Through a friend of a teacher I work with, last night I found myself in a three hour lecture and conversation group on green tea and Japanese manners. Without fully understanding what I was getting into, I was keen to attend when I first heard about it. It turned out to be much more than I was anticipating and utterly fascinating, in light of my recent writing interests.
Having studied agriculture and participated in a tea plucking competition in India, I was excited to hear that Ocha (green tea) would be one of the topics. The second was Japanese manners – something I have been surrounded by but not fully understood. As it turns out, people who have lived here their whole lives don’t know the whole story either.
Beloved green tea – お茶
I learned on my trip to India that all true tea – black or green – is from the same plant: Camelia sinensis. Other teas, such as fruit or herbal teas, are actually known as tisanes and can come from many sources of course. But true tea is from that single beloved plant and is differentiated only by the harvesting and processing customs that have developed in different areas of the world.
Green tea is minimally processed – not fermented or oxidized, only heated and dried very soon after harvest. There are several different types of green tea produced and processed in Kumamoto, varying by harvest date and heating methods.
Pour your heart out
Proper temperature: 70 degrees. Steep for 1 minute for the first pour. Then release two pours into each cup you are serving until all of the cups are full. For the second pour, you needn’t wait for it to steep. The second pour was the favorite of the instructor. As a bonus, you can get a third pour out of one serving of tea.
The cooler the tea is steeped, the more tannins are released and the less caffeine and catechins. Each of these elements have unique benefits to human bodies, not all of which fully translated to me, but there are plenty of resources on the benefits of green tea. One thing to note is the benefit to our teeth – if you can’t brush, drink green tea.
The tannins are where the flavor is at. You can steep high quality green tea cold over night and keep it in a pitcher – maximum tannins, minimum caffeine, unbelievably rich green color and bright flavor.
The main lesson from this: no one really knows what they’re doing. This is a big one for me. I think my indecision partially comes from my lack of trusting my intuition. I have the slightest feeling (read: strongest) that others know better than I do. But really, in many instances, they don’t. Trust yourself. Trust that you are a good person and you are not intending to insult or hurt anyone. Those are all the manners that you need.
She pointed out aisatsu with an example: if someone were to brightly introduce themselves to you and a second someone were to rather blandly do so, and THEN both of them called you by the wrong name, what woudl you think? Likely, the one who didn’t greet you with generous energy and enthusiasm would be suspected as being just “that way” – perhaps careless and inconsiderate. On the other hand, the person who provides a genuinely pleasurable greeting is more easily forgiven, are they not?
a – akaruku 明るく (brightly)
i – itsumo いつも (always)
sa – saki ni 先に (first)
tsu – tsuzukeru no hitokoto 続けるの一言 (one single thing to keep doing)
This is basic. This is human. Who wants to talk to people who aren’t interested in talking to them? Who aren’t excited to see them, to share stories, to smile? We can’t be this way all the time, and that is of course forgivable. It’s all forgivable. But if you make that little effort to “chanto aisatsu”, really look at another person and greet them – shake their hand firmly if that’s in your culture, smile and graciously bow if that’s what you do, whatever it is – you’re on the right track as they say.