September 2017 - Tsukimi Sencha from Kyōto

This month we selected a type of Sencha called Tsukimi Sencha (月見煎茶), from the prefecture of Kyōto (京都).

Tsukimi Dango

Tsukimi Sencha

Sencha constitutes 80% of the green tea produced in Japan, however Sencha doesn't have a long history. Formerly teas in Japan were not green, but brown, similar to black teas or oolong teas. Sencha was completed by Nagatani Sōen (永谷宗円) who lived in Kyōto during the Edo area (17th century). He invented a method for drying tea leaves and stalks in the oven, by twisting them so as to steady color and taste.

This Tsukimi Sencha comes from a plantation located near a shinto shrine, not far from Nagatani's former home. To go there, you must climb 77 steps and go through a torii (red gate leading to the shrine). It is a mystic place. Tea grows basking in the summer sun, and is harvested at the beginning of October, during autumn when the moon looks beautiful.

Leaves are light-green, rather large, and stalks are filiform. The tea color reminds us of the harvest moon, bluish and brilliant. Tsukimi Sencha has a round, fresh and sweet taste with a pleasant bitterness and a bit of caffeine. It is a tea inspired by the "harvest moon".

Tea plantation

Tsukimi (月見) : moon viewing

Japanese people live according to the seasons, and respect every moment of it. Soon it will be "Chūshū no meigetsu (中秋の名月)", which means litteraly "the full moon just in the middle of autumn". At this precise time we can see the most beautiful harvest moons, under a clear sky. It is on August 15th according to the lunar calendar, or October 4th this year according to the sun calendar.

The moon celebration, that came from China, was modified and adapted to the Japanese style. Japanese people make the following offerings: rice cakes called "Tsukimi Dango (月見だんご)", and silver grass. These offerings are laid in a place from where it's easy to view the moon, such as a balcony or a veranda. These offerings represent the moon and rice. Why rice? Autumn is also the season of harvest. So in fact when we celebrate the moon we are also covertly celebrating the good harvest.

The sophisticated court aristocrats of the Heian Period (8-12th century) were not watching the moon directly, instead they observed its reflection in a garden pond, while drinking sake served in jet cups that also reflect the moon. Ancient Japanese people prefered not to look at things directly, but rather indirectly or metaphorically.

Brewing Tsukumi Sencha

The amount of leaves and stalks should be adapted according to the desired taste: roughly a heaping spoon (5 grams) of Tsukimi Sencha for 180ml (6oz) of spring water. First infusion should last about 15 to 20 seconds in boiling water. Second infustion should only last 10 seconds. Subsequently it is recommended to lengthen the steeping time.

You can also make cold Tsukimi Sencha. Prepare 2 liters of spring water for 8 grams of Tsukimi Sencha in a pitcher, and leave it in the refrigerator for 2 to 8 hours, according to the desired taste.

If you have questions about Japanese teas, please do not hesitate to contact us!