“What a strange thing! to be alive beneath cherry blossoms.”
― Kobayashi Issa, Poems
Cherry blossoms. My favorite flower of all time.
Well, in Japan, people call it sakura (桜).
I still remember those beautiful spring days, when the first thing I do in the morning is sipping my favorite sakura tea underneath the falling pink petals. Insanely. Delicious. It always makes me feel some type of way - a feeling of inner calm, joy, and beauty. How could you enjoy a life better than that?
Now you may wonder, what is so special about these sakura teas? Aren’t they just like any other tea with that herbal taste? Well, let me tell you. After being preserved in salt, ume in plum vinegar, and immersed in boiled water, then soaked in sugar, sakura just becomes something different. Something that is unique - an authentic taste of Japan, a subtle flowery aroma and flavor, sweetness of sugar, a slight taste of saltiness. Unforgettable.
History of Sakura Tea
The production of pickled sakura, or sakurazuke (桜漬け), began at the end of the Edo period in Chimura, Hadano City, Kanagawa Prefecture, and today approximately 80% of sakurazuke is produced in this area. Each year, beginning in about mid-April, a late variety of yaezakura (八重桜) - double cherry blossoms - is picked at 50% bloom, processed and bottled. Then, pickled sakura will be used in a variety of Japanese food and drinks - tea, alcohol, sweets, rice, you name it. That is why if you have a chance to come to Japan, you must get yourself a sakura treat!
For sakura tea, the flower is traditionally preserved in salt, ume in plum vinegar, and becomes an insanely delicious tea after it is put inside boiled water. Once covered in hot water, the collapsed petals unfurl and float. The herbal tea is then allowed to steep until the flavor reaches its desired intensity. Sometimes, sakura is also dipped in sugar to create a kind of sweetness that evokes the feeling of springtime. Sounds delicious, isn’t it?
Beautiful and exquisite, in Japan, sakura tea is often served in once-in-a-lifetime events such as weddings or important ceremonies as it represents a “new beginning.” Some also serve it in matchmaking or engagement parties. A very special tea indeed. What makes sakura even more special is that it is a limited seasonal drink, as the flowers can only be harvested once a year, right before they bloom, to ensure they have the strongest scent. Then they are carefully processed to avoid damaging the petals and preserve the flavor. When steeped in water, their wonderful aroma fills the air and the drink is lightly sweet, salty, and floral. It's a treat for the eyes and the tastebuds!
Sakura tea is also served at sakura-viewing festivals for those who are not fans of alcoholic drinks. Beginning as early as the Nara period (AD 710-794), sakura viewing, or hanami (花見), has been the longstanding Japanese tradition of viewing the cherry blossoms at their peak. Historically a celebration of the arts, these festivities brought aristocrats, poets and musicians together under a blanket of petals, enjoying a seasonal feast. Drinking sakura tea under the falling sakura petals while picnicking with your friends or family? Sounds like a perfect idea!
Two kinds: Salty VS Sweet
Salty: This is the more traditional form of Sakura tea. A salted version that uses fresh picked Sakura flowers preserved in salt, ume in plum vinegar for about a month.
Sweet: The Sweet Sakura tea is more rare as it is more labor intensive and it's the extra step after creating salted sakura tea, it is then being washed multiple times to get rid of the salt, then covered in sugar.
Whether hot or iced, the sakura tea is just as delicious as it is. The way to prepare sakura tea is actually very simple; you just need to do 3 steps:
- Take one or two flowers for each cup of tea
- Pour hot water over it until you get a light-colored tea
- If you want an iced sakura tea: add ice into the cup after the hot water goes warm.
For a salted sakura tea: soak the blossoms for 5 minutes in warm water first to wash off some of the salt. Then, you can put one or two flowers in a different tea cup and pour hot water on it again. Adjust the flavor and saltiness by adding some of the salty water with a spoon.
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When Do People Consume Sakura Tea
I love sakura tea so much that I make drinking it my morning and nightly ritual. Whether it is on a relaxing Saturday morning or a stressful Monday evening, sakura tea will surely heal your soul and make you feel joy and beauty.
So the short answer is: you can drink sakura tea whenever you want! Just whenever you need that calmness, then sakura tea would be the right answer.
If you want to know the best way to enjoy a cup of sakura tea, here are some ideas:
Over a conversation
Picnic or hanami (sakura-viewing)
Treat yourself, because you deserve it.
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Health Benefits of Sakura Tea
The benefits of Sakura tea are endless, it might lead you to believe that it is a miracle drink! With rich antioxidants that reduce the body's free radicals, it provides numerous health benefits, including:
Rich in antioxidants
Promotes overall well-being
Whiten and protect your teeth
Reduce acne, puffiness, dark eye circles and keep your skin silky smooth
Give you a healthy hair
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Other Ways To Enjoy Sakura (With Recipes)
Besides tea, sakura is also used in a variety of Japanese foods. For example, click the links below for the recipes that you could make with sakura:
You can also find sakura in many different drinks:
… and many more!
You can also make your own sakura-flavored foods and drinks! Simply add pickled sakura; then sprinkle a little salt and sugar to create that signature, exquisite taste.
Example: you can add pickled sakura to alcohols such as white wine or sake to infuse them with sakura flavor or add them to baked sweets and jellies for a special treat.