“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.
Preparation for sweet sakura
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.
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:
- Morning: after waking up and doing some stretching, make yourself a cup of sakura tea. Use our bamboo tongs to put the flower inside a glass teapot. Brew the tea by pouring hot water over until the petals unfurl and float, then pour the tea into a fancy cup. Take a cookie, get a book, sit at your table, and slowly enjoy the tea while the sun is shining through the window.
- Evening: after a long busy day, treat yourself to a cup of sakura tea along with scented candles. Use our bamboo tongs to put the flower inside a glass teapot. Brew the tea by pouring hot water over until the petals unfurl and float, then pour the tea into a fancy cup. Slowly enjoy the tea while listening to music, podcasts, or making a conversation.
- Everyday: if you have school or work every day, bringing your favorite drink alongside would be a great idea! Not only does it help you stay focused, but it also gives you more energy to finish your work. For me, I usually bring hot sakura tea in a thermos flask to school so it can help me stay awake during those 3-hour lectures. Especially during winter when the snow is falling outside, having hot sakura tea while studying in the library really cheers me up and makes me feel warm :)
- Over a conversation: we often say, “Let’s get coffee” whenever we want to have a conversation with the other person. Why don’t we make it over a cup of tea? Imagine sipping a beautiful cup of sakura tea while making a meaningful conversation; what could sound better than that?
- Tea party: if you already watched Alice In Wonderland, you would be amazed at how elegant their tea party looks! Fancy teapots, beautiful cups, a variety of tea to choose from, sweet pastries, savory sandwiches, cream, cube sugar, lemon slices, music, people dressing in fancy clothing, dreamy scenery… Wow, just wow. So why don’t you invite your friends or family over and throw a tea party just because?
- Picnic or hanami (sakura-viewing): invite your friends or family to the park for a picnic day (post-covid of course) and serve them sakura tea in a fancy cup! It is even better on a hanami day when you and your loved ones can enjoy a cup of sakura tea while contemplating the beauty of sakura and those falling pink petals. Remember to bring sakura-themed bento and sakura-flavored desserts as well!
- Special occasions: whenever there is a special occasion such as a birthday party, engagement party, etc., instead of serving the traditional drinks, you can serve your guests sakura tea in a fancy cup and teapot. I am sure they will be amazed at how exquisite it looks and tastes!
Treat yourself, because you deserve it.
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:
- Sakura tea has a high concentration of polyphenol antioxidants that are known to fight free radicals that damage DNA causing premature aging. By drinking Sakura tea, there will be fewer free radicals in your body, and this will slow down the aging process by combating lines, wrinkles, and skin dullness. It can help you age gracefully and give you brighter skin and a clearer complexion.
- If you are battling with skin problems like redness, irritation, and inflammation, sakura tea is your savior! It contains nutrients that prevent the production of nitric oxide, which is one of the base cellular chemical compounds that causes and aggravates skin inflammation. Sakura tea can also help to lighten uneven skin pigmentation that is caused by sun exposure by inhibiting the production of melanin. It also cleanses the skin of toxins to leave your skin bright, healthy and happy.
- Much like other teas, the nutrients like flavones found in Sakura tea can help reduce the risk for heart disease. It lowers your LDL cholesterol levels (bad cholesterol) and keeps your heart healthy and safe from cardiovascular diseases. It also reduces the risk of stroke, cancer, mental illnesses, improves the immune system, lowers blood pressure, and protects your vision.
- If you do not add any sweeteners or sugar substitutes to your Sakura tea, it is virtually calorie-free – which is great news for those seeking to lose weight or simply manage their weight better. We really understand the woes of the weight loss journey, and sometimes water just won’t satisfy that craving for any sort of flavor you might have. Sakura tea is a very good and healthy substitute, for it has subtle salty and flowery notes that dance on your tongue! You could always add fruit slices to snazz it up a little and ultimately, you will feel refreshed and energized.
- Tannins in our food are what cause stains, and these make our teeth appear yellower (sobs). A protein found in tea will create a natural chemical barrier that protects your teeth from discoloration. Combine this with your regular tooth brushing habits, and you’ll regain those pearly whites in no time! Also, tea can change the pH in your mouth, which may be the key to preventing cavities from forming. It also does not erode your tooth enamel (protective coat), unlike other beverages.
- Sakura tea is rich in antioxidants which reduces the body’s free radicals. It also contains essential fatty acids, which helps to repair the skin and promotes smooth supple skin.
- The antioxidants inside the sakura tea also stimulate healthy hair growth, reduce dandruff, add shine and give you softer and better-moisturized hair.
Other Ways To Enjoy Sakura (With Recipes)
Besides tea, sakura is also used in a variety of Japanese foods. For example, here are the recipes that you could make with sakura:
- Yokan (jelly cake)
- Anko Mushipan (Japanese-style muffin)
- All types of cake: cheesecake, chiffon cake, cookies, macaron, donut, etc.
You can also find sakura in many different drinks:
- Soft drink
… 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.