The more I drink different teas, the more I fall in love with tea drinking cultures, and the complexities and stories that lie in the tea leaves. From the Japanese I’ve learnt the importance of following the changing of the seasons, this is such an intrinsic part of life in Japan to the point that Japanese textbooks for learning English contain a section on how to explain seasonality to foreigners!
In a Japanese tea room the changing of the seasons is intertwined with everything from the flower arrangement and the artwork hanging on the wall, to the type of tea that is served and the tea utensils that are used. For example the poetic use of a copper kettle in October to reflect the changing colour of the leaves.
It’s this seasonal appreciation that I want to weave into my drawing and my tea drinking, and to share with you too, because even in the depths of winter we can find things to celebrate.
Each month I will be putting together a tea and illustration which I feel matches the season. For January I’ve chosen Kyobancha (京番茶), a roasted Japanese green tea, whose caramel smokiness reminds me of cosy dark evenings.
Harvested in late March from winter matured leaves it is considered the last tea of the year (the tea production year starts in April/May). I thought this would be perfect for January and for ending one year and starting the next. Plus as the leaves have matured over the winter this means they are full of nutrients, perfect for balancing out all the indulgences of December.
‘Kyo-’ refers to the tea’s origin as Kyobancha is a speciality of Kyoto Prefecture in Japan. ‘Bancha’ simply means ‘common tea’ making it a tea that is enjoyed daily by the locals. Rarely offered outside of Japan, it is even quite rare to find it in Japanese supermarkets.
After being picked the leaves are steamed in order to stop the oxidation process and then dried. There is no rolling process involved in the production unlike most Japanese green teas. The leaves are then roasted giving this tea its unique flavours of slight sweetness with hardly any astringency or bitterness. The roasting reduces the caffeine so it can be enjoyed anytime of the day.
The leaves of Kyobancha are quite big so it’s recommended to use a large tea pot to allow space for them to infuse. It’s also worth experimenting with different quantites and brewing times to see how you like it prepared but as a guideline here’s my favourite method:
Use 3g of tea leaves for 200ml boiling water. Infuse for 3 minutes.
Kyobancha can be reinfused 2 more times adding on an extra minute per infusion.
Can also be made into an iced tea by steeping with cold water for 2-3 hours, delicious in the summer.
You can find Kyobancha tea along with my illustration in my Etsy shop here.