Thursday, June 8, 2017

Tea Review: Purple Mint (JusTea)

Purple Mint
JusTea/Tumoi Teas
Type: Purple
Origin: Kenya
Product Description: A cup of Purple Mint is sweet and refreshing. Invigorating mint leaves are beautifully balanced with delicate rose petals and smooth purple tea.

Temperature: 175° F
Amount: 2 grams
Steeping Time: 3 minutes

The dry leaves are a blend of Kenyan purple tea, peppermint, spearmint, and rose.

The golden infusion has a minty aroma with light notes of rose.  The taste is smooth, minty, and cool with a faint note of rose at the end and a long minty finish.

Because a little goes a long way with peppermint, I only used 2 grams (a little over 1 teaspoon) of leaves which produced the ideal strength in flavor to suit my tastes.  By the third steeping, the flavor had mellowed and the rose aroma had moved to the front.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

East-West Chanoyu Center at Sakura Con 2017

East-West Chanoyu Center presented tea ceremony demonstrations throughout the weekend at Sakura Con this year.  This event is very popular, so I arrived early to secure a seat.

Timothy Sowa Olson provided narration for the tea ceremony.  The host (Teishu) was Ko Shimizu with Bonnie Soshin Olson, founding director of East-West Chanoyu Center, as the main guest (Shokyaku) and Akemi Edwards as second guest (Kyaku).  The scroll read "Wakei Seijaku" which are the principles of tea.  "Wa" is harmony, "Kei" is respect, "Sei" is purity, and "Jaku" is tranquility.  These principles may be understood as harmony through fellowship, respect through awareness, purity through sincerity, and tranquility through gratitude.

The event opened with an explanation of the history and philosophy of tea ceremony which Timothy describes as waking to what is within yourself.  He also shared a beautiful poem by Wu-men.
Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.
We learned that tea gardens are green without the distraction of colorful flowers.  Water is sprinkled over the garden to give it a fresh, dewy, and inviting appearance.  The traditional teahouse is modeled after the modest huts with thatch roofs and mud walls where scholars would retire to study.  The music of the tearoom is in the gliding steps on tatami, water heating in the kettle, and the pouring of water.  Some long-time practitioners can distinguish between the sounds of hot and cold water being poured into the kettle.

There are two seasons in tea ceremony, warm months (summer) when the kettle is heated over a furo (brasier)  and cold months (winter) when the kettle is heated in a ro (sunken hearth).  Shapes, patterns, imagery, and texture within the tea room indicate the season, alongside the floral display and incense.  Each chawan (tea bowl) is unique and selected for the feeling of the moment.  The chawan for this demonstration featured a camellia and the sweet was Cherry Blossom Haze, having the appearance of cherry blossoms viewed through the morning mist.

There are over one hundred temae (forms) studied in Urasenke.  How the fukusa (silk cloth) is folded is specific to the tea school.  Titles for tea ceremony practitioners are made up partially from the name of your teacher and partially something of yourself, so Timothy's title is "So" from the family name of the Urasenke Grandmaster and "Wa" for harmony.

Following the demonstration, tea and sweets were served to the audience.  The matcha used in the tea ceremony was Jyoraku from My Green Tea.

If you're interested in learning more about tea ceremony in Seattle, tea rooms include East-West Chanoyu Center in Hawthorne Hills, Shoseian in the Seattle Japanese Garden, and Ryokusuian, a 3-mat teahouse in the Seattle Art Museum.

Tea Review: Purple Leaf Tea 2017 (JusTea/Tumoi Teas)

Purple Leaf Tea (2017)
JusTea/Tumoi Teas
Type: Purple
Origin: KenyaProduct Description: Make room Green, Black and Oolong, because Purple Tea is here! This is an exciting brand new category of tea. The reason it is called Purple Leaf Tea is because purple leaves naturally grow this colour on the tea bush (see picture on left)! This is not a gmo plant, it is completely natural and part of the tea family (Camellia Sinensis Assamica). The reason the leaves are purple is because they contain the super antioxidants: Anthocyanins. These are the same antioxidants that make other plants purple: like our favourite grapes, blueberries, pomegranates, and acai berries. Learn more here.

Purple Leaf Tea is also a colour changing tea… squeeze a couple drops of lemon into your tea cup and watch the purple colour intensify. Be the first to try this beautiful new tea!

Temperature: 175° F
Amount: 3 grams
Steeping Time: 3 minutes

The dry leaves have an aroma of warm hay, wood, and dried nut shells.

