With sakura blossoms seen as a metaphor for life’s fleeting beauty, it’s little surprise that sakura blossom tea carries a deeper meaning than your average cup of green tea. Mostly reserved for once in a lifetime occasions, having sakura tea is usually associated with new beginnings.
Sakura Blossom Tea
With the cherry blossom’s peak only lasting about one week, it’s not surprising that there have been many efforts to preserve them for longer. Nowadays, there is no shortage of sakura flavored snacks, but long before sakura flavored chocolate, there were traditional sweets filled with pickled sakura blossoms.
While these salt-pickled cherry blossoms will mostly find their way into sweets, they can be used to make tea right after the pickling process. The blossoms are preserved in salt and ume plum vinegar, amplifying the mild flavor of the blossoms themselves. Pouring boiling water over a pickled blossom will not only make it beautifully unfold back into its original shape, it will also immediately release a truly unique aroma.
Like most kinds of tea, sakura tea comes with an impressive set of health benefits. It’s said to be rich in antioxidants, anti-inflammatory and good for your teeth. The only caveat is that you will most likely not be drinking enough of it for those effects to really make a difference, as this tea is more of a rare treat.
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History of Sakura Tea
Pickled sakura goes back to the late Edo period (～1800), when production started in modern day Kanagawa Prefecture, just south of Tokyo. Almost all pickled blossoms still come from this same area. A late blooming variety with double-layered blossoms is used, yielding more flavor and a more dramatic unfolding effect. The tea – then and now – was made by simply pouring boiling water over the blossoms, with sugar sometimes added.
The Meaning Behind Tea
A spectacle all around, sakura tea is most often served for once-in-a-lifetime occasions, like weddings or other important ceremonies. The opening blossoms are associated with new beginnings, like starting a life together. It’s also sometimes served at matchmaking or engagement parties.
Green tea is a part of almost every Japanese person’s daily life, and seen as a staple item. Many idioms therefore involve the Japanese word for tea, ‘cha’. Quite often these idioms are linked to social life, such as ‘cha wo nigosu’, ‘muddying the tea’, for someone evading a question. For this reason, it’s generally avoided to serve green tea for important ceremonies, with sakura tea a much bolder and defined statement.
For anyone not interested in alcoholic drinks for the practice of hanami, or flower-viewing, sakura tea is also ideal to further elevate the experience of sakura season. For those who want to go all out, you can have cherry blossom flavored sweets, while drinking cherry blossom tea under the cherry blossoms.
Matcha Tea Ceremony
While sakura tea is part of important ceremonies like weddings, it does not involve a special brewing ritual like in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony. The symbolism of the sakura tea however, is quite close to the significance of the ritualistic element of a tea ceremony.
Born out of Zen Buddhism, the tea ceremony was originally an act of meditation, revolving around the principles of tranquility, harmony, and purity. By placing emphasis on every step of the tea brewing and drinking process, a tea ceremony emphasizes the beauty of life’s transient nature, much like cherry blossoms and sakura tea.
Sakura tea is merely the tip of the iceberg of lesser-known Japanese tea. There are plenty of staple Japanese kinds of tea that are hardly known overseas. Wheat, seaweed, and even rice all have their place in traditional tea culture and are well worth exploring. When it comes to meaning however, sakura tea’s symbolism is hard to beat.
Have you tried sakura tea or any other unique Japanese kinds of tea? What did you think? Let us know in the comments below!