guest must rotate the bowl, so the far side of the rim becomes the near side. This is done with both hands. Then with both hands it’s brought to the mouth and you can sip the full grass flavour of the tea.

Now you may taste your cake. It will undoubtedly be awful. Probably made of sweetened bean paste but the rules of etiquette are probably pretty insistent that you look like you’re enjoying it.

Continue to sip the tea with both hands until you’re done. Usually there will be some small chit-chat between you and the host while you drink. The host will not drink – perhaps this is why it’s so selfless?

You can now survive a tea ceremony with style and if you chance upon the implements you might even be able to have a go at hosting one!
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