May 26, 2016

Four Types of Sencha Tea Leaves

It has been almost two years since I first drank orthodox, loose leaf Unro and Hosen senchas. You can read my review of these two Ippodo Tea senchas here. At the beginning of the year I reviewed Ippodo's new line of teabags. One of the teas is a sencha. I also have been drinking bagged green teas from Aiya one of which is a matcha infused sencha. I have not formally reviewed the Aiya teas on the blog but I will say that because it is blended with matcha it has a creamier taste than the Ippodo bagged sencha. Today I am sharing photos of the leaves of these four different types of sencha. All four will be shown in their dry state while only the senchas that were packaged in teabags will be shown in their infused states. You can see the infused states of the Ippodo Tea Hosen and Unro senchas here.

Sencha infused with matcha: dry leaves, 1.80 grams (top); infused leaves in 175F water for 90s (bottom)

Ippodo Tea
Sencha: dry leaves, 2.14 grams (top); infused leaves in 175F water for 90 seconds (bottom)

Ippodo Tea
Sencha: Unro (top); Hosen (bottom)

Aren't the differences striking? Hosen and Unro are grades of sencha with Hosen being "upper mid-grade". Based on the price of a 100g bag of Unro, it is a significantly lower grade of sencha. The Ippodo teabags are filled with mecha. The Ippodo Tea website defines mecha as tea buds. A Wikipedia entry describes mecha as a tea made from rolled buds and the tips of early leaves. Aiya says that its sencha teabags contain early spring tea combined with "stone-ground" matcha.

Whatever your cup of sencha, enjoy!

May 25, 2016

Matcha Tea Ceremony Utensils

Most people enjoy a good matcha latte but I also appreciate usucha or thin tea which I make at home. Koicha or thick tea is not something I make frequently though I guess the first step of preparing a bowl of thin matcha is making a matcha paste that you thin with more hot water. Mutsuko Tokunaga, author of New Tastes in Green Tea, lists four utensils necessary for cha-no-yu or tea ceremony. The tools are chasen or tea whisk, jawan (chawan) or tea bowl, natsume or tea jar, and chashaku or tea scoop. I do not own a natsume but the other three utensils are part of my teaware collection. The description for each utensil is excerpted from Ms. Tokunaga's book.

Chashaku | Tea scoop

"This is a slender tea scoop used to remove tea from the natsume tea jar....Its origins are thought to lie in the similarly shaped medicinal spoons of the Chinese Sung dynasty (1128-1279). With continued used, the bamboo chashaku takes on a beautiful patina and greater character."

Jawan | Chawan | Tea bowl

Two types of tea bowl are used for matcha--the flatter, open shaped bowl for summer and bowl with a thicker lip and vertical walls used in winter." I think my chawan, also a Mizuba Tea Co. purchase, is a winter bowl.

Chasen | Tea Whisk

"The bamboo tea which has a delicate outer circle and a separate inner circle of thin bamboo fronds that work well to blend the water and powdered tea. Sweeping the whisk all around he bowl creates an appealing froth, which also serves to make the tea milder." This chasen was purchased from Mizuba Tea Company. It is my second whisk; my first was a gift from Ippodo Tea.

A sieve is a useful tool for matcha preparation. I left mine, a simple one used in baking, in New York. I have not been using one here in VA but I recently borrowed one from a neighbor.

Do you prepare matcha at home? I wrote about how I prepare matcha here and how usucha is prepared at the Ippodo Tea shop in NYC here. What's in your matcha toolkit?

New Tastes in Green Tea by Mutsuko Tokunaga was provided for review. Stay tuned for more about this Japanese green tea book as I honor Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

May 24, 2016

Book Review: 'Tea with Milk', A Picture Book by Allen Say

Image: Tea with Milk, by Allen Say (c/o
Are you familiar with Allen Say's picture books? The stories are not just for children. I first learned about Allen Say in a round-up of his books written by Danielle Davis of This Picture Book Life. Here's an excerpt from that post,
All Say’s books are rooted in a certain time and place. In specificity. They are beautiful, realistic watercolor paintings accompanying unadorned text. They are straightforward and they always seem true. They have compassion for their characters. They reflect on the past in a way that is satisfyingly bittersweet.

Image: Allen Say (c/o

Since then I have read a few of Say's books; I borrowed them from my local library. One of my favorites is Tea with Milk. I think you could have probably guessed this! I wanted to share the story here because as I noted, I like the book, but also because the book is a lovely story about Japanese American and Japanese culture. May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

The protagonist of Tea with Milk is a girl named Masako. Her parents call her Ma-chan and speak to her in Japanese. "Everyone else called her May and talked with her in English." May lives in San Francisco until she completes high school. Then her homesick parents relocate the family to Japan. No one there calls her May. She no longer eats "pancakes and muffins" or drinks "tea with milk and sugar" at her friends' houses. In Japan she has to attend highs school again where she is considered a foreigner or a "gaijin". She takes flower arranging, calligraphy, and tea ceremony lessons at home. Her mother plays matchmaker. Frustrated with this new way of life, Masako leaves home and travels to Osaka wearing "the brightest dress she had brought from California." She finds employment in a department store in the city but finds it dull. She is offered a new job in the same department store after she helps an English speaking family but for this role she has to wear a kimono. I won't write anymore because the rest of the story is worth you reading on your own. It does involve tea with milk and sugar and another move and the creation of a family.

Image: Image: Tea with Milk, by Allen Say (c/o

One thing I found humorous is the current Japanese green tea, especially matcha, craze in the U.S. juxtaposed against Masako's desire for tea with milk.

