Sunday, January 12, 2014

Tea 101: What is Sake?

Why am I talking about sake in a Tea 101 post?  Because it's relevant to tea!  When you are invited to a full Japanese Tea Ceremony (and I hope you are!), with a meal and two types of matcha tea, you are offered sake with the meal.  If you've never tried it, it's delicious!  And if you have tried it, but it was served warm, try again.  The best quality sakes are served cold. 

In the Portland area, we are very fortunate to have one of the few US makers of sake in our back yard. A Japanese Tea group recently toured the Sake One facility.  I learned so much!  First, sake is NOT "rice wine."  Technically, wine involves fermented grapes or other fruit, and there is no fruit in sake.  In fact, there are only four ingredients:  Water, Rice, Yeast and Koji. 

Water We learned that the reason Sake One is located here is because of the great water we are fortunate to have.  In Japan, most sake breweries are located near springs.  Here, the water used has a similar character in that it is "fresh" water coming from the Coastal Mountains.  It's lacking any heavy minerality of water that has been underground for a length of time.

Rice Sake One uses rice from our neighboring state of California, the Calrose brand.  Several members of our group said, "Oh, that's the rice my family used when I was growing up."  Being a Midwesterner, this was an unfamiliar brand to me, but I appreciate the fact that the sourcing is regional.  The rice is first polished and then washed, steamed and cooled.

Bags of rice waiting to be processed

Koji - Next, koji is applied in a special cedar room.  Koji is a mold spore that digests the starch and converts it to sugar.  A cedar room is used not only for the subtle aromatic properties it imparts to the sake, but also because its natural resins are anti-bacterial making an incredibly clean environment.

The cedar koji room

Yeast - Water and yeast are added and fermentation occurs.


After the desired level of fermentation is reached, the batch if filtered, pasteurized and aged in porcelain or stainless steel tanks.  Sakes made for an American market are aged a little less than those in Japan.  The longer aging brings out more earthiness (umami) flavors.  Americans prefer a slightly "brighter" flavor profile.

Sake Tasting

We finished our tour with a tasting and food pairing.  We sampled five different sakes and enjoyed nibbles. If you come to the area, it's a fun and educational tour!  Keep in mind that sake has a higher alcohol content than wine, and plan accordingly.


Geoff said...

I knew of Momokawa's distillery out in Forest Grove, but I was unaware of others in the area.

Steph said...

That's the one! Sake One is the maker of Momokawa for US.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this insightful posting. I have just started to follow your blog

Angela McRae said...

Sounds like you enjoyed quite a fascinating tour!

Martha's Favorites said...

Have to try that tea! Have a great week. Blessings, Martha

parTea lady said...

What an interesting post. I've never tried sake, but I hope that one day I'll experience a full Japanese Tea Ceremony.

Marilyn Miller said...

I actually would have enjoyed this tour. It sounds delightful.
A friend gifted my a bottle of their sake a couple years ago and though I don't normally drink sake I rather liked it.