Japanese Cuisine, The World of Colors

The Japanese colors for Tea

Since I love tea and colors …

In many countries, tea is called “Cha”. Or “Chai” (Russia). And not only in Asia, since Cha is also used in Portugal.

In Japanese, the logogram is 茶. Linked with the concepts of herb and bitterness.

For an occidental person, brown is green + red …. or blue + orange. In Japan, it is rather orange + black.

In occident, we talk about the brown family. Which becomes braun or brun in other languages. Though, in France, we rather talk about “marron” (chestnut) for the family. And in Spanish, the word is “moreno”, etymologically linked with Moors. And in Japan, the common word for “brown” is “cha”, or more precisely cha-iro (lit. tea-color). Because tea was used to dye fabrics since the middle age. By the way, this color also became very popular during the Edo period (17th to 19th century).

In Japan, the words for colors are often linked with nature (plant, animal, mineral, …). Or with the pigments to get them, as it is the case for tea, turmeric, indigo, nut, etc.

And since “brown” is linked with tea, the color also derives toward greenish browns, or greyish browns, or greenish greyish browns (khaki, olive, ochres, ….).

TRADITIONAL COLORS LINKED WITH TEA / BROWN

Cha-iro:

Tea color.

Sencha Iro:

The color of Japanese tea: sencha, which literally means infused tea.

Karacha:

Literaly, Chinese tea. Can also be read Tōcha, which is an old game aiming at recognizing the teas (quality, origin, …).

Kigaracha:

Literaly, yellow Chinese tea

Sensaicha (ou Chitose-cha):

Unknown origin. Probably linked with the color of deciduous leaves.

Rikyūcha:

Literaly, the tea of Sen no Rikyū, a légendary tea master during the 16th century.

Ikoucha:

Literaly, the color of a prestigious tea.

THE COLORS LINKED WITH WHITE TEAS

Shiracha:

Littéralement blanc thé.

The white tea of  Sen no Rikyū (see above)

FEW COLORS LINKED WITH HERBAL TEAS

Rancha:

Lit. infused orchid. Linked with a yellow flower used to perfume the tea in China (Chloranthus spicatus).

Yanagicha:

Infused widow (medicinal virtues)

Kuwa-iro:

From the mulberry tree.

THE COLORS LINKED WITH TEA / BROWN

Uguisucha:

Here, the “tea” color is mixed with the green of this bird (uguisu: Japanese bush warbler).

Hiwacha:

Here, mixed with the green of this other bird (Eurasian siskin).

Kincha:

Gold tea (kin = money)

Akacha:

Tea color + red (aka)

Kuwacha:

Brown / Thé and mulberry (re. above)

Chojicha:

Tea + clove

Mirucha:

Brown (tea) + seaweed

Chojicha:

Tea + Grape

Etc.

Now, why such a richness in the brown tones? That, by the way, can also be found in greys and blues (indigo).

Indeed, since the 6th century at least, the Japanese society was organised in classes. A system imported from China, which also evolved with time, and was also ruling the garments. Historically, 7 colors were exclusive to nobles, ministers and officials, and thus forbiggen for commoners. During Edo period (17th to 19th century), it was mainly the vivid colors -in addition to noble materials-, and commoners (peasants, craftsmen, merchants) had to wear grey, or blue, or brown garments. But this period also saw the development of a urban bourgeoisie (merchants). And with it, the art of getting dressed with elegance, flirting with the limits. Generating this creativity in color dyes, or this capacity to suggest and evoke, with a minimum. At an example, re. colors, man talks about 48 browns (tea-colors) and 100 greys (mouse-colors).

These different browns were, at that time, grouped in 3 big families: the red browns, the yellow browns, and the green browns.  Which are linked with 3 forms of tea: the bancha tea (last harvest, the most common), the ground tea (hikicha or macha), and the brewed tea (sencha).

Finally, brown is also the color for soils and tree truncks. What gives us thousands of other sources to find inspirations.

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