The light purple-grey infusion has a savory sweet aroma of yams and rice starch. The taste is mellow with low astringency and notes of root vegetables like yam and grains with a savory finish.

This tea is forgiving, so longer steepings would be fine. It also tasted nice as a cold brew, though I recommend steeping no longer than 6 hours because it will get considerably bolder beyond that time. The color of the cold brew had a natural pink blush to it and adding citrus didn't seem to deepen that color.

I previously reviewed a 2016 Purple Leaf Tea from Tumoi Teas and I couldn't pass up an opportunity to review and compare with this year's harvest. Most notably, the flavor of the 2017 tea tended more savory while the previous year tended more rich. Both were equally mellow and flavorful.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Seattle Cherry Blossom Festival 2017

Seattle's 42nd Annual Cherry Blossom & Japanese Cultural Festival took place April 21st through 23rd at Seattle Center. The festival features live music and dance performances, arts and crafts workshops, tea ceremony and martial arts demonstrations, and delicious food and drink to enjoy throughout each day. I attended the final day of the festival when most of the dance performances were scheduled.

Fujima Rankoh

We were fortunate to have two performances by special guest Fujima Rankoh, a renowned dancer with the Fujima School of traditional Japanese dance.  Seattle was one of the stops on his four month US tour which included the Nihon Buyo lecture and demonstration that I attended just a few days prior.
The morning performance was Yamagaeri (Returning from a Pilgrimage to Mt. Oyama), a kabuki dance where a young fireman describes his adventures during a pilgrimage to Mt. Oyama.

Kabuki Academy

Kabuki Academy perfomed traditional Japanese dance and shamisen music, including a traditional nagauta piece, Oimatsu, Kesenai Tsumi (Full Metal Alchemist end theme), History Maker (Yuri on Ice opening theme), and You Only Live Once (Yuri On Ice end theme).

Kabuki Academy Director, Mary Ohno introduced each performance.

Sakura, Sakura performed by Mirai, Yukiko, and Miya - This traditional song describes springtime and cherry blossoms, appropriate to the Cherry Blossom Festival theme.

Aoyagi performed by Hanaka - In this dance, a mature geisha wistfully recalls the young love they had to leave behind.

Warabe Jishi performed by Akina - A young maiden performing a lion dance is overtaken by the spirit of a lion.

Kabuki Academy's performance concluded with everyone taking the stage for a dance followed by the traditional Tejime, a ceremonial 3-3-3-1 hand-clapping where everyone is encouraged to join in to end the performance on a high note.

Tea Ceremony by Chanoyu Seattle

Narration for this tea ceremony demonstration was provided by Kayo Nakamoto. The host (Teishu) was Kyoko Matsuda, Omotesenke-ryu tea ceremony teacher with Chanoyu Seattle and the assistant (Hanto) was Mitsuko Tooyama. The main guest (Shokyaku) was Naomi Okubo with second and third guests (Kyaku) Hana and Sora Okubo.

The scroll reads "Wakei Seijaku" which translates to harmony, respect, purity, and tranquility.

Following the tea ceremony, audience members were invited to take on the role of guests and have matcha prepared for them.

If you would like an opportunity to see Omotesenke tea ceremony, demonstrations are held monthly at the Seattle Art Museum (call to verify which dates are Omotesenke and which are Urasenke) and at the Seattle Japanese Garden.

Tea Review: Black Tea with Mandarin Orange (Teas Unique)

Black Tea with Mandarin Orange
Teas Unique
Type: Yellow
Origin: South Korea, Jeju Island, Mt. Halla
Product Description: This first flush (earliest spring growth) whole leaf green tea was machine harvested around Ipha (the first day of the summer season), then steam heated, rolled and dry roasted. Selecting only the bud and two leaves from the harvested material, this USDA certified organic tea is similar in quality to handpicked sejak (small beak) jaksul (sparrow’s beak) nokcha (green tea). Added to the processed green tea are dried organic Jeju Island mandarin orange skins, harvested the prior December. This single estate tea comes from the fertile volcanic soil of the cool eastern slope of Mt. Halla on Jeju Island, located off Korea’s southern coast.

Temperature: 195° F
Amount: 3 grams
Steeping Time: 2 minutes

The dry leavs have an aroma of aged wood, citrus, and oats.

The copper-red infusion has a rich aroma of citrus and roasted nut shells, reminiscent of roasted green tea.  The taste is a sweet and mellow citrus with a long citrus finish.

