Hosting a green tea tasting party in May

Reader Nanette has posted a great question here, about hosting a fund-raising green tea tasting party for a large group (50 people). I had to think about this for a bit, and here are some of the ideas I have come up with.

What varieties of tea?

For a tasting party I think that you want teas that taste quite distinctly different. Here is what I would serve for a green tea tasting party:

  • Sencha - the standard Japanese green tea. It might even be interesting to serve sencha from two different areas.
  • Houjicha (also spelled Hojicha or Ho-jicha)- roasted green tea leaves.
  • Genmaicha - green tea with roasted rice kernels in it.
  • Kukicha - green tea with twigs mixed in with the leaves. A nutty flavor.
  • Gunpowder - a Chinese green tea with a distinctive (and quite strong) flavor.
  • Gyokuro - the finest Japanese green tea type (can be expensive).
  • Green pekoe or Orange pekoe - a standard green tea from China.

In addition, I may serve an iced green tea (which can be brewed from green tea bags, thrown into a large jug and left in the refrigerator for some hours) especially for a warm weather tasting party.

All of the teas mentioned can be ordered from O-cha or Adajio Teas, if you can't get them locally.

Brewing the tea

Tea is best when it's brewed fresh. However, green tea mostly does not have to be piping hot when served - it's actually better for tasting purposes if it isn't tongue-scaldingly hot.

I would try to set up one big ceramic teapot per tea, and brew and serve on demand - if it's a tasting party, you do want the tea to be brewed properly. So, except for the ice tea you can't really brew it in advance (which is also why I suggest including ice tea in there).

Serving the tea

Remembering that each person will be drinking quite a lot of tea, each serving should be very small, something like 1/4 cup worth of tea or less. That's also a good amount for tasting purposes. Ideally they should be served in ceramic teacups...(especially if it's for an environmentally-friendly fundraiser) - though I guess that could be impractical. Maybe the teacups can be sold as takeaway souvenirs? Each person can hold onto their own teacup and rinse them out perhaps between teas, the way wine tastings are done sometimes.

What to serve with the tea

You don't want anything with a strong, competing flavor, so anything with chocolate, fruit or nuts it is out. The easiest option would be to serve plain butter cookies. Shortbread is a bit rich but is bland enough not to compete I think. Small slices of a plain pound cake would be great too, especially if it's homemade! Pound cake can be made in advance (it actually tastes better after a bit of 'aging').

You may also consider serving Japanese sweets or Chinese sweets, but some people may not like those, plus they can be a bit pricey. If you live near a Japanese grocery, around this time you will see sakura mochi and kashiwa mochi, both of which are rice-dough (mochi) wrapped around sweet azuki bean paste. A salted cherry leaf is wrapped around the sakura mochi, and an oak leaf around the kashiwa mochi.

For people without a sweet tooth, small rice crackers should do the trick.

Some more tea tasting party advice. Putting out tiny mounds of the tea leaves being tasted is a great idea I think.

if you have suggestions for Nanette, please leave your comments!

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