The secret ingredient of calm—just add tea

A traditional Japanese tea ceremony can take more than four hours, but most people have just 15 minutes for a tea break. Here’s how to bring some ceremony into the everyday.

The Japanese tea ceremony has many names. Chado (‘the way of tea’) is a popular one, as is chanoyu, which translates to ‘water for tea’. A full formal ceremony is an elaborate ritual that takes several hours. Everything must follow a strict protocol, from the size, layout and decor in the room, to the dress and movements of the tea-maker and the conversation and manner of the guests. It is very close to a scripted performance.

In Australia we have a far less formal attitude towards tea and I doubt many of us have four hours to spare to conduct a tea ceremony, let alone the hundreds of hours to attend tea school to learn the art. Instead, there are elements of the tea ceremony we can transpose in the 15-minute tea break most of us can spare.

Give yourself some space

A Japanese teahouse or tea room is laid out in a spare manner with tatami mats on the floor and minimal decoration. This is a deliberate way of minimising distractions so guests transition to a state of mind where they can leave their woes behinds and better appreciate the tea.

You can follow this lead by creating a space just for tea. It might just be a corner of your desk or a tiny footprint in your kitchen where you have your kettle and cups, but decluttering that space before you make tea has a corresponding effect on clearing your mind.

The permitted Japanese decorations are usually a seasonal flower and/or a scroll of calligraphy. You can decorate your space with flowers and/or a motivational quote as a nod to that.

Make a good cuppa

Chado requires the tea-maker to not only use the best tea—you may have heard of ‘ceremonial grade’ tea—but also to have practised tea-making to such a degree that the bowl of tea presented to guests is exceptionally well made.

You don’t need ceremonial grade tea when you try this at home, nor hours and hours of practice, but it helps if you make an effort during the tea-making process. Use freshly drawn water and pay attention to it as it boils, and then as you pour it onto the tea to steep.

These small acts of mindfulness give you a break from your work and allow you to enjoy the time you have to yourself as you do this. Many productivity experts say it’s this break that gives you renewed motivation and energy—even inspiration—afterwards.

Appreciate the tea

The Japanese have two ways of showing appreciation during a tea ceremony. One is an aesthetic appreciation where protocol compels guests to remark on the decor the host has chosen for the tea room, and then later the beauty and quality of the tea bowl. The second is in the conscious sipping of the tea: each guest has three sips to savour the tea before the bowl is cleaned and re-used for the next guest.

Of course you don’t need to re-make your tea every three sips but you can take the main principle from this practice. Take some time to admire your teapot or teacup (having a pretty set helps!) and then when the tea is ready to drink, pay attention to how it tastes, even if it’s just for the first three sips.

The Japanese tea ceremony developed out of Zen Buddhism and it is this mindfulness and release of mundane concerns that carries through in the tradition today. If you only have 15 minutes for a tea break, however, you can create a ritual that uses the same principles and benefit from the calm it brings—and you needn’t wear a kimono.

Tea with teapot


What is genmaicha? Experience the flavours of this Japanese green tea

Two Rivers Green Tea produces green tea in the Japanese tradition but you may not know much about genmaicha blend.

tea shop genmaicha circle shot (2)

What is genmaicha?

Genmaicha, Japanese for ‘brown rice tea’ is a combination of green tea and roasted brown rice. Sometimes the rice pops during the heating process and it looks like there are little pieces of popcorn in the tea, which gives it its nickname ‘popcorn tea’, although there’s no corn in the blend.

Genmaicha history and legend

As with many tea origins, genmaicha has a legend attached to it. Imagine a samurai’s teahouse in 15th century Japan playing host to a gathering of warlords. A servant called Genmai serves the samurai warriors fine green tea, an expensive luxury back then. As he pours, a few grains of roasted rice from a snack he has stashed in his sleeve drops into the cup.

In a fit of pique, the samurai slays the servant for ruining the tea. But he then takes a sip from the cup and finds the tea has not been ruined after all: the roasted rice gives the vegetal green tea a rounded full-bodied flavour. In commemoration of the late servant he calls the tea ‘genmaicha’ and drinks his green tea with a few grains of roasted rice in it thereafter.

The truth is probably closer to practicality than samurai legend. Green tea, being expensive, was restricted to the samurai and ruling class. When ordinary folk could afford it, it was late harvest bancha green tea and even then considered dear. Someone practical decided to mix roasted rice—a much cheaper commodity—with the tea to make it go further. Genmaicha is therefore often referred to as the ‘people’s tea’.

Genmaicha traditionally comes in the ratio of one portion of bancha to one portion of roasted rice, though every genmaicha maker has their own recipe. While it sometimes carries the stigma of inferior tea, many blenders have perfected the art of balancing its flavours to offer a beautifully balanced tea, often with the earlier harvest, superior sencha green tea.