Speaking of Japanese green teas, I will share my matcha making tools on the blog tomorrow.

P.S. You can see all of Allen Say's books here.

May 19, 2016

Favorite Tea Ware - Boychik

As a tea drinker, and I am sure this is true for you, I adore teaware, from the bombilla to the whisk (aka chasen). Everyone has their favorites! This series showcases the favorite teaware of folks in the tea blogging community as well as people who enjoy drinking tea. It's a pleasure to share the favorite tea ware of "boychik". After joining Steepster four years ago, boychik's tea preferences changed from Assam/Ceylon/Darjeeling and English Breakfast/Earl Grey to Chinese teas (Puerh, Honcho, Yancha) though currently she's "exploring Taiwanese oolongs". Boychik described tea and teaware as obsessions. The teaware shown in this post have all been featured on her Instagram feed

Jian Shui Kyusu

This kyushu is from Yunnan Sourcing. Jian Shui is excellent for shou (I like it more than Yixing for shou or aged Sheng). It's thick, retains heat well and has a nice pour, no leaks.


This shiboridashi is by Greenwoodstudio on Etsy. It is 80ml. It is perfect for sampling any teas since its glazed inside. The size is convenient, pours quickly, no leaks. It is easy to hold, I prefer shibo to gaiwan. It doesn't burn my fingers. I use it all the time.

Ruyao teacup

This ruyao teacup is from White 2 Tea Co. Thick and heavy, retains heat well, very comfortable to hold, doesn't burn my fingers because of ridges.

Damascus steel pu knife

I got it on Aliexpress, after stubbing myself with pu pics (I have several). While they are okay on loose or medium pressed cake, they don't work on iron cakes. This one is a life and hand saver. I don't sacrifice my blood to pu gods no more!

See another view of this knife here.


I always measure my tea. I have my own parameters and try to stick to them. I'm not good at guessing if I got enough rolled oolong or if this chunk of pu is 10g. If my tea session wasn't great at least I know how much tea I should use next time to make it work.

Thank you Inna for participating in this series. I'll keep my eye on the Greenwoodstudio on Etsy for their shiboridashi offerings. Also, between you and a few other puerh fans, I know to use 10g of the tea! All photos are courtesy of Inna Farber. The text was edited slightly.

Enjoyed this Favorite Tea Ware post? 
Don't miss the next installment. 

May 17, 2016

Tea Cupping - Tasting Two Oriental Beauty Oolongs

One of my early teaware purchases was a 6 oz cupping set. I was inspired to do so after attending a Harney & Sons tea tasting* where professional cupping sets were used. When I prepared by teas in the cupping set, I did not do so with an eye to formally evaluation the smell, taste, and aromatic features of the tea. I liked the ease  the cupping set afforded me in steeping and pouring my. This has changed with my enrollment in a tea education course. I am learning how to use the cupping set like a professional. I literally have a better handle on pouring from the set. Also, I received a 4 oz cupping set as part of my course materials and now I am able to evaluate two types of tea in the same family, for example, two Oriental Beauty oolongs, which are the subject of this post.

Oriental Beauty is a Taiwanese oolong. The oolong is also known as Bai Hao which translates to "white tip" or "white down" and refers to the white bud that is picked alongside the first two leaves in the fine plucking style. The cultivar used to make this oolong is Qing Xin Dapan. (Learn more about tea cultivars here.) One of the Oriental Beauty I tasted is a Reserve style from Te Company and the other is "Formosa Bai Hao" from Adagio Teas. (Formosa is the Portuguese word for beautiful. Although the island was never colonized by Portugal, Portuguese sailors who were stranded on the island in 1544 referred to it as Ilha Formosa and Formosa was used until the end of World War Two.)

Image: Te Company Oriental Beauty Reserve (1st infusion)

I used 4 oz of 195F water in both the 6 oz and 4 oz cups. The Te Company Oriental Beauty Reserve was prepared in the 4 oz cup while the Adagio oolong was infused in the 6 oz cup. The Reserve is always pictured on the left when both oolongs are shown in the same photograph. I infused 2 teaspoons of leaf (recommended amount by both companies) for 3 minutes three times though this review focuses on the first infusion. Below I present my tasting notes of both oolongs using a modified tea assessment and sensory evaluation form.

Te Company - Oriental Beauty ReserveAdagio - Formosa Bai Hao
Dry leaf smell sweet, malted cream sweet, woody
Dry leaf color, shape mix of reddish and dark brown leaves with white/silver grey buds; twisted leaf mix of reddish and dark brown leaves with white/silver grey buds; twisted leaf
First infusion color light amber; clear copper; clear 
First infusion smell floral sweet, woody
First infusion taste sweet, woody, floral, herbal (lavender mint); lingering; smooth; round mouthfeel chocolate, floral, spicy (nutmeg); dry; thick, slightly chewy texture
Infused leaf smell floral, fruity chocolate, dried fruit
Infused leaf color mostly reddish; narrow leaves mostly dark; broad leaves

Image: Adagio Teas Formosa Bai Hao (1st infusion)

The second and third infusions all exhibited the smells, tastes, and aromas listed above. I like both of these oolongs. If you prefer a heavier, woody Oriental Beauty then the Adagio offering is for you. If you like a lighter, floral forward Oriental Beauty then try Te Company's Reserve. I would love to hear your experiences with Oriental Beauty oolongs.

The Formosa Bai Hao was provided for review by Adagio Teas. I won the Te Company Oriental Beatuy Reserve in a Riverbed Books raffle.

* You can read my tasting notes on Harney & Sons white teasChinese and Japanese green teasTaiwanese and Chinese oolongs, and Chinese black and puerh teas.
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