Posted in Kafevend Blog
We've been noticing the blossoms appearing on flowering cherry trees here at the Kafevend blog. Like us, you've probably clocked the appearance of buds and blossoms without giving it too much thought. Yet in Japan the cherry blossoms are always big news. Their met office keeps tabs on the cherry blossom front just as closely as any weather front and keeps the public informed so that they can make plans for hanami. If hanami means nothing to you, read on; this week we're straying from the Japanese tea ceremony to consider a seasonal pastime in the land of the Way of Tea. We'll even look at a type of tea made from the cherry blossoms themselves!
So first up, let's define hanami, a tradition which has been going for over a thousand years in Japan. Its literal meaning is 'flower viewing' though it's come to signify cherry blossom viewing in particular. People head out for picnics under the trees, often sending a scout out in the early morning to reserve a good spot for later in the day! Hanami season gets under way in the subtropical island of Okinawa as early as January and February, but it doesn't reach Japan's northernmost island, Hokkaido, until late April/ early May. The blossoms have started to open in cities such as Kyoto and Tokyo in the run up to Easter, with the optimum viewing period approaching as we write.
The thing about cherry blossoms, or sakura, as they're called in Japan, is that they really don't last too long. Their transient nature is the reason the Japanese met office have to keep such a close track on them, and it's also what makes them such an attraction. Related to the wabi sabi aesthetic of the Japanese tea ceremony, is a Japanese aesthetic concerning beauty known as 'mono no aware'. It has to do with the poignancy of things and encourages an appreciation and awareness of the transience of all living things. Thus, the cherry blossom is a perfect vehicle for the appreciation of ephemeral beauty.
Aside from enjoying the blossoms visually, the Japanese also savour them as a taste sensation; sakura-yu, or sakura-cha, is cherry blossom tea. The blossoms and some of the leaves are pickled via a combination of salt and plum vinegar, then dried and packed in salt to store. The petals are shaken and rinsed before use and unsurprisingly, the clear, pale pink tea has a salty, sour tang to it. It's a popular choice for weddings and engagement parties because it symbolises a new beginning.
As well as cherry blossom tea, the pickled petals are used to flavour other foods too. Hotels and restaurants celebrate the season with offerings such as a sakura afternoon tea, where blossoms are incorporated into the scone dough. Another favourite is the sakura-mochi, a traditional spring sweet made of glutinous rice, coloured pink with sweet red bean paste and wrapped up in a pickled cherry blossom leaf.
Let's take a leaf out of Japan's book this spring and enjoy those beautiful blossoms... wind and rain permitting of course!