Matcha – But Not Traditionally

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Matcha is an interesting and somewhat different type of tea that you may encounter. Derived from Japan, matcha is green tea powder.  Traditionally it has been used in the Japanese Tea Ceremony for years, and continues to be to this day.

In present times the popularity of this tea with the rest of the world has skyrocketed, with matcha being well-distributed amongst many other world-famous teas in both tea houses and markets. However, its current popularity can be seen most clearly at its origin in Japan, which has spawned an entire selection of matcha-related and flavoured products. Matcha has been put into all sorts of things, the least of which is featured below:

Macaroons

Pound Cake

Pancakes

Ice-cream

KitKats

Matcha is very interesting, as you can mix it into just about anything to give the food a different flavour, and not to mention a health boost. If you’ve already discovered the wonders of combining matcha with food, why not tell us what you made, and what you thought of it?

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The Story of Jhentea and its Family History

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Jhentea is a teashop in Taiwan that has a fascinating history, with four generations of tea experts and production in Taiwan, after their ancestors, Hon Chen’s offspring, escaped from Communist China. It began as a small family business cultivating tea in the Fujian Province, with great-great-grandfather Hon Chen – a very well-known and respected tea master within the local community. Chen’s offspring had already expanded small parts of this business in Taiwan when communist rule overcame China, and were fortunate enough to be able to escape there. Their main trade was Wu-Yi tea plants that grew to create beautiful oolong teas. This business grew such that it was able to trade with global customers.

The first tea garden to be owned in Taiwan by the family was bought by Li Chen, Hon Chen’s son. It cost 2 Dragon Dollars (a currency used in China long ago) and was on Taipei’s mountainside. Taiwan’s beautiful climate had made it renowned as a land of new opportunity, and its weather complimented the art of growing tea beautifully. In this tea garden, Wu-Yi and Oolong was cultivated, despite not being native to the region – the climate was still ideal.

Japanese rule became a big problem for many residents in Taiwan, bringing with it waves of hardship and fear. As a result, the family, led by Li’s son, Jeder Chen, moved their production of tea to a different side of Taipei Mountain. They settled in a mountainous region of Yi Lan, and began to plant. A small community had formed in an effort to hide out here, and much effort and community spirit went into helping each other through the hardship.

Jeder had fled to the mountainous region of Yi Lan with Dong Lai Chen, his second wife. It was there they raised 7 children together, however after the true hardship of Japanese rule was over, Jeder Chen returned with his first wife. Dong Lai Chen was left on the plantation and raised her children alone, each learning and doing what they could manage on the plantation. Through her experience and knowledge, Dong Lai became the first female tea master in the region – however as a female, she was forced to work hard to gain a reputation among other tea masters.

Full-production of tea was reassumed after 1942, when the Japanese occupation was nearly over and Chiang Kai-Shek assumed power. Tea had become a valuable trade commodity, and Taiwan’s oolong teas became some of the most highly-regarded all over the world.

Fu Chen, Dong Lai’s eldest daughter, became the major cultivator in the Chen family tea garden, while 4 out of the other 6 siblings became involved in the family’s legacy as well. Fu Chen became the second female tea master in the family, and opened the Chen family’s first shop. She married SeHo Fang, who had a vision for a retail store, as well as the branding of their crop. It was named Long Yuan, similar to “dragon dollar” in Chinese.

Fu Chen’s beautiful teas won many competitions, and was a regular entrant. Her daughter, Ai Fang, was brought up in the way of tea and became the family’s third female tea master, continuing four generations of valuable tea knowledge and exceptional cultivation.

Ai Fang is particularly concerned with educating her customers about everything related to tea, and has a modern view of the world. Her daughter, Kuei Fang, became an artist and travelled to New York – however she discovered that what her family created was quite rare, and so much effort was rarely put into a good cup of tea as her family had done. In response to this, she and Ai entered a rebranding project of Long Yuan into Jhentea, to bring the shop into the modern age. It is their wish for this to help bring Ai Chen’s story and knowledge of tea onto a worldwide platform, so that even more people can appreciate tea.

You can find out more about Jhentea at http://www.jhentea.com/our-story/

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Conducting a Japanese Tea Ceremony, Part 1

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The Japanese conduct their tea ceremony in a variety of different ways depending on the time and season. The two main occupations are known as Furo, for use in the summer, and Ro, for use in the winter – however, these two can vary, and location / personal preference can bring in an even greater number of factors when it comes to the ceremony itself.

Firstly, it is helpful to note that Japanese tea rooms tend to look nothing like the table-and-chair tea rooms that we are so used to; Japanese people sit on the floor much more often than we in Western society do. As such, there are no chairs and tables present in a Japanese tea room; it is merely a square with a dip in the middle for which to prepare tea.

There are preparations one must make several weeks before your tea ceremony is to begin. First, you must invite your guests. It is only polite to give your guests several weeks’ notice so that they may prepare and adequately adjust their lives to allow the visit; failure to give adequate notice could result in your guests not being able to show up at all.

It must be ensured that tearoom and the garden outside are clean and tidy before commencement of the ceremony; it is wise to ensure this is done more than a few days before it begins. Tatami mats and sliding door Shoji paper should both be replaced as well.

A meeting should be held with the Hantou and Shokyaku, which are some very special guests to your tea ceremony. This is to help decide important things about the tea ceremony and to explain what sort of tea ceremony you intend to hold.

Finally, one day before the ceremony begins, you should begin to prepare the Kaiseki meal. Whether you begin the day before or early in the morning of the ceremony is up to you; mostly it depends on how large and/or complicated you intend the meal to be. Newcomers to Japanese cuisine will find it easier to keep it small and simple during their first ceremonies.

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