How To Make The Most of Your Japanese Dining Experience in Serving Tea
Serving tea in Japan, especially during tea ceremonies, has been metaphorical as it shows the relationship between the host or the server and the one being served, usually the guests, as a sign of hospitality, or what is called in Japanese as omotenashi. This long-time tradition has been kept through serving teas by companies to their clients and most popularly in Japanese restaurants. This has been adapted not only by traditional Japanese restaurants but even those Japanese-conceptualized restaurants all over the world. If you want to set up a Japanese restaurant or a Japanese food lover who wants to sense the tea service the Japanese way, here are some tips that you might find useful for you.
KNOW THE TRADITION BEHIND THE JAPANESE TEA SERVICE
For traditional Japanese restaurant experience, since the tea service is the very first form of serving the customers, aside from the importance of clothing worn by the host or the servers, the tools and ritualized movements used to prepare and serve Japanese tea must also be intricate. The proper form in serving tea shows the intent of hospitality on the part of the server, as representative of the Japanese restaurant. Thus, servers of Japanese tea must study the proper form of the preparation and service of Japanese green tea in traditional and expensive Japanese restaurants.
For a tea ceremony experience in traditional Japanese restaurants, a handmade Japanese sweet called wagashi should be served before serving the tea and the most interesting side of the bowl, once the tea is served, is pointing towards the dining guest. For expensive and authentic Japanese restaurants, owners also keep details on the utensils, scrolls, and flower arrangements in the preparation and service of Japanese tea based on the season or day as well as the viewpoint of the guests making reservations for meals. Also, if this would not be bothersome for the dining guests to remove their shoes, space for tatami mats would be the best dining option in Japanese restaurants to feel the vibe of a traditional tea service before meals.
Tea master Ichihara Sori also recommended adjusting the preparation of the tea by taking into consideration the one being served or the clients. He said, “If one’s partner is a child, one can make the tea cooler and easier to drink by taking a long time to mix tea with a bamboo tea whisk.”
WHAT TEA TO SERVE DEPENDS ON THE DISHES SERVED
The type of tea would also depend best on what Japanese dish is being served in a restaurant. In general, Japanese restaurants would use the widely popular sencha as their service tea for their diners, since this is good for digestion, with the quality depending on the Japanese restaurant. This could also be served in Japanese restaurants that cater to group diners since the caffeine in sencha is high in content, making the gatherings livelier especially during dinner time.
If the Japanese restaurant is a sushi restaurant, the best Japanese tea that should be served to the dining guests would be konacha or what is known as “agari”, which is made from smaller fragments of sencha leaves and actually inexpensive but serves as a palate cleanser between courses because of its bitter taste. In fact, every owner of a sushi restaurant should know that konacha is popularly known as the “tea of sushi restaurants”. Sushi restaurants would not find it hard to prepare since konacha is usually available in tea bags for simple steeping.
Another option would be the genmaicha, a unique green tea that is a combination of sencha leaves and roasted rice since its flavor profile is ideal for fattier fish. High-end sushi restaurants could also serve gyokuro, an expensive type of tea that is shaded around three weeks before harvest, which produces an attractive emerald hue and an umami flavor with sweet overtones upon brewing, while conveyor-belt sushi or kaiten sushi restaurants may instead, self-service, use sencha powder, or grounded-up green tea leaves, which is also healthier since the intake is of the entire tea leaves, with scoopers available beside hot pots. This would also make the trash of teabags worry-free.
If the Japanese restaurant or franchise serves dishes from Kyoto and Kansai region, what is recommended to be served is Hojicha or roasted Bancha that is easy to brew regardless of the temperature of the hot water while for dinner or late-night meals, hojicha and genmaicha are also recommended to be served since these two are low in caffeine too.
For Japanese restaurants that serve umami-rich food, such as oyster, tuna, shiitake mushrooms, and seaweed, it is recommended to serve gyokuro and high-grade sencha while for Japanese restaurants that specialize in desserts or sweet food, kukicha that is naturally sweet and matcha, are the best teas to pair up with their dishes. Hojicha is also recommended to be served together with chocolate dishes.
PREPARATION OF THE TEA IS IMPORTANT
Preparation of the tea to be served is also crucial in Japanese restaurants.
The ideal temperature for making green tea should only be between 160 to 180 ºF or between 70 to 82 ºC, and not boiling water to avoid the bitter taste and to destroy the catechin compound in the tea leaves. The leaves should not be left steeped on their own as this would result in a bitter taste for a longer period of steeping, and instead should depend on the instructions stated for different varieties of tea.
It is important that the customers or guests know that you are measuring the temperature which will enhance their dining experience. Either show the thermostat at the table before serving or simply tell them something like “the tea is prepared at 175 degrees to make the best of the taste”. Just that simple statement will make the guest know that you are caring for the tea quality and how it is served.
Most importantly, the quality of the water used will determine how Japanese tea tastes so it is recommended to use mountain spring water or, if not possible, high-quality water for steeping. Lastly, Japanese tea is best served without anything, or the only citrus at most, to maintain its natural flavor and health benefits. The citrus extract is a source of vitamin C that helps in absorbing the catechins faster in the body.
GET THE BEST QUALITY OF TEA
Above everything else, to get the best of serving teas in Japanese restaurants, buy from a reliable tea producer or supplier that produces quality tea leaves and has a strong knowledge of green tea cultivation, processing, and preparation.
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