Monday, August 24, 2009

at_Home Hana Tea Ceremony

Ok. I'd mentioned in the review of @Home Hana that one of their specialties was the green tea set, where the tea is prepared in front of you. At the time, I'd gotten something else, but I'd stated that I would come back later to specifically get this item.

In Japan, the process of preparing green tea, referred to as "matcha", has been refined into high art, along the lines of ikebana (flower arranging), and sumi-e (ink brush painting). Called "cha-do" (among other things), the art of the tea ceremony is as much about how you hold yourself as you go through the motions as it is in making sure that the powered green tea is whisked properly and the resulting tea tastes good.

So, what is the Hana version then? Basically, there's a 800 yen version and a 700 yen version. I was told that the 800 yen version wasn't available, so I settled for the cheaper one. Eventually, one of the kimono'd maids came out with a red and black lacquer tray with a large red and black lacquer bowl on it. In the bowl was a spoonful or so of fine green powder - the matcha. The maid poured cold water into the bowl and proceeded to whisk it for about 1 minute to create a frothy green mass. She then gave me a small plate with 2 pieces of sponge cake, and the bowl of tea. She advised me that if the tea was too bitter that I could have sugar syrup added. I took a sip and it was indeed bitter. She added some syrup and did the whisking thing again. This time, the tea was a lot better, but still a little bitter. I decided to accept it as it was. She followed this up with the "moe moe gyu" added flavor chant.

My maid left, and I alternated between nibbling on the sponge cake and sipping the tea from the bowl. There was maybe 6-8 ounces of tea, and it was kind of like drinking bitter-sweet green tea "milk" from a cereal bowl. When I was done, there was a definite bitterness coating the inside of my mouth. Another maid came up and gave me a glass of cold mugi-cha (a kind of tea made using toasted barley). It tasted really good after the matcha and was definitely a necessary follow-up. (If you're not familiar with matcha, it is a distinctly "Japanese" flavor. It's often used as a flavoring for ice cream, mochi and other desserts. Akiba no Usagi Jinja had a frozen matcha mochi bar in its freezer cabinet that was equally bitter.)

Was this a typical cha-do ceremony? Not really. Was the maid a trained master of cha-do? Not really. Was the tea and cake worth the 700 yen plus 700 yen cover? Not really. Did I enjoy myself? Sure. It was fun, and if I'd wanted to turn it into a real maid cafe experience, I would have challenged the maid to a 3-minute board game at the same time (for another 500 yen).

I recommend getting the green tea set at @Home Hana at least once just to see it in action. But I wouldn't do it a second time (I'd rather spend the money on something else)...

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