Genmaicha by Two Rivers

The genmaicha at Two Rivers not only uses our early harvest sencha grown in Australia but also matcha, stone ground green tea powder grown and processed in Japan, to blend with the roasted rice.

The result is a rich, full-bodied tea that takes the vegetal notes of the sencha, the umami flavour of the matcha and the nutty body and taste of the roasted rice to make a warming, savoury beverage. It’s both satisfying on the palate and in the stomach—just perfect for winter.




Cool and refreshing: how to make iced green tea without additives

 When the weather’s hot, iced green tea is a healthy, refreshing drink that helps you cool down—and you don’t need sugar, sweeteners or even a kettle to make it. Here are three brewing techniques you can use to make iced green tea.

Hot and cold infusion

This technique does require a kettle and is best for when you need a quick cuppa. Have cold water and some ice on hand to serve.

Prepare your tea as you would prepare a hot green tea (we recommend water at 60-70°C) but use double the amount of tea than usual. This is because you are making a kind of ‘concentrate’ that you can then dilute with cold water. Using more tea increases the flavour whereas extending the brewing time increases astringency, so let the tea brew for your usual infusion time.

Pour the liquid into a larger jug. If you’re feeling a little adventurous, grab another jug and pour the tea from vessel to vessel—this increases the air around the liquid and cools it down faster. To serve, top with cold water equivalent to about a quarter of the total amount and add ice. The tea should now be cool and refreshing to drink.

This style of infusion has all the benefits of green tea and retains the flavour that you love from a hot brew, but without the warm feeling you get from drinking one. You should be able to use the leaves at least once more for another round.

Classic cold brew

This technique needs more time than hot and cold infusion so start about 6-8 hours in advance of when you intend to drink you iced green tea.

It’s more convenient to use a teapot with an infuser in it, but if you don’t have one, use any container you can close. Ideally, this container should be glass, ceramic or porcelain as plastic and metal tend to add unwanted flavours to the tea.

As with hot and cold infusion, you will need more tea than you usually have in a hot brew. Because cold water does not extract as much flavour as hot water, you need more tealeaves to achieve the same level. If you’re going to drink it straight, 50% extra is fine, but if you’re having it ‘on the rocks’ we recommend doubling the amount.

If using a teapot with infuser, place tealeaves in the infuser and insert infuser into the teapot. If using another container, place tealeaves in the container directly. Fill the teapot/container with cold, fresh water and leave it in the refrigerator for 6-8 hours. Close the teapot/container for this time so it doesn’t absorb other scents from the fridge.

When it’s ready, remove the infuser or filter the tealeaves out of the liquid and serve. If you don’t want to drink it right away, transfer the tea to another vessel to keep—we suggest eight hours as a maximum brewing time because after this point the tea becomes robust instead of refreshing (but if you like it that way you can keep the tealeaves in as long as you like).

The main benefit of the classic cold brew method is that the green tea will never become astringent, which is a common complaint against green tea when brewed incorrectly. You will also notice a clean mouthfeel that helps the tea work its magic on a hot day. It will taste a little different and contain less caffeine than the hot version, however, because hot water extracts flavour and caffeine differently compared to cold water.

You should be able to reuse the leaves for another two brews, just increase the steeping time by 1-2 hours each subsequent round.

Ice brew

Brewing tea over ice is called kooridashi in Japan and is perfect for high quality green tea, like our shincha.

Place the tealeaves in a glass, ceramic or porcelain vessel, then cover the leaves with ice. Cover the vessel. The amount of tealeaves to ice should be about one teaspoon to about 50-100mls of ice. Leave the vessel at room temperature. When the ice melts, strain the leaves out and drink.

Unfortunately, it can be difficult to tell how much water is in an ice cube because water expands when frozen and there’s such a big range when it comes to ice cube shapes and sizes. As a result, this technique may require a bit of personal experimentation to perfect the ratio of tea to ice cubes.

The other important thing to remember is to make sure you use good quality ice; for example, if you usually use filtered water in your tea, use filtered water for your ice. When using ice from your home freezer, you may want to rinse it in case it has absorbed aromas from other items.

Ice brew often brings out the scientist in tea drinkers because the time it takes for the ice to melt will vary according to the size of the ice cubes (many small ice cubes melt faster than fewer big ones even if they hold the same volume of water), the ambient temperature (ice brew in the sun will differ from ice brew in the refrigerator, of course) and how well the vessel conducts heat. What you will get is a true iced tea with plenty of flavour but without astringency and you can use the tea leaves for a hot or cold brew another 2-3 times.