Following the packaging recommendation of a lower temperature and steeping time than I would usually prefer with black tea, I was very pleasantly surprised by the results which were refreshing, mellow, and sweet.  There's not much to be found in a second steeping, though it's certainly not flat.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Tea Review: Joongjak Hwang Cha (Teas Unique)

Joongjak Hwang Cha 3rd Flush 
Teas Unique
Type: Yellow
Origin: South Korea, Mt. Jiri
Product Description: This Mt. Jiri Joongjak Hwang Cha (lightly oxidized Red Tea) was hand just before Ipha (beginning of the summer season) and is a flavorful, sweet and nutty Jaksul (hand picked artisan tea).

Temperature: 195° F
Amount: 3 grams
Steeping Time: 2 minutes

The dry leaves have a bold floral and aged wood aroma.

The copper-red infusion has a sweet, baked fruit, and green vine aroma.  The taste is sweet and mellow with a hint of baked fruit, snow peas, caramelized sugar and a long, sweet finish.

This was one of the more dessert-like teas I've enjoyed, being sweet and mellow throughout.  Two infusions seemed to be ideal.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Nihon Buyo: Japanese Dance Brought to Life

On April 20th, I had the opportunity to attend the Nihon Buyo lecture and performance hosted by the University of Washington and featuring Fujima Rankoh and Mark Oshima.

Fujima Rankoh is a renowned dancer with the Fujima School of classical dance.  He began studying dance at age 5, debuted on stage at age 6, and received the professional title of Fujima Rankoh at age 16.  He has also studied nagauta music (Kineya), noh (Komparu), tea ceremony (Urasenke), and Hayashi accompaniment music for which he received the professional title of Kiyoshi Tosha.

Mark Oshima is a kabuki researcher, author, and translator.  He has received the professional title of Fujima Toyoaki with Fujima School of classical dance and Kiyomoto Shimadayu with Kiyomoto School of music.  In addition to performing on stage as a kabuki singer, his work includes providing translation for the Kabuki-za and National Theatre English Language devices and for NHK World's Kabuki Kool program.

The event began with a brief welcome and introduction by Ken Tadashi Oshima (Architecure professor, UW Japan Studies Program chair).  Mark Oshima provided a a detailed overview of nihon buyo (classical Japanese dance) accompanied by performances of two dances by Fujima Rankoh.

The term "nihon buyo" was invented relatively recently in the 19th century to encompass traditional dance forms including mai (circling dances like noh), jiuta-mai (dances performed by geisha and maiko), and odori (high-stepping dances like Bon Odori).  Nihon, as you may know, refers to Japan and buyo is a combination of the characters for mai (舞, also pronounced "bu") and odori (踊, also pronounced "yō").  Over half of nihon buyo is kabuki buyo.  It's interesting to note that, though women do not perform on the kabuki stage, most buyo performers are women.

The first performance was Yamagaeri (Returning from a Pilgrimage to Mt. Oyama), a kabuki dance accompanied by Kiyomoto narrative music and performed with full costume, makeup, and props.  The setting is Mt. Oyama near Edo, a popular site for pilgrimages which often doubled as an excuse to get away and play.  This dance centers around a young fireman describing his visit and brief romantic encounter.

Utamono is lyrical music like Nagauta.  Kutarimono is narrative music like Kiyomoto.  Japanese music must be sung in Japanese due to the distinct syllables.  "A" and "aa" are two different words, so a fushi or joint is added to lengthen.  It's understood that the fushi has no meaning and is just music. Utamono is word based with melodies and rhythm.  Kutarimono is entirely word-based and is difficult to dance to.  The moves and music aren't in measures, so live dancers and musicians must interact on stage.  Mark performed a Kutarimono piece with shamisen.

The second dance was Miyakodori (Capital Birds), a su odori performed in formal kimono with no makeup and only a fan as a prop.  This is a piece composed by Tomeiryu founder, Hiraoka Ginshu, a famous engineer who came to America to study trains and created Tomeiryu by altering and refining shamisen, creating traditional music suited to the refinements.  The title of the piece is a reference to poet Ariwara no Narihira who, while crossing the Sumida river during his exile from Kyoto to Tokyo, spotted white birds flying overhead and named them "miyakodori" (birds from Kyoto).  Along with the Sumida river, they have become a symbol of longing for someone who isn't there.  Though this specific dance does not have a story behind it, there is a famous Noh play about a woman slowly going mad as she tries to find her kidnapped son.  She sees the white birds and thinks of the poet, then hears the story of a boy dying while traveling with slave traders and realizes this must have been her son.  As she prays, she thinks she hears her son's voice in the cries of the birds and sees him in the swaying of a willow tree.

The event concluded with a Q&A.  Mark, with demonstrations by Rankoh, explained how movements in nihon buyo such as rocking can indicate being on a small boat and how a fan take the place of many props, being pulled like and oar or held like a pipe.

If you happen to be in Portland on May 30th, PSU will hold their spring kabuki production of The Castle Tower and The Puppeteer, both entirely in English and featuring music by Mark Oshima.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Tea Review: Boseong Sejak Hwang Cha (Teas Unique)

Boseong Sejak Hwang Cha 2nd Flush 
Teas Unique
Type: Yellow
Origin: South Korea, Boseong
Product Description: This Boseong Sejak (Second Pluck) Hwang Cha is hand harvested around 20 April. The tender young leaves are then lightly oxidized and roasted for a rich and smooth taste.

Temperature: 195° F
Amount: 3 grams
Steeping Time: 2 minutes

The dry leaves have an aroma of wheat, oats, flowers, and wood.

The orange-amber infusion has a sweet and lightly savory aroma of persimmons, honey, oats, and vine.  The taste has notes of baked fruit, snow peas, rice, and a hint of honey.

There was no notable astringency throughout three infusions.  The color became redder with a second infusion with no notable change in flavor.  The third infusion was significantly lighter in flavor, though not flat, so a longer steeping time may would likely produce more flavor.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Tea Review: Boseong & Mt. Jiri Sejak (Teas Unique)

Following are reviews for Sejak from two unique growing regions in South Korea with a brief comparison at the end.

Boseong Sejak 2nd Flush 
Teas Unique
Type: Green
Origin: South Korea, Boseong
Product Description: This Boseong Sejak green tea is hand harvested during the period between Gookwoo (the first spring rain) and Ipha (the first day of summer). The tender young leaves are then steamed to prevent any oxidation, thereby maintaining the distinctive color and taste of the late spring harvest.

Temperature: 175° F
Amount: 3 grams
Steeping Time: 2 minutes

The dry leaves have a rich aroma of sun-warmed fresh-cut grass and butter.

The pale jade infusion has a rich aroma of buttery macadamia nuts and fresh-cut green grass.  The taste is smooth, rich, nutty, and green with a sweet, nutty, green finish.

While the first steeping was only mildly astringent, the second steeping more than makes up for that with a brisk astringency that could be easily reduced with a shorter steeping.  The third steeping had mild-to-moderate astringency and produced enough flavor and aroma that I would expect at least two more pleasant infusions.

Mt. Jiri Sejak 2nd Flush
Teas Unique
Type: Green
Origin: South Korea, Mt. Jiri
Product Description: This Mt. Jiri Sejak green tea is hand harvested just before Gookwoo (the first spring rain). The tender young leaves are then hand pan fired in the traditional manner to prevent any oxidation, thereby maintaining the distinctive color and taste of the early spring harvest.

Temperature: 175° F
Amount: 3 grams
Steeping Time: 2 minutes

The dry leaves have a rich aroma of nuts, oats, wheat, and sweet green grass.

The bright yellow-green infusion has a mild, sweet, nutty, and green aroma with a hint of nori.  The taste is sweet, green, and nutty with mild astringency and a long green finish.

Throughout three infusions, the taste was mild and sweet with mild astringency, developing a hint of sesame by the third infusion.

Both teas were harvested in April 2016.  The Boseong Sejak had a slightly greener liquor, bold and lively flavor and astringency, and the greenness in the aroma reminded me of cut grass piled and warming in the sun.  The Mt. Jiri Sejak had a slightly darker liquor with milder aroma and flavor, no need to adjust steeping temperature or time for astringency, and the greenness in the aroma reminded me of springtime grass before it's been cut.  Both teas were equally enjoyable for distinctly different reasons.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Upcoming Event: Wuyi Oolong Tasting (World of Tea Series)

Northwest Tea Festival will host a tea and food tasting event as part of the World of Tea Series on Saturday, May 20th.  

Hosted by Andrew Goodman (The Happy Tea Man)

The May World of Tea event will be a tasting of at least 5 Wuyi Oolongs, presented by The Happy Tea Man, Andrew Goodman. The teas will include familiar teas and lesser known teas, ranging in cost from $4/oz. to $25/oz., which will provide a broad overview of this wonderful category of teas.
Date: Saturday, May 20, 2017
Time: 10:00 am -12:00 pm
Location: Rainier Arts Center, 3515 South Alaska Street
Seattle, WA 98118
Price: $20
Reservations recommended.  Limited to 12